Tell us about your role at The Mill?
I’ve been an animation supervisor for the past 7 years or so.
We are here to talk about all things creatures! What does crafting a CG creature entail?
References! Throughout the asset build, rigging, animation and skin simulation we always have real-life references to refer to and inform the movement and anatomy of a creature. Our goal is to create creatures that can fool a viewer into believing it was shot live action and the best way to do this is to copy the best… mother nature. The first thing we usually do when tasked with creating a believable creature is to scour YouTube and Rotomate for the inspiration. We present this reference (usually cut into the edit) to our director and client for approval, which saves exploration time also. Occasionally we need to craft designed creatures that are not a specific animal, so for that we would use a combination of references.
What drew you to focus on creature work?
It’s super fun and an incredible challenge! I always loved nature. To respect it is to study it and copy it as closely as you can.
What are the benefits of crafting fully-CG creatures?
The freedom of direction you can get, we can create natural actions for creatures to achieve that are not physically possible or we could never shoot, like a sloth playing Pictionary or a lion in a grocery store.
Talk us through the most memorable CG creature projects you’ve worked on?
Audi ‘Doberhuahua’ was one of my first opportunities to do a reference shoot with dogs, pick takes and really dive into recreating those actions on an awkwardly proportioned dog. The research that went into the development of our Doberhuahua was extensive; we visited dog trainers and asked everyone in the studio to bring in their own dogs. First we looked at medium build dogs, thinking along the lines of a compromise between the two breeds. It then became clear that since the dog worked best small we should use the chihuahua’s body and body movements and the doberman’s head and character.
What is the key to creating realistic creature movement?
I’ll go back to the R word: Reference. Finding an action reference video, creating frames from that and roto-mating that action frame by frame will give you the most believable creature animation. The more you tweak it, the more unreal it can become.
What are some of the most challenging creatures to craft?
Dogs and cats. We are so in tune with them that we instinctively know if they are moving unrealistically. In a way, they are harder than humans since motion capture is mostly not an option…
How does advancing technology enhance what you can do when it comes to creating true to life CG creatures?
I’d love to see more motion capture solutions come around for working with non-bipedal characters. Systems that would not require special suits. Advancements in muscle and skin simulation techniques have really helped believably in CG creatures.
Favorite creatures in tv/film/pop culture?
The tiger in Life of Pi.