Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 9 (September 2002)

Revealing Graphics

An animated character gives Siggraph attendees quite a show

By Karen Moltenbrey

The audience certainly got an eyeful at this year's annual Siggraph Computer Animation Theater with "Washed Up," a humorous animated short created by Vinton Studios (Portland, OR).

The 90-second spot, which opened several of the Animation Theater presentations, shows a peculiar character as he begins preparing for his trip to Siggraph 2002 in San Antonio, Texas. He dons his Texas finery-cowboy hat, bolo tie, boots, and a Texas Star-embossed pocket protector-and shoots himself a proud glance in the mirror. In a following shot, he holds out a cardboard sign that reads "San An tonio or Bust." As the camera pulls back, it is apparent that in his haste, he has forgotten a key part of his outfit-his pants. Somewhat embarrassed, he reaches for a pair hanging from a clothesline, as an image of the symbolic Siggraph teapot covers his private parts. Next, the audience discovers that the character has now mistakenly slipped on a pair of chaps, once again leaving him overexposed. The final shot reveals that the character's preparations are for naught, as he is stranded on a deserted island shaped like Texas.
Vinton Studios incorporated popular computer graphics techniques into an amusing animated short film created specifically for Siggraph's Animation Theater.

Vinton Studios was approached by Linda Walsh, director of the Animation Theater, to create the production. The company, known for its stop motion and Claymation work, had expanded into digital animation. And, being able to showcase those capabilities at a venue such as Sig graph was an opportunity not to be missed, notes director Kyle Bell.

"Washed Up" originated as an R&D project conceived by visual effects supervisor Dan Casey and director Mark Gustaf son. "We already had this character that we liked and the island, so we thought we could generate the production around that without too much of an effort," says Bell. "But we soon found out that we only had a fragment of what we actually needed."

To complete the animation, the team required a variety of software. For modeling, the group mainly used Alias|Wavefront's Maya, though some character modeling was done in NewTek's LightWave. The main character also contained a proprietary creature setup developed by lead artist Keridan Elliott that provided more flexibility when animating the model.

The artists relied on Adobe Systems' Photoshop and Right Hemisphere's Deep Paint to texture the models. For generating the particles, cloth, and hair, they also used Maya, and wrote some customized shaders. The imagery was then rendered with Maya on a series of Boxx Technologies RenderBoxx machines running Windows 2000. "At the final minute there were scenes that had to be re-animated and re-rendered," says John Benson, head of computer graphics at Vinton Studios. "The RenderBoxxes were key to getting the project delivered within our deadline."

For completing the piece, the team used Nothing Real's Shake and Discreet's flame to composite the 30 to 40 layers of imagery.

Unlike some of the 35 juried animations that were shown in the Animation Theaters, "Washed Up" doesn't focus on a specific digital technique. Rather, it incorporates an impressive array of standards in computer graphics used today, including particle effects, hair and cloth simulations, and motion dynamics. "We included a beaded curtain that had to move in a realistic way," says Bell, whose short film "Stop Motion vs. Computer Animation" was included in last year's Siggraph presentation.

Despite any technological "shortcomings," "Washed Up" certainly provided this year's theater-goers with a revealing look at what's hot in computer animation.

Key Tool; Maya, Alias|Wavefront ( infoNOW 88