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3D stereoscopic series 'Bolts & Blip'

March 1, 2012
3D stereoscopic series 'Bolts & Blip'
TORONTO — ToonBox Entertainment brings to life original content for film, television, and interactive media using leading edge stereoscopic technology with their sister company, Redrover Co. in Korea. The Gemini Award nominated and YMA nominated series, Bolts & Blip, is ToonBox’s first original productions and is one of the world’s first 3D stereoscopic animated series. Bolts & Blip was the first series to help launch 3Net's full stereoscopic channel in the U.S. in September 2011. Currently, the 2D version of the show is playing in over 70 territories worldwide.

By working closely with Redrover, ToonBox is able to produce spectacular animation, special effects, compositing, and 3D stereoscopic renders.

With a team of over 120 highly skilled and dedicated employees accompanied by state-of-the-art hardware and software, ToonBox has the ability to produce Hollywood quality content for an independent production’s budget. 

ToonBox Entertainment (www.toonboxent.com) and Redrover Co. Ltd.’s short animated film, ‘Nuts & Robbers’, won an Animago Award for ‘Best Character Design’ in October 2011 at Potsdam-Babelsberg in Germany amongst a field of submissions from 62 countries.   A prestigious Gold Award was also awarded to this short for the ‘Animation Category’ from The Prestige Film Award earlier this month.  ‘Nuts & Robbers’ is a precursor to the highly anticipated stereoscopic animated feature, ‘The Nut Job’, scheduled to be released in early 2013 and was written by industry veteran Lorne Cameron (Ratatouille, Over the Hedge, and Brother Bear).  
 
‘The Nut Job’ has been in production since the summer of 2011 and follows the mischievous antics of Surly and his rat friend Buddy, two street-wise rodents, as they upset the tranquility of their city park home. ‘The Nut Job’ promises to be a nut-filled comedy full of hilarious adventures and boisterous fun.
 
Q.  What was the outline of ‘The Nuts and Robbers’ short and its parent feature, ‘The Nut Job’?

The outline for both our short and the film concern a human bank heist paralleled directly with a park rodent heist on a nut store.  The movie is about teamwork, greed, and a convoluted heist.

Q.  Could you supply a bit of background on how and when this nutty project started?

The inception to the story began with the award-winning short film ‘Surly Squirrel’. It was the springboard for subsequent ToonBox installments.

Q.  Approximately how many shots were completed? How many artists have been involved?

The Nuts & Robbers teaser entailed:
Number of shots:  75 shots
Total Runtime:  4 minutes, 21 seconds
Total Crew Size per credits (including director/producers/writers/board artists/freelancers):  66

Q.  ‘The Nut Job’ is a 3D project. What specific challenges did you face with animation and 3D space as opposed to working in a 2D environment?

There were many challenges we faced on The Nut Job teaser that allowed us to prepare for the feature; quick learning curve with an aggressive schedule.  One of the biggest challenges we faced was working within a stereoscopic 3D environment which required us to avoid typical cheats in compositing.  We had to strategically place things in our shots in a far more "physically correct" way.  We no longer composed the camera or silhouette with the 2D screen in mind.  Working in this manner meant spatial issues had to be resolved in real world co-ordinates rather than screen space "cheats" that show up later. Cameras need to be treated in a much more live-action way.  We also introduced stereo right at the beginning of the production, in pre-vis. This is slightly different than the norm, and has turned out to be a major efficiency for us.

Q.  Can you tell us a bit about your pipeline with data passing stages of 3D, compositing, and finishing?

We have a highly specialized procedural pipeline which allows us to save and build smaller components inside a shot dynamically, using a database. Working this way facilitates numerous efficiencies and reduces many of the continuity issues that plague lighting and comp departments in other studios. Only the assets we need to come into and out-of shots are tracked and delivered to be rendered.

Q.  What kind of automation did you use to streamline the process?

We make use of AOV's in a similar way to other studios, which works well. Building shots dynamically from a database provides a great deal of productivity in regards to automation. This extends right into the comp world. We have quite a lot of other automation in regards to the back-end, which is more ToonBox pipeline specific.

