Posts Tagged ‘3D animation’

Project X’s Driven – Partial Team Retrospective

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Recently, we touched base with some of the team members/Cogswell Students that had worked on the Project X short film, Driven. Given that no press has been generated other than a short blurb on the Cogswell website, we decided to reach out and hear what some members of the team had to say about working on the film.

The following text is direct from each person specified, and may or may not feature edits done in order to provide a smoother reading experience.

From Taylor Hodgson-Scott:

My Responsibilities on the Animated Short Driven:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

I was the Lead animator on Driven, responsible for a heavy share of the 3D Animation. This involves making the characters and vehicles/bicycles move believably and have the characters emote in a way they can connect to the audience. As the lead, I also headed up the other animators to make sure their shots were consistent with the shots around them and the motion style we were targeting. Ultimately, the director had the final say, but delegating some animation critiques to me allowed him some time to allocate elsewhere in the production, and allowed other animators quick feedback.

I also compiled the reel, taking all of the latest animations/rendered shots and editing them together to view internally, and allow us to see the flow of the film and if each shot flowed into the next fluidly. Editing is important for capturing a feeling we need to convey- especially in the last third of the film when things are amping up, quick well-timed cuts are necessary for the feeling of speed.


3D Animation, Modeling, Rigging in Autodesk Maya 2011
Edited the film in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5
Texturing and Matte Painting done in Photoshop CS5
Rendered using the Renderman plugin for Maya 2011
Compositing was done in (Eyeon) Fusion (6)


About 4 months in Pre-Vis (Pre-Visualization), which included storyboarding and low quality animation to roughly time the film out
About 18/20 months in Animation/Rendering


This is more of a general mantra than a step-by-step. Production Pipeline is much better cataloged than what I can explain in this e-mail, but here’s a few rules of thumb that may be more helpful than the gritty process.

1) You need a story that you really want to tell. It helps if it comes from a personal feeling, because that will help drive the story and performance as you flesh your film out. It can also come from wanting to tell a series of gags or just having good times, but if you don’t care about the story it will fail and be painful to work on

2) You need to seek out and employ constructive critiques from others, inside and outside the film production. This is not about using other people’s ideas and make their version of your film, but rather taking their input to improve your work. Sometimes you need to instead take the spirit of a critique when making changes, but people are perceptive and pick up on problems that you’ll be too close to see.

3) Do as much planning in the early stages as you can, it will pay off tenfold down the road. Sometimes you’ll have to destroy an entire storyboard sequence and build it up again to do it right, but if it’s gotten deep into the animation stage already it will probably be too late to economically fix and meet deadlines.

4) Communicate with your team. So many students and (bad) professionals alike forget to do this, and it is key on getting stuff done. If you’re making a change that affects someone else, don’t leave them out of the discussion if you can help it.

5) Love it! If you love what you’re doing, you’ll be able to stick to it. Finding even the smallest thing to get excited about in a film or a scene can help carry you through the tough times.

From Peter Mo:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

As Lighting Supervisor on Driven I was responsible for ensuring consistency and maintaining a quality standard for the lighting department. Lighting is at the tail-end of the 3D production process (Composting and Video Editing come after, but they deal with 2D), so lighters often run into problems that go unnoticed through the 3D pipeline. Render crashes due to Maya nodes created during production, problems with topology or object placement or animation that only appear when you see how they interact with light, crashes and loading issues from referencing other scenes are just a few examples.

Troubleshooting was a big part of my responsibility because technical problems, ranging from little nuisances to show-stoppers, would arise on a regular basis. A lot of my early work was assessing what we could do with our available resources in terms of computing power, people-power, and streamlining things as much as possible.

We used Autodesk Maya 2013 and Renderman for lighting. Renderman has advantages over Mental Ray in a 3D animation pipeline: fast and high-quality motion blur, fast displacement rendering, and Renderman’s Deep Shadow system. Mental Ray’s raytracing capabilities are better, but we would use reflection mapping to fake glossy reflections.

