Cinesite has created a brilliantly funny animated short to showcase its creature animation skills.
The hilarious mock advert-style film, Beans, is an in-house content-creation project and the first of its kind from the VFX company, which has worked on movies including World War Z, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Skyfall.
Written and directed by animator Alvise Avati, Beans is designed to help Cinesite explore new avenues such as advertising and viral marketing, as well as creature animation.
"Working in visual effects, it's usually other people's visions and creatures that you're creating," explains Alvise, who is known for his work on films including Avatar and King Kong. "This was an opportunity to take some creative control and make a film of our own."
"We wanted to showcase creature animation, so we've designed a creature and we've built up an idea around a creature," Cinesite's Animation Director and producer of Beans Eamonn Butler told us. "I feel really good about how it's turned out."
Use the slideshow controls above and right to find out more about how Beans was created.
Cinesite used Maya to animate Beans, after first modeling with sculptures in ZBrush. The work then continued in Autodesk's Mudbox, before being composited in Nuke.
Despite being fun to make, Eamonn admitted during an interview with Digital Arts that there were lots of artistic challenges when it came to creating the film.
"Getting dust and dirt to move has been really hard," he said. "It looks fake when you use moon gravity, it just looks wrong. So we faked it so that it's not exactly the same as the astronauts. We let dust hang a little."
When animating the creature, Cinesite tried to avoid procedural techniques where possible.
"There's a cost to procedural. It takes a lot of time to get the numbers right, but then you always break the rules," said Eamonn. "Procedural dynamics on a creature that doesn't actually live in the world is a silly concept anyway, because you're using real world physics on something that isn't real world at all. So we dropped that from the beginning and hand animated."
Eamonn suggests that animation is often distracted by the technical checkboxes. "That's a great place to start, but I think ultimately if it's distracting you then you're not doing your job right. We managed to keep the vision tight from the very beginning."
Cinesite always planned for there to be a fart gag at the end of the animation, so it was important to make sure that everything before that surprise ending was particularly impressive. "It needed to be extremely epic and awesome to make the silliness of the fart gag contrast properly," said Eamonn. "That's what makes it funny. Also, you don't see it coming. Everybody laughs and they can't help it."
It was important not to make the epic parts too gruesome, as Cinesite hopes that Beans will be a viral success. In one instance, when an astronaut gets ripped in half, the animators decided to put a photo of Italian pastrami meats where the realistic-looking guts and gore would normally be.
The fart sound was important, too, Eamonn tells us: "We spent a lot of time getting the fart sound right–not horrible and disgusting, but a high squeaky toot. It's a fine line."
"Our first version of the creature was a giant two legged guy, but it didn't look epic enough," said Eamonn. "We added spines, horns and crazy eyes - the more epic and crazy it got, the more we were digging it."
The colour of the creature was also important, and took a lot of deliberation among the team. "We started with something that looked like it should be on the moon but it just didn't stand out, so we ended up going with something more lobster-like."
"Just before we finished it we thought, let's switch it to a different colour to see what it looks like," Eamonn continued. "We switched it to blue but we were like, no, let's keep it red. Because it's all about the impact, it's not about common sense."
Overall, Cinesite is pleased with the final creature, but Eamonn said that he'd redesign it a little bit if it gets used in an animation again. "We had issues with the belly, it gets in the way. We'd spend a bit of time to clean that up to save time and prevent render errors," he said.
Despite that, he still believes in putting art before technology: "If you let the art decide, the tech will figure it out. If you let the tech decide, it limits things, artistically."
Eamonn explained that, as well as allowing Cinesite to showcase skills it doesn't always get to show off, Beans also helped develop creativity within the company.
"Lots of people set out to do something and it builds up into this massive thing," he said. "I wanted something really achievable so we could put lots of cool stuff on the screen in a reasonably short space of time, and give all of us the confidence that we can do this again. Everyone's had a great time doing it."
"The goal was always to create some imagery that's really awesome and funny," Eamonn continued. "The format is fun and it's achievable in a short space of time. And what I'm really excited about is that it's a very high production value. You wouldn't see this on TV most of the time."
Cinesite fitted this personal project around client projects, and it plans to make another five similar films in the coming years.