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  • The technology allows us to build fanciful kinds of worlds

  • where toys can come alive, or fish can talk or monsters can roam the world.

  • While it's common knowledge that Pixar's movies are the

  • product of computer animation, you might be surprised by

  • the amount of technology that was necessary to make them

  • possible. In fact, Pixar is largely responsible for some of

  • the most significant developments in computer graphics

  • history. A lot of people look at the product and they say,

  • oh it's the artwork and so they focus on that. But they

  • don't understand what went behind it. It's a blend of the

  • technology and the art that really makes it work. Behind

  • every one of Pixar's films and the visual effects of many

  • iconic movies to come out in the past 30 years, is a piece

  • of software called RenderMan.

  • RenderMan is a renderer, the final tool at the end of a

  • production pipeline that compiles all the 3D assets created

  • for a film. It's what translates the virtual camera the

  • artists work with during an animated or visual effects

  • production into the final image that we see of the movie.

  • There's lots of tools that companies and Pixar write to do

  • the 3D modeling, the animation, motion, camera definitions,

  • all flow into the very end of this software pipeline and that's the renderer.

  • Pixar got its start during computer graphics' infant stages.

  • When the most advanced CG images were primitive polygon

  • shapes. At this time, animation was strictly done through

  • illustration. It was an artist's medium, with every frame

  • drawn by hand and photographed into a film reel. But in the

  • late 70s, that began to change. In 1979 after the success

  • of Star Wars, George Lucas wanted to bring high technology

  • into the film industry and he was the only person in the

  • film industry who thought this was a good thing to be spending money on.

  • Ed Catmull was part of a small group of people in the

  • industry who recognized the potential of computer graphics

  • to create animated films. He joined LucasFilm to head its

  • computer division and set to work solving some of the

  • challenges in CGI, such as motion blur. The engineers had

  • to start square one, developing all the software and tools

  • needed to create characters and animations, everything

  • that's commonplace today. During this process, they

  • developed the precursor to RenderMan called REYES, which

  • stood for "Renders Everything You Ever Saw."

  • They built this renderer and that's what we used on the

  • early films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. We used

  • it on Sherlock Holmes. We used it on our early short films, Luxor Jr.

  • Lucas' group eventually spun off as an independent company

  • purchased by Steve Jobs, which marked the beginning of

  • Pixar. They would continue to go on making animated shorts,

  • creating the iconic Luxo lamp characters and receiving the

  • first Academy Award for a computer generated short. With

  • each and every project, they slowly evolved their tools and

  • the REYES renderer, eventually creating RenderMan, which

  • would go on to have a monumental impact in animation and

  • visual effects. As part of the sale to Steve Jobs, Lucas

  • had the rights to use Pixar's technology for their VFX

  • projects. Using it to create the groundbreaking CGI scenes

  • for the genesis sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of

  • Khan, the pseudopod creature in The Abyss, the T-1000 in

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.

  • When Jurassic Park came out in '93 it changed everything.

  • Within about a two year period, this industry which had

  • been very digital averse threw the switch on everything,

  • digital audio, digital video and computer graphics.

  • People thought of us like this overnight phenomenon, but in

  • fact, we'd been working on it for 20 years. And then Toy

  • Story came out two years later which changed animation history.

  • We always knew from day one, we wanted to do a feature. We

  • wanted to get into that arena. We did all the short films

  • because that was our stepping stone towards that. So when

  • we finally got Toy Story out there that was sort of like,

  • agh we did it. And then you go, well what's next?

  • Toy Story was a knockout success and launched the once

  • struggling company into a future filled with box office hits.

  • Pixar focused its efforts full-time on making more animated

  • feature length films. And with that came a slew of demands

  • to push its animation technology to new heights.

  • Every film represents both the directors and the artists

  • wanting to push in some new technical direction. And so the

  • rendering technology, and indeed all the tools, are sort of

  • structured in a way that they can be remade and remade and

  • remade over time to meet the artistic requirements that the

  • directors and artists bring to the table. New and more

  • elaborate ways of specifying crowds or foliage or fur on

  • animals. That stuff is constantly changing.

  • RenderMan is basically our artist's tool to create the

  • images that we want. Every new thing they come up with it

  • makes all these different images and worlds possible. It's

  • just sort of making the paintbrush better and better. A

  • film like Monsters Inc. its like, OK, we want the main

  • monster to have hair on him. Sullivan should have hair on

  • him, and everyone's like, yeah, we don't know how to do

  • hair. OK, so we're gonna have to R&D a project to figure

  • out how to do hair. And then the next one is Finding Nemo

  • and it's underwater. How do we do underwater? OK, let's

  • figure out underwater. There's these huge hurdles that

  • you're getting over because none of those movies were

  • possible in the beginning and there's this big R&D project to figure it out.

