User Focus - 8/04
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 8 (August 2004)

User Focus - 8/04

According to Carl Bianco, lead technical director, the artists needed to provide the sails in a range of states—billowing, hanging, furled, furling, and damaged. Moreover, they had to produce them in a sufficient quantity and variety so they could be seeded across hundreds of 3D boats that appear in the various shots.

Most important, the sails had to withstand prolonged scrutiny through the long sequences without showing obvious signs of repetition. This alone required Framestore to generate nearly 100 animation sequences ranging from 1000 to 2000 frames in duration.

"We created six different sail and rigging setups, three of which had to accurately match the full-size replicas on the real boats used on location," says Bianco. "The main shots of the armada at sea required the boats to be under full sail, while the beach and harbor sequences needed the boats stationary with the sails furled in different stages. In other shots, we had to show the sails in the process of being furled and dressed, as well as reacting to forces resulting from the boats beaching."
Framestore's CG sails (shown in the background) for the Troy armada had to display a wide range of animation.

To accomplish this, the artists converted the sail and rope geometry within Alias's Maya to SyFlex cloth, and constrained it to an underlying rigid-body dynamics rig. Next, they added forces and generated wind and other effects. Animated springs, set up between individual vertices of the cloth, were used to add localized tension or force certain behaviors for the sails.

In addition to the ships, Framestore created other imagery for the film, including digital matte paintings and 3D elements for a city scene early in the movie, arrows and other effects for the ensuing beach battle after the boats land, and extensions to the beach encampment shots, such as boats, tents, and crowds. —Karen Moltenbrey

SyFlex cloth, SyFlex

In the 20th Century Fox sci-fi film I, Robot, set in 2035, robots like the NS-5 are commonplace (see "Hot 'Bots," pg. 24). To get audiences in the proper mindset for this futuristic concept, Fox teamed with Adobe to build the I, Robot interactive 3D Web experience ( that offers a virtual environment within which visitors can custom-build their own NS-5 by combining various body parts, colors, textures, genders, operating systems, mobility options, and strengths. Then, users can issue commands to see how their robots perform.

"It puts people in the middle of the I, Robot world," says Damian Hagger, Internet marketing manager at Fox. "In essence, it's a virtual robotic lab, where we could brand our film and the robots, and get people used to interacting with them."

To create the futuristic experience, freelance Adobe Atmosphere designer George Lippert built a 3D model of the robot in Alias's Maya, using as references production images of the practical robot model and a high-resolution 3D model from the film. To rig the new model for the Internet animation, he parented the individual parts to a basic skeleton rather than skinning the geometry, which made it easier to export the model and animations to Atmosphere through Viewpoint's Scene Builder.
Fox, with help from Adobe, is advertising the I, Robot film by letting Web users customize and test their own robots.

Working from images of the movie sets, Lippert also re-created the site's 3D environments in Atmosphere, which acted as the hub for tying all the final elements together and provided the framework for the Java-scripted interactivity.

According to Hagger, the end result is more interesting than a typical Web "adver-game" where roles are strictly defined. "And there's no better way for us to spark interest in the film than to offer a bit of the future to our audiences by portraying this 'create-a-robot' experience as being real." —KM

Atmosphere, Adobe