'The Mill Presents For Siggraph' | Sam Driscoll, Mike Chapman, Sid Harrington-Odedra - The

As a recent graduate, it's mighty exciting getting to visit a visual effects studio in London and last night I did that for the first time whilst getting to hear from some of their extremely talented team about some of their favourite projects. As well as this, there was free beer and snacks, so naturally this was a brilliant experience and I felt really lucky to be there surrounded by so many professionals from the industry.

SSE Maya

First up to talk was Sam Driscoll, which was really interesting for me specifically because I've actually been to two previous talks lead by him about the first SSE Maya commercial. It was really cool to see some of the new challenges they faced and how they overcame them. The image above being one of the very difficult shots they had to face. I didn't take an abundance of notes on this particular talk, because as I've said it's something I've written up on in quite a lot of detail previously. This project is however, something I'm continuously in awe of because of the amount of detail that goes in to it with such a short turnaround time, and once again The Mill have delivered another incredibly high quality outcome.

Audi 'Birth'

I must admit, I didn't have much previous knowledge about car advertisements in the animation industry, so I found Mike's in depth presentation taking the project from brief to final delivery extremely insightful. The mood film for this particular piece was done within just one week of the briefing, and you could really see the influence it had on the finished product, with lots of the shots only slightly differentiating from the original concept.

Interestingly, because there are limitations with the actual product in the advert, in this case being the red Audi RS3, this meant the colour and lighting of the sequence had to be considered carefully. Originally it was all very white and clinical, but they felt that this didn't have the organic feel of childbirth. This lead further mood boards and research in to more extreme lighting set ups, and they showed us a scene from Empire Strikes Back that used the very contrasting red and blue lights as an example. The problem with this however, was that the red car wouldn't stand out on a red background. For this reason, they decided to use two different lighting set ups, and used them as a transition between the before and after of the birth.

Another aspect that I hadn't particularly considered until it was demonstrated, was that the animation was really key to getting the right feel for the advert. Initially, all of the animation had started off very linear, with all of the parts of the car moving at the same time. It remained this way until quite far in to previs, where they decided something wasn't quite working. They did a test that added much more shudder to the animation, exemplifying the realness of childbirth, and decided that despite it adding to the work load, it was much more successful in adding the distress that they needed to make it convincing. They showed us examples of the different variations and you could really see the difference it made in the final advert.

At the end of the talk, we were shown the advert one last time having been given all of this information about it, and then asked if anybody had any questions. Somebody keenly inquired about the sound design and if it was added in at the end or an active involvement throughout the process. This was something I was fascinated to know about too, because it was brilliantly done and emphasized the sense of drama and discomfort that the visuals were trying to portray. We were told that just one person who was working out of house was responsible for the sound design, and took a very active role in sending things back and forth every time the advert had a new edit or changes made. You can really feel the passion for this piece in the final advert, and it's definitely opened my eyes to the creativity involved in using cars in CG.

The Chemical Brothers - Wide Open ft Beck Sid was the Lead CG Artist on this music video, and apparently jumped at the opportunity to be involved in a collaboration with The Chemical Brothers, having been inspired by their music videos for a long time. What you might not realise upon first watching it, is that this video is just one continuous shot, consisting of 6798 frames to be exact. And only 971 of these don't include any CG. So this was one hell of a project! We were taken through the whole process, being shown everything from concept art to footage from the two shooting days, to CG tests and final plates. Originally the dance was intended to be shot in the woods and we saw some test footage taken on an iPhone of the location in mind. Very quickly however, this was dismissed because of the difficulty of tracking leaves and complex lighting. The warehouse that they ended up doing the shoot on I personally think is a really great location, and enhances the character sequence rather than detracting from it as the woods might have. Some of the technology used on shoot was astounding, and I've never had the fortune to get close to anything quite like it. They had a scanner that took incredibly detailed information of the entire environment, which they were then able to replicate in 3D and set up their two different lighting set ups. Sid said that it was so accurate in fact, that he'd put small marking tape on the walls of the warehouse, and the scanner was even able to pick that up too. Something I hadn't considered before this was the importance of the camera men understanding dance in order to be able to properly capture a dance sequence. They were lucky enough to have an incredible choreographer for the video, and Sonoya Mizuno who took three days out from shooting other things in L.A. to be able to do this project. But what was emphasized by Sid was that it was almost a duet between camera man and dancer to be able to capture the continuous shot as well as they did. From the offset, the directors had a very clear idea as to when the body parts would transform, with the majority of them being off screen because this piece wasn't about the changes happening, it was more about the audience being passive and embracing the flow of the music. It's very evident how thoroughly thought out the choreography and camera movement have been, allowing for the technical difficulties within the piece to have a constant and not worry about changing the idea too much. The actual mesh itself that replaces the body parts went through a lot of development too, beginning with what almost looked like scaffolding and gradually adapting to be the more organic shapes that it became. Things like the thickness and depth all had to be explored, as well as the shape and consistency of the cells. The final product derives from a lot of natural muscle structure shapes, tracing the lines of the body in a very natural way. The final product ended up being white, but for a long time the concept was that it would be blue. Throughout all the test renders however, they just couldn't escape the alien feel that the blue was bringing to the shots, so made the permanent change to white to embed the CG in to the scene more naturally. This was the longest talk of the night, and you can see why, with the complexity of the project, so the finished product is an incredible achievement and I haven't honestly even begun to go in to the detail that Sid gave us. I'm really looking forward to the next exciting projects that The Mill have in store for us.

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