SIGGRAPH 2017: Day 2 - They're called greelies!

Posted By David Blumenfeld on August 03, 2017 12:23 pm | Permalink
My second day at the show began with some light rain on the drive in, not so common for the first day of August in Southern California. Once I arrived, I decided to begin by attending the Production Session called "Stories the Ocean Tells Us: The Making of Moana," presented by a panel from Walt Disney Animation Studios, including three people I used to work with there many years ago, Kyle Odermatt, Dale Mayeda, and Hank Driskill. 

They focused on a number of production challenges on the film, including the large scale environments (significantly more complex and bigger than San Fansokyo in Big Hero 6), the water development, skin sliding, intricate hair simulation, the smoke, lava, and fire, and asset library creation. It was interesting to see how they built a practical rig of red, black, and gray balls on large poles, strung together and dangled underwater, and then shot reference of these strings in a pool in Van Nuys, in the ocean off San Diego, and in the waters of Polynesia, capturing color reference and light absorption data to be fed into their in-house Hyperion renderer to better approximate underwater lighting and transmission falloff. 

Of related interest, there was a poster on display near the expo floor entitled "A Semi-Global Color Correction for Underwater Image Restoration," written by some researchers at the University of Girona, Spain, which can be viewed HERE.

I found this to be of special personal relevance as I was recently part of a team that filmed an underwater 360-degree panoramic immersive experience for Comic-Con recently at Brickyard VFX, and had to deal significantly with water clarity and color correction while creating CG elements that had to fit in among the live action footage. At the beginning of the presentation, they handed out a special edition poster print of Moana floating in the ocean, and told everyone that at the end, the directors John Musker and Ron Clements would sign them. Having worked with both of them in the past at Disney, I was excited to see them again and let them know that after having worked professionally in the field for a decade prior to that, their film Treasure Planet was the first project I received a real credit on. 

However, at the end of the talk, we were informed that they only had time to sign 120 of the first people in line's poster, and we had to walk to another portion of the Convention Center to do this. Sadly, upon arrival, the line was far longer than that count, so I just skipped it. That was a bit unfortunate as I would've enjoyed speaking with them again after all these years, and I didn't really care about having my poster signed, but alas, I guess it was not to be.
From there, I grabbed a bite for lunch and then returned to the same presentation hall for the Production Session entitled "Crazy Eight: The Making of a Race Sequence in Disney/Pixar's Cars 3." Having recently seen the movie, I was eager to hear about the challenges involved in this sequence, namely the mud simulation. I'm also very much into racing, as my son is a kart racer, and much of our time as a family is dedicated to that endeavor, as well as travelling to watch NASCAR races in our spare time. The Pixar team shared many aspects of production on this sequence, including their research at various tracks, previs, layout, environmental modeling, lighting, and of course effects and dynamics simulation. 

In addition to the mud, which was studied extensively and then simulated in multiple layers, they had to create fire, explosions, significant amounts of dust, and various other debris. For the most part, there was nothing particularly new or ground-breaking about what they created, but it was still great to see the process and watch it all take shape, as well as see some funny outtakes from animation tests and model/look development.

When that presentation ended, I remained in the same hall for the third Production Session of the day, "Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Behind the Magic, The Visual Effects of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." With the legendary John Knoll present, the team recounted some of the fun aspects of the project, including the creation and destruction of Jedha City, and the simulation techniques they used to destroy it, their use of the virtual camera as a cinematographic tool to aid the director, the design and motion capture of the droid K-2SO, and the intricate modeling of the fleet of ships and The Death Star. 

Of interest, all the little details on the ships are officially called "Greelies," and they are made by kit-bashing plastic models from hobby shops for the various parts, 3D scanning them, and then using a model library tool to help artists place them on surfaces and build up functional looking geometry. Along with the how-to's, they also showed some fun outtakes, and then showed a detailed overview of how they created the fully digital human version of Grand Moff Tarkin, despite the original actor Peter Cushing being gone for many years. Overall, the talk was quite enjoyable, and it was interesting to see how much care and detail went into recreating and matching the look of the original movies, while raising the quality caliber and telling an exciting story.

In all, it was a fun day, and I'm looking forward to what tomorrow has in store. As always, if you want more details or have comments or questions, feel free to email me at, and I'll try to get back to you as soon as possible. Have a great night, and we'll pick this up again tomorrow!