We also used camera-projected textures in the 3D scene to better control the look and style. We rendered all frames in 32-bit/channel OpenEXR image format, which allowed us a lot more flexibility in color correction without worry of color banding. We rendered out many different passes per frame to allow us to adjust different lighting elements independently, such as diffuse, specular, reflectivity, and more, before combining them together.

Unlike the two previous projects in which I was working with students who had taken lighting class, I was working with a team that had little or no prior lighting experience. Lighting and rendering took place over 2 semesters, including a lot of training in the beginning. Even after lighting was mainly complete, re-rendering of certain things went on until the very end if changes were needed or if a problem could not be fixed in compositing.

We used render presets and light rigs as a way to keep things consistent across the shots at different times of day. We had a pre-dawn and sunrise setup for Acts 1 and 3 and an afternoon setup for the flashback portion in Act 2. The light rigs were updated and improved as needed and everyone would reference one into their scene to use as the primary light sources, for moon, sun, and sky lighting. Additional lights for characters were added on a per-shot basis and setups that lighters create that worked well were shared for others to use when appropriate.

For compositing, we used Eyeon Fusion 6. It is a powerful node-based compositing program which allowed us to quickly change or fix visual elements which would take much longer to do on the rendering side. Making certain parts of the composition modular and reusing them in each other’s scenes reduced the amount of redundant work we’d need to initially perform in order to build up a composite from scratch.

Useful effects and techniques that individual compositors came up with were also made modular, such as color correction nodes for shots that had been approved, or a heat-distortion effect that worked well. All monitors used for compositing were color-calibrated to ensure the closest possible image when viewed on any of those monitors. In additional to traditional 2D compositing techniques such as color correction, rotoscoping masks, and paint fixes, we also incorporated 3D techniques directly in Fusion.

To save on render-times for a lot of the vegetation in the environments, we pre-rendered various sprites, generated point clouds of their locations, and then imported 3D cameras and the point clouds from Maya into Fusion. The vegetation sprites would be attached to points on the point cloud and rendered from the 3D camera and placed over the 2D shot, all in Fusion.

Compositing took about 2 semesters worth of work with a few dedicated compositors and a few more that were splitting time between compositing and other responsibilities. An additional month could be counted for training since none of the students had ever used Fusion before. We had a Digital Tutors account and students studied many of their Fusion lessons. I also gave some lessons based on my experience using Fusion on previous projects.

For the first time on any project, we used our own in-house render management software instead of commercial software. It was customized to our needs and the developers were very responsive to our suggestions for improvements and additional features. Commercial render management software we’ve used in the past was not reliable and we couldn’t get the type of support we needed when problems arose. It definitely helped us all maintain our sanity–without it we’d pretty much have to take shifts around the clock to babysit each render job, especially at crunch-time.

Thinking back over the events during the production of Driven, I admit I was concerned how everything was going to come together at the beginning; however, the technology we used ended up working well enough and seeing how far the initially inexperienced team had come by the end of the project was very satisfying. I’m very proud of all the students who had sacrificed so much of their time and energy to making the film the very best they could.

From Steven Chitwood:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

Steven handled the VFX on the short, “All effects were done in Maya 2011, specifically. I used Maya fluids, particles, nParticles. Types of effects were fire, smoke, dust, explosions, and liquids. All effects were either rendered with Mental Ray or Renderman.” he says. Other programs used in the making of Driven included ” ‘Zbrush’ for 3D sculpting of characters and some environments, ‘Renderman for Maya’ (the Rendering engine used for the film), ‘Eyeon Fusion 6′ for Compositing, and finally ‘Mel’ and ‘Python’, for scripting.

To manage the team, a combination of verbal communication, along with email and other means were used to provide both official and unofficial ‘check in’ updates. “We used Google Docs for documentation including tasks for each departments, deadlines, and milestones. We did keep track of everyone’s hours and their tasks so we could accurately predict of where the project was going.” says Steven.

