User Focus: Graphics on the Green
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 11 (November 2005)

User Focus: Graphics on the Green

The show’s introduction featured an array of complex 3D and 2D animation, motion-graphic design, digital compositing, and editing, and includes a sequence in which viewers feel like they are being pulled into a Monet painting.

The 90-second segment begins with the camera focused on a dimpled white orb, the starting point for the coverage of the match between pairs Woods and John Daly, and Mickelson and Retief Goosen. “This was big,” says Daniel Gonzalez, visual effects director at Perception. “It was ABC Sports, it was prime time, and it was the best golfers in the world.”

Perception was approached to do the Bridges work by ABC, which liked the speed and ideas the group presented for an earlier project. According to Gonzalez, his team pitched eight concepts for Bridges, and ABC chose the most ambitious one, “which we saw as a clever twist on the typical sports open,” he says.

Working on a two-week production schedule, the artists opened with the vast emptiness of space and an exploding star that resembled a golf ball-golf’s version of the big bang. Next, the segment took viewers on a journey through the history of the world to present day, with a similar golf-centric point of view.

The scenes transitioned seamlessly through the ages. The first one contained what appears to be an ancient cave painting of primitive man perfecting his golf swing. Through sedimentary layers, the scene rose to one resembling ancient Rome, where the name “Mickelson” was etched into an archway, followed by an image of the great golfer composited into the period scene. As the camera pulled back, the visuals transitioned into a da Vinci world, where Daly’s name and likeness appeared. Another seamless transition brought viewers into a three-dimensional Monet Water Lilies landscape featuring Goosen. The piece ended with Woods represented as the power and strength of the Industrial Age.

For the big bang scene, the artists rendered the golf ball in 3D using Alias’s Maya. From there, they composited together live-action footage of fire, which the crew had previously shot, and combined that with still frames of star fields. The group also added matter to the background that it had created using Autodesk Media and Entertainment’s Discreet Combustion. Meanwhile, the explosion was a combination of 2D, 3D, and live-action elements. “We like to shoot our own material rather than rely on plug-ins or out-of-the-box filters,” says Gonzalez.

According to Jeremy Lasky, design director at Perception, the caveman golfer drawing was an element from the group’s storyboard. The artists also located replicas of actual cave drawings, and then composited those, along with their own sketch, into an Adobe Photoshop digital still frame. Next, the team used Softimage’s XSI to map the still onto a 3D wall. “We spent a lot of time lighting the image so it looked as though the light source came from torches,” he says.

The group transitioned the segment into the subsequent scene by using XSI to track the camera upward through rock sediment, giving the feel of passing time.

Once in Roman times, the team blended 2D (background mattes) and 3D (the arch, crafted in Maya). Live action was used for the shot of Mickelson, which was rotoscoped from video footage provided by ABC. “We added a lot of layers to the composite to make the 3D come to life,” explains Gonzalez.

For a unique opener to a prime-time golfing event, artists crafted a “golf through the ages” piece using a mix of 2D, 3D, and motion graphics.

As Lasky points out, Perception wanted the segment to be epic and cinematic. “One interesting aspect is when you come up from the ground, there’s composited footage on the arch that we shot of ‘the perfect golf swing,’ made to look like it was engraved in the arch,” he says. “When the camera pans across, you get a sense of motion from it.”

For the da Vinci era, the artists re-created da Vinci objects and animated them so it looked as though an invisible hand was drawing the elements, with the words appearing out of nowhere. The words, Lasky points out, are actually in da Vinci’s own handwriting. “The inventor/artist had a distinctive script, and we used his sketchbooks to assemble the words,” he says.

Then, to make Daly look “sketched” for the scene, the artists rotoscoped his swing from the footage provided, printed it on acetate, traced it by hand with ink, and scanned it back into the computer.

The biggest eye-catching effect in the spot appeared in the Water Lilies scene, made to have viewers feel as if they are being pulled into the painting. To achieve this illusion, Perception asked professional artist Stephen Lasky (Jeremy’s father) to essentially deconstruct Monet’s Water Lilies layer by layer on acetate, creating 10 individual sheets beginning with the background of the painting. So, layer by layer, the acetate reveals the artwork from back to front.

“After we brought the layers into the computer, we were able to create a camera move that pushed through the layers to give the viewers the feeling of being inside the art,” explains Lasky.

Because the acetate layers were so large, the artists were unable to scan them into the computer; instead, they digitally photographed them. “That created a big challenge for us,” says Lasky. “It is difficult to key watercolor acetate-anything you put behind it is going to shine through and swing the painted colors to the keyed color. So, you can’t use bluescreen or greenscreen, since both are dominant colors in Monet’s painting.” As an alternative, the group used a “pinkscreen,” since that’s one color that did not appear in the painting.

To augment the clip, the team added footage of Goosen, the only live element in the scene. “The shot worked well because the actual Goosen footage we received starts wide on his swing and then zooms in close to show his reaction,” says Gonzalez. “Our digital camera move matched perfectly with the ABC shot, resulting in a seamless sequence.”

As Lasky points out, ABC wanted an opening to the golfing showdown that would be compelling, extremely stylized, entertaining, and effectively explain the premise behind the event. And, from the look of the piece, the Perception team delivered a round of shots that, in the golfing world, scored well under par. - Karen Moltenbrey