Q.  Were the 3D or particle capabilities of Fusion used in the production?

Not yet, however we expect to. We have been looking at some of the new features in Fusion, and have achieved a few tests bringing in cameras and geometry. It looks very promising. We look forward to working with Jeff and the Eyeon team in much greater collaborative partnership.

Q.  If you could have done one thing differently, what would it have been?

Software/Production: As far as software and production on the teaser, we are extremely pleased with the results and think we did really well.  Truthfully, if we had to do one thing differently, we wouldn’t change a thing.  Making the feature isn't that different from making the teaser except for one thing, the scale of the task is vastly different. The biggest challenge of all is producing thousands of shots, with tens of thousands of assets in a pipeline that has to be extremely efficient and robust. Given the scale of this project, mistakes are inevitable, fortunately as a team we pool together to learn from them.

Physical location:  Our infrastructure, at the time of the short’s production, was not set up to accommodate its scope.  The space was cramped, hot, in need of more robust restroom facilities, poor air quality, poor sound proofing,  lacking sufficient feeds of power,  the power grid was complicated and we were not in control of some of the power supply feeds...meaning we lost power during rendering phases due to neighbouring tenants shutting off the power without our knowledge as neighbours were in the midst of relocating given that the studio and surrounding area was at the onset of being turned into a condo....yes, our facility was demolished shortly after we moved out.  We also lost power due to a neighbouring condo requiring power feeds to be set up by the city.  It was uncontrollable chaos at a time when we were striving to put in place the blueprint of our pipeline, aesthetic targets for the feature, as well as build up a core team of talent.  The location also proved difficult for recruiting the first group of artistic and technical crew members.   BUT, morale was always high and the crew really pulled together to complete what many believed to be an impossible task given our physical infrastructure not being a conducive place to concentrate for any stretch of time in the heat and the tight timeline.  Ah, memories.

Q.  Why do you use Fusion and how long has it been your studio’s software of choice?

Very early on we were looking at a few different compositing solutions. Many of us were familiar with Fusion, having used it at other studios. However, given the tight deadline of the teaser, we decided to use Fusion as a stop-gap solution while we evaluated other compositing options.  Keeping an open mind proved to be a great idea. For many of us, we were very familiar with the older version of Fusion. We were all pleasantly surprised with the modifications and enhancements made to newest version. Looking at the price performance as well as the type of feature animation work we do at ToonBox, Digital Fusion has been a great success.

Q.  What other projects have been produced at ToonBox? 

Our first production was entitled Bolts & Blip.  The series began airing in 2010 and now airs in over 70 countries around the world.  The stereoscopic version of the series can also be seen in Korea, the US, and the UK.  A feature film version of the same name is set to be released this year and has been sold to Cartoon Network as well as several theatrical companies around the world. 

Q.  What trends do you see emerging in visual effects? How do you see the role of the VFX artist and studio changing?

The VFX trends that will continue to gain momentum are a matched pair:
Ever more complex, detailed and grand visual effects, coupled with...
Increasingly robust, computationally clever, well-written software running on progressively powerful processors.

Simulation techniques that capture the infinite complexities of liquids and gases will continue to evolve. The challenges of representing brittle things that crumble or explode have been well-understood for a while now, but flowing solids like clothing and hair, or 'mushy' not-quite-solid materials like mud and various forms of soft tissue will continue to get R&D and production attention because many of these effects are critical ingredients to believable characters and environments.

The other well established trend is the availability of increasingly powerful and informative user interfaces that give VFX artists efficient and reliable tools to manage and choreograph astronomically complex scenes. Node-based, procedural front-ends like those seen in Houdini, Ice or Fusion assist in constructing and managing very complex operations.

On the human end, a VFX artist will need to be more technically oriented than ever before, in tune with developments in related industries and academic forums. 

An intelligent, innovative VFX crew is by far the most critical component in VFX viability. Give them good tools and an up-to-date technical infrastructure, and you'll get great results.

Q.  What’s coming up next for your team?

More productions, more recruitment, more building up of infrastructure.  ‘The Nut Job’, ToonBox’s first feature film, slated for worldwide theatrical release early 2013 is our primary focus at this time.  But, in addition to ‘The Nut Job’, we have a second long form production in the works as well as a series of interstitials – all CG animation stereoscopic content.  This means more recruitment and more development to keep our crew fully challenged and inspired.

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