On the project pipeline, Steven said the following, “I was not in PX (Project X) during the beginning, I jumped in almost mid-way through but here’s my take. We first start off a pitch that Mike had and we discussed things of what did work and what didn’t for the story. Concurrently, we started create to concepts of the film while the modelers and animators were developing the layout of the film, also, the riggers were doing some RnD (Research and Development). Once some of the concepts were starting to be officially approved, modelers would start to make the final assets and create textures for them. Once assets, textures, and animations were done, those shots would be handed off to the lighters.

Lighters simply then light shots and render them and bring them to the next stage: compositing. Compositing is where we bring all the images together to make the final shots, making final tweaks to make the shots the way we want it. Keep in mind, when animators are done with shots and the assets are created, we also hand off those shots to the effects department (me).

There, we create the fire, smoke, dust, etc and then render those effects as well in separate images, just like what the lighters do. We then bring those also into the comp to finish the shots entirely. While we are doing this film, we are also doing an ongoing edit for the film. Towards the very last stages of the film, we edit the film and see what ever else changes/fixes we need to do.”

Lastly, in short the pipeline process is as follows “story->concept->look development->layout->modeling->rigging->animation->effects->lighting&rendering->compositing->final edit”, also “We decided to create our own render-farm. Our render-farm was used to expedite the rendering process.”

It’s very clear that a lot of work went into making the short film, everyone that worked on the project had a part in making it all possible. Fantastic work everyone!!

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

Juan Rubio
3D Animation Student, Internal Public Relations, Industry News Coverage, Blog Administrator/Writer
Cogswell College

Pixar’s Renderman now available for free!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Image from

For those not already aware of it, Pixar’s Renderman is now available for free for non-commercial use! What is Renderman, you ask? Renderman is a rendering plug-in that Pixar developed for use with 3D animation and modeling programs. It’s an alternative rendering method to the default options already available in programs such as Maya. As previously mentioned, use of the software is 100% free, with no limitations, feature cuts, or even watermarks to worry about. As long as whatever you produce with it is not for profit, anything is free game.

The latest version of the software, version 19, brings multiple improvements to the fray. One of which is a brand new rendering paradigm Pixar calls RIS. RIS is a highly optimized mode for rendering global illumination. It’s made specifically for ray tracing scenes with heavy geometry, hair, volumes, and radiance – with incredible efficiency in one pass. What does this all mean? Renderman can render your objects and scenes much quicker and more efficiently than many other options currently available today. In fact, it’s currently the most flexible and powerful option for VFX and cinematic imagery available to the public. More information and technical details can be found at the following link:

I highly recommend that anyone interested in 3D animation, VFX, or 3D modeling check this out. It’s not often that the public gains free access to internally developed software from professional studios, much less a fully featured and limitless version of that same software. Pixar offers multiple tutorial videos to those new to Renderman, so users can get to know the workflow and learn to use it to its full potential. The plug-in is currently compatible with Autodesk Maya versions 2013.5, 2014, and 2015 as well as The Foundry’s Katana versions 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0. Support for Houdini and Cinema 4D is currently underway. Potentially compatible programs in the future include Modo, 3DS Max, Blender and more.

Download Renderman at the following link:

Juan Rubio

Recent News in Animation

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Image from

Tonko House, the studio founded by former Pixar art directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, is making a feature film based on their short ‘The Dam Keeper‘.

The news came with the announcement that Tonko House is pairing up with First Second Books, an offshoot of McMillan, to expand the short into a series of graphic novels. The first book in ‘The Dam Keeper‘ series will be released in 2016, picking up after the events of the short, and set a few years after Pig’s original story. The book will address two unanswered questions from the short: What became of Pig’s parents? And how did his world come under the influence of a dark cloud? To date, no further details of the feature film have been divulged.

As a fan of the Academy Award nominated short, I await any new details or sneak peaks with bated breath, this is going to be great!