  • Making an animated film is an extremely time and labor

  • intensive process that draws upon the talents of hundreds

  • of artists and computer engineers. It's on the order of

  • 20,000 person weeks. We shoot for lower than that but we've

  • had much worse actually. Once the story is figured out for

  • a film, which can take months, even years itself. Artists

  • start by creating all the different digital assets needed.

  • Every character, prop and location must be sculpted and

  • modeled. From there, the surfacing team adds all the

  • relevant textures. Objects that are wood or metal are given

  • the appropriate materials to reflect their composition.

  • Clothing is given a fabric appearance, skin an organic look

  • and so on. Character models have controls attached to their

  • limbs so they move in a realistic way. Once all of these

  • assets are complete, animators bring the characters and

  • world to life, conveying the story through personality and

  • action. Completed shots are then passed on to the lighting

  • department, which gives the film its cinematic look and

  • style.

  • This is before lighting and you kind of get a sense of what

  • the world looks like a little bit. But then we throw the

  • lighting in there and all of a sudden you can see WALL-E,

  • where before you can't even really see WALL-E, but you

  • start to pull WALL-E out.

  • Someone like me, the lighting DP might go on three years

  • before it ever comes out in theaters and we create a whole

  • three-dimensional world inside the computer. And if we

  • don't put lights in it it actually comes out black because

  • the computer is trying to mimic real life. And that we have

  • little icons of lights we move around. So if it's sunset, I

  • put the sun in and I can make it kind of orange and put it

  • at the horizon and start sort of building the scene up that way.

  • The Coco set at Pixar was I think one of the most

  • complicated that we've ever put into a film. And it was

  • difficult because the cameras that they chose to fly

  • through the world of the dead, or through the giant main

  • Grand Central train station, or the big cemetery, each of

  • those sets were hugely complex. One scene in Coco there was

  • eight million light sources illuminating in this sort of

  • interesting glow of candlelight and other light sources. If

  • you have more than a dozen lights it's often a problem and

  • so to scale that up into thousands and millions was a huge challenge for RenderMan.

  • This is the shot where we have eight and a half million

  • lights and it's like, I don't know, that's probably eight

  • million more lights than we've ever done in a scene before.

  • Because the assets being worked with are extremely resource

  • intensive from a computing perspective, artists must work

  • with lower resolution versions of the film. The actual

  • final image and look isn't known until it's processed

  • through RenderMan. Taking all the lighting, shading and

  • data aggregate into an image and turning it into a finished

  • 2D frame. Compiling all these digital assets and processing

  • them into their final form is an extremely intensive computing task.

  • A typical frame takes hours to render, if you were going to

  • render them all on your home computer it would take a

  • couple hundred years probably to make one of these movies.

  • And so we solve that problem by having whole networks full

  • of computers that all render simultaneously different

  • frames at the same time. The sequences being rendered by

  • Pixar are so complex, even with state-of-the-art machinery,

  • it can take days. An image is anywhere between 50 hours to

  • 100 hours, on modern computers.

  • That roughly translates to around 1,200 to 2,4000 hours of

  • rendering for every second of a movie.

  • I always try and remind people that we're not pushing a

  • button and a movie comes out the back end. That the huge

  • number of people involved, from fine artists through the

  • engineers that are writing RenderMan. It's a very human

  • intensive task making one of these films.

  • The influence of Pixar's work in computer animation had a

  • profound impact on the industry, but its applications

  • spread far beyond just entertainment. From the beginning,

  • when we started building the renderer we were thinking

  • about commercializing it. Making it available to anybody

  • who wants to use it in doing visual effects, to doing

  • animation, to doing scientific exploration. If they want to

  • make images, it's basically a way of making images.

  • There's a big advertising market. People use it in

  • architecture visualization. One of our longest standing

  • customers is NASA. There's a group there that is tasked

  • with visualizing some of the huge amounts of data they get back from their satellites.

  • Over 30 years ago, Pixar started as a hyper technical

  • software company pioneering advances in computer graphics and animation.

  • We're able to tell the story we want to because the

  • technology enables us to. Ultimately what we're doing here

  • is really this amazing combination of art and technology

  • that, if you pull them apart, they aren't as strong as when

  • we combine them here. In the early days, we sort of had to

  • hold it back. I had to tell John Lasseter, No, I just can't

  • let you try to make it rain in this sequence. We can't get

  • it done in time. We don't want to make those restrictions

  • anymore, we want to try to make it be whatever you want. It

  • shouldn't be the renderer that's holding us back.

The technology allows us to build fanciful kinds of worlds

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B1 US pixar animation renderer computer film technology

How Toy Story Creator Pixar Revolutionized Animation

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    helenalu1228 posted on 2020/04/10
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