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October 2014
Issue: September 1, 2011

Eden FX details 'Teen Wolf' work

SANTA MONICA — Eden FX ( www.edenfx.com) completed all the visual effects for the first season of the MTV dramatic series, Teen Wolf, including the season finale. VFX supervisor, John Gross and the team at Eden FX created a full CG character for the series, which was incorporated into the on-going storyline. Eden also created a variety of other visual effects for the show ranging from wire removals, eye glows and set extensions, to matte paintings and character transformations.

The finale featured 100 visual effects shots that the studio had just three weeks to complete. These included the climactic fiery destruction of the Alpha Wolf. The sequence was created with a full CG character, along with CG fire and smoke, all of which were composited into live action production footage, using Eyeon’s Fusion.

Here, the Eden FF team of Stefan Bredereck, Fred Pienkos, and Rick Ramirez detail their work.

Post: Could you supply a bit of background on how and when the Teen Wolf finale project started? How long did it take to complete? 

Bredereck: “It took about two weeks to develop the Alpha Werewolf 3D model including modeling, rigging, texturing, hair/fur, shading, and testing. That was done prior to the second round of the pilot post production.

“The final episode’s VFX post production started with a meeting to find out what the show's needs were and what was possible within the time frame. It then took about 20 days to complete the whole show with all hundred VFX shots. 

“The team finished all the animation in about two weeks, including the cloth simulations and the rigid body dynamics. All the fire and smoke simulations took a week to create and the final compositing was done in just over five days.  

“We used over 80 six core CPUs to get the show rendered, creating more than 4TBs of data. The close client interaction and their trust helped to get it done efficiently and beautifully. We mainly used Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max and Chaos Group’s V-Ray 2, as well as XSI, NewTek’s LightWave, and Eyeon’s Fusion 6.2 for compositing.”

Post: Why did you choose Fusion to accomplish the shots and how long has Fusion been your studio’s software of choice? 

Pienkos: “Fusion has always been trusted at Eden FX to produce the highest quality of final image. But the recent advancements in new features developed by Eyeon changed the game just in time to really take advantage of a new way of compositing for this episode. 

“The deep compositing, along with multi-buffer EXR support in Fusion made it possible to easily work at the highest possible image quality, while taking advantage of the multitude of buffers out of Max to be able to re-light shots within Fusion. The ability to isolate areas of the model easily using Fusion’s new volume masking capability meant we had precise mattes for whatever part of the model we needed — every time we needed one, with absolutely no masking or rotoscoping required.”

Post: Can you approximate the amount of shots that you completed?

Pienkos: “The team produced 100 VFX shots plus 90 additional compositing shots for the 44-minute finale. More than 25 of those VFX shots included the 100 percent CGI werewolf, and a lot of CG effects for fire, smoke, embers and a glass flask with fluid inside breaking, spilling out and igniting in slow motion.”

Post: Was there a particular shot that was more complex than usual or turned out better than you could have hoped? 

Pienkos: “Yes — part of the sequence required shots where Ian Bohen, the actor playing Peter Hale (the alpha werewolf), would quickly start to transform and then snap back to his human self while fighting with the other werewolf stars of the show. The combination of Bohen’s physical performance, the talented artists at Eden, and the new tools available in Fusion, [made] these shots came together smoothly.  

“First our artists would object track and match-animate the CG alpha werewolf head — aligning the motion of it with Bohen’s face precisely. Then the animators would animate the facial performance of the werewolf face before it was lit and rendered as an element that would be combined with the live action plate. From there, once again using Fusion’s deep compositing volume masking ability to isolate areas to reveal the CGI werewolf, in concert with grid warps and very heavy color correction to match and blend skin tones from the actors face to the werewolves face, we composited the shots. The final results were perfect.

“Even though the fire and smoke shots were a big challenge, the most difficult shot was the transformation shot inside the Hale House. Originally it was planned to see the real actor from behind and then witness the main transition from human to werewolf happening in a mirror to which the camera pans. We planned to paint rips in the back of the leather coat of the character as the camera pans off him onto the mirror, but it soon became apparent that it would be easier to replace the live action performance with a CG version of the character in order to see more of the transformation and cloth ripping.

“After match-animating Bohen’s performance, Bredereck created a virtual copy of the leather coat and the red shirt.”

Bredereck: “Tearing cloth is always a challenge, but cloth and leather on top of an animated, morphing and hair-growing character turned out to be one of the most difficult shots of my professional career!

“It took much longer than planned but still fit somehow within the time frame and Fred (Pienkos) did an amazing compositing job to bring it all together!”

Ramirez: “We also had to do a tight close up shot of an arrow shattering a flask containing a self igniting Molotov cocktail fluid in slow motion. We took an animation of the alpha werewolf throwing the flask and slowed it down to somewhere in the neighborhood of 400fps. A model of the flask was fragmented in Max and then the whole scene was transferred to Softimage|XSI.