Image from Cartoon Saloon

In other news, Oscar nominated film ‘Song of the Sea‘ from Cartoon Saloon and ‘The Secret of Kells‘ director Tomm Moore, is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD! ‘Song of the Sea‘ takes the viewer into the wonderful world of Irish folklore. It features a fantastic art style incorporating techniques used in ‘The Secret of Kells‘ and mixes it with watercolors, creating a world bursting with color and personality.  It’s truly a treat for the eyes. Based on the Irish legend of the Selkies, the story tells of the last seal-child, Saoirse, and her brother Ben, who go on a journey to save the world of magic and discover details of their past along the way. Hounded by Macha, an owl witch, and a variety of ancient and mythical creatures, Saoirse and Ben are on a race against time to awaken Saoirse’s powers and prevent the world of spirits from disappearing for eternity.

Image from

In what many would consider an upset, Genndy Tartakovsky has dropped Sony’s ‘Popeye‘. While finishing ‘Hotel Transylvania 2‘ Genndy noted that the studio was moving in a different direction and opted to drop out of the project. He was quoted as saying,“I was in love with what we were doing, but I think the studio is going through changes and I don’t know if they want to make the ‘Popeye‘ that I want to make.” He continued, saying, “Right now, I’m off that project and moving on to the other one we soft-announced, which is Can You Imagine?…It was hard to let Popeye go, but that’s the business.”

Genndy is going on to work on ‘Can You Imagine?‘, his own project at Sony. ‘Popeye‘ was announced to great reception last March. A proof of concept was released shortly after the film was announced, it was brimming with personality and showed great promise. Fans of Tartakovsy know he has an incredible track record: creator of ‘Dexter’s Labratory‘, ‘Samurai Jack‘, ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars’; co-creator of ‘Sym-Bionic Titan‘; and director of ‘Hotel Transylania‘ 1 and 2.

No news of the film’s future have been given, and no indication of whether or not Tartakovsky is out for good has been given either. I, for one, hope whoever they choose ends up honoring the original vision and style Mr. Tartakovsy had in mind.

Image from

If the above image doesn’t already tip you off, Astro Boy is getting a brand new animated series! Paris-based animation studio Caribara Animation unveiled a teaser for the new series, titled ‘Astro Boy Reboot‘. 26 episodes of the hybrid 2D/CG cartoon are currently in production. The short was directed and designed by Florian Thouret, co-art director and assistant director of the French feature ‘The Suicide Shop‘ (‘le magason des suicides‘). Mickael Crouzat animated the piece. Crouzat, who was also a key animator on ‘Despicable Me‘ and ‘Ernest & Celestine‘ shared his pencil test on Vimeo as well.

Caribara is co-producing the series with Monaco-based Shibuya Productions and Japan’s Tezuka Productions. The series will be based on Osamu Tezuka’s creation, but will feature a brand new storyline as well as new characters. The announcement was made just a few days ago, and there is currently no word on a U.S. localization, or whether any U.S. broadcasters will air the show. Whatever the case, this is exciting news and I’m looking forward to seeing what this new series has to offer. I find the art style vibrant, colorful and incredibly appealing as well.

Watch the finished teaser trailer here:

Watch Crouzat’s pencil test here:

Juan Rubio

Thoughts from Inside the Star Thief Studio Project Class

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Star Thief Studio Logo - Animated Short Film Project

For two semesters, I was part of Star Thief Studio (formerly Studio E) – a project-based class that creates an animated short in an on-campus environment that mirrors an industry studio production pipeline. When I first started out, I had a very general idea of what I’d be doing, but in truth I was heading into the project pretty much blind, and hoping that I’d be able to perform on the same level as the other artists. During the first week, we were separated into different groups: pre-visualization (pre-vis), production, and post-production. The pre-vis group had duties including concept art, color keys, layout, and animation blocking— mostly preliminary planning and design. Members of the production group started on animation, character modeling and painting backgrounds. The post-production group was tasked with polishing, texturing, lighting, and general effects that would make the project visually appealing.

As a general painter and designer, I helped out in several different areas. My first group did design and layout, followed by texturing and painting.  I moved onto several other areas as well, helping out wherever needed, as phases of the production cycle started and ended.

Star Thief Studio Character Model

Star Thief Studio Character Model

Our studio’s pipeline used a structure where we tackled one shot at a time. First the storyboards were completed and handed off to a layout artist, who created a 3D scene in Autodesk Maya, based off of the storyboard. In addition, rough color keys were created to determine an artistic direction for the background elements. Preliminary animations were blocked out, based on initial layouts, and later replaced by polished animations with the finalized characters and completed backgrounds. The process concluded with a combination of polishing, re-assembling, and finalizing texturing and lighting. Because of our unique process, each group within the studio was constantly involved.

My day-to-day process started with talking with the team to find out what was needed and then picking up tasks to help complete a scene. Often, I took 3D models that our artists created, imported them into Mudbox or Photoshop and painted them.  I would then re-import everything back into Maya. The models were then placed into a scene to create the background.

Star Thief Studio - Oak Tree Model with Animated Leaves

Star Thief Studio - Oak Tree Model with Animated Leaves

By the end of my time at Star Thief Studio, I had experienced modeling, rigging, and background animation in addition to the painting that I was already doing. Working within the studio has shown me that you get a broader experience when working on a large-scale project.  I found myself juggling tasks I didn’t expect, and it was an interesting experience. It pushed me to grow my skills in certain areas which have helped me to become a more roundly-developed artist.

Whether or not I will actively use the skills I’ve gained on this project once I start my career, I do not know.  But, as a once very traditionally-based artist, I’ve definitely become more technically nerdy. What I do know is that by doing a little bit of everything, I understand more about the roles that comprise a studio.  This will help me in the future to understand the needs of everyone within a studio and allow the pipeline to run more smoothly.

I hope that everyone will enjoy our film when it is released, and perhaps will have an opportunity to understand and appreciate the multi-layered process of creating an animated short. This team has truly created something extraordinary.

Sierra Gaston

The Offering Premieres for Cogswell Community

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


On Thursday, October 1 at 12:30 pm in the Dragon’s Den, we will premiere the Cogswell-produced short animated film: The Offering. This animated short film was produced on campus by Cogswell students! The film has never been played before an audience, so the Cogswell community, including a few VIPs, will have the privilege of being the very first audience

Assistant Professor Michael Huber and the Special Project/Senior Project students worked tirelessly for three semesters to produce this studio-quality short film. They were supported by a massive collaborative effort from faculty, staff, visiting artists, industry professionals and alumni. This film is sure to attract the attention of studios and inspire prospective students everywhere.

Please pass the word: lunch and drinks will be provided. Come and see the premiere of this ambitious and artfully constructed film. Come celebrate the immense efforts of your friends and fellow Cogswell students.

This is a campus only event, so only current students, faculty, staff, and a few VIPs will be admitted. There will be a formal public premier at a later date.

-Michael Martin, Dean of the College

Short Animated Film “The Offering” Trailer Now Online

Friday, September 11th, 2009


If you have been following Cogswell news, you know that we are close to premiering the Cogswell student-produced short animated film The Offering.

Project X is a one-of-a-kind, project-based class – unparalleled in its scope and study as it incorporates every component of animation film production for the big and small screen. This class, under the direction of Animation faculty member and long-time professional animator Michael Huber, is only available at Cogswell Polytechnical College. Project X has no competition with regard to the quality of instruction it provides or the standards it sets for animation production value. Student participants have the opportunity to integrate all the disciplines of CG production including animation, modeling, texturing, effects, rigging, lighting, rendering, compositing and production management.

Take a look at the trailer, and keep an eye out for more updates on where and when to see The Offering.

To learn more about the multi-discipline project-based curriculum at Cogswell College, visit our website or better yet, arrange a tour of our campus and see where you can begin your career in video games.

-Michael Martin, Dean of the College