“In XSI, it was decided to change the scene frame rate from 24fps to 72fps, giving us more frames to work with, allowing us to play with the speed of the final shot in compositing. The flask fragments were simulated as rigid bodies using the PhysX engine and the transforms were baked into animation curves. Particles were then created in Softimage's ICE system to simulate the fluid bursting from the broken flask and splashing on the alpha's arm. The particles were cached into RealFlow .bin files to make it easier to bring back into Max for meshing as a fluid and to drive FumeFX simulations. So now that everything is already thoroughly complicated, it's time to bring it all back into Max.

“The simulated flask fragments were brought into MAX using Autodesk Crosswalk with keyframe animation rather than point caching. The particle simulations were brought in using a RealFlow particle loader. The RealFlow cache was also loaded into the Frost plug-in directly to mesh into a fluid. These elements were combined into 1 coherent scene for final fire simulation, final lighting, and rendering.”

Pienkos: “Throughout the fire sequence, all of the burning embers were also a nice touch from Fusion. We did not have time to worry about embers and dust when building the fire elements in CG. There just was no time. Another 11th hour addition to the sequence was using the particle system in Fusion to add a heavy field of burning embers in to the shot — adding that additional level of small detail and scale that just tops off an already beautiful shot, with some extra flare.”

Post: What are some of your favorite tools in Fusion and how do they help in production? 

Bredereck: “My favorite function in Fusion is the ability to create custom tools with Macros. That sped up or workflow tremendously.” 

Bredereck: “I created tools for custom lens reflections, lens distortions and aberrations, special glow effects and pretty much anything we could reuse on other shots. With every project we enhance our library of Macros which gives our shots a specific custom look compared to third party, off the shelf, tools that anyone could just buy and use.

“As far as new features, the Deep compositing with the world position buffer was a big help, too. The compositors used it a lot to create shadows and color correction in specific spots of the creature. That saved a lot of render time because there was no need for the compositors to get additional matte buffers for those areas.”

Pienkos: “There was one scene where we had a request in the 11th hour to add some residual burning embers, and sizzling hair on the body of the alpha as the fire was going out. Stefan did an excellent job improvising and using several of the buffers, including normal map, ambient occlusion, shadow buffer and a few others to create a glowing texture that tracked with the CG animated character right in Fusion without going back to the CG scene, which we honestly did not have the time to do! This ability made the difference, literally, an hour before delivery to get the request answered and delivered, and it looked fantastic.”

Post: What trends do you see emerging in visual effects? How do you see the role of the VFX artist changing? 

Bredereck: “The expectations are much higher these days. Even though we have much more computational power, clients expect photorealism in every aspect. Be it the skin of the alpha werewolf with multi-layer subsurface scattering, or the hair and fur or the fire effects. That is why more specialists are needed, whereas in the recent past, generalists were common in the world of TV visual effects. Everything has gotten so much more complex that you have to have people dedicated to every single aspect of the pipeline. Team work, along with utilizing each artist to their strength, is more important then ever.”

Post: Generally, visual effects projects are complicated and involved. Tight deadlines and large shot counts, put a lot of pressure on the artistic team. How does Fusion help you achieve your deadlines? 

Pienkos: “Node based workflow enables artists to understand and follow quickly what other artists prepared. Macros help to speed up the processing we do on every shot like the de-graining/de-noising, lens distortion, re-graining and other effects. Working with floating point precision and using all the OpenEXR information with its full range in a linear workflow is essential for a realistic and high quality result.

“For me, the most important part is the ability to automate and reuse the tools we R&D across the entire sequence. If there is anything we can automate, we do. There is no point in wasting artist time on things that we can automate Fusion to do. This would include scripts that pre-comp CG elements, pre-process plates, automate submission of composites and the review process with the client. Even the final delivery of all assets and final comps is automated in our Fusion pipeline. That, plus the ability to create macros, as Stefan pointed out, means we are all constantly sharing the settings and tools across the sequence with other artists, and it is much easier to maintain consistency and continuity across any sequence.”

Post: What’s coming up next for your team? 

Bredereck: “We might test some different ways of creating hair and fur, and we are constantly exploring new ways of creating complex dynamics and fluid animations but our workflow and pipeline prepares us for pretty much anything that is going to hit us in the future, be it character animation, virtual fire, smoke and destruction or extensive compositing tasks even with the tight schedules in the television world.”

Pienkos: “For me, it is always more about the team than the tools.  We have been retooling, and constantly developing new techniques, which is critical in this competitive industry. But it is also just as much the creative collaboration at Eden that launches our work forward. That being said, in all of our re-tooling, we have not needed to look further than Fusion to achieve the results we need.” 

Gross: “Over the past three years, we’ve been reforming the entire pipeline and experimenting with platforms, packages, and different rendering solutions.

“After deciding on the right CG packages, render software and workflow, we’ve been happy to be involved with a lot of productions that have benefit from changes in our workflow process. 

Fusion has always been a big part of our pipeline. Having switched to the 64-bit version enables us to get faster results while using the full potential of all our workstations and render farm machines. Now and in the future, the Eden FX team is excited to continue to strengthen this new pipeline. Everything we learned through this exciting Teen Wolf season is going to change the way we approach new productions.”