On the Fringes
June 7, 2011

On the Fringes

Zoic delivers 277 stylized animated shots in six weeks for Fringe ‘LSD’ episode.
Every Friday night, fans of Fox’s sci-fi drama Fringe tune in to watch FBI agents and scientists use any means possible to solve unexplainable cases involving alternate realities. As the lead VFX house on the show, Zoic Studios found itself having to alter its own reality to handle the most creatively ambitious episode of Season Three, “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide,” which turned 16 minutes of the hour-long, live-action show into stylized animations. 

After developing the look of the shots—a blend of traditional 3D animation and projected texture maps that were hand drawn—Zoic had to figure out how to achieve that look within the show’s six-week delivery schedule.

“Suddenly the volume of work skyrocketed, but the timeline stayed the same,” says Zoic pipeline supervisor Mike Romey. “One of the biggest challenges was the editorial process.” Using the RV image and sequence viewer from Tweak Software, Zoic was able to build a pipeline that enabled animators, compositors, supervisors, and the producer to do on-the-fly overcuts of sequences directly using the most current versions within RV, without having to move to an NLE for editorial—and complete 277 shots in the six-week timeframe.

In the end, Zoic artists created 1334 composite versions, 1307 animation versions, and more than 1100 layout, tracking, and shading versions.

“We realized that the traditional position of an overcut editor couldn’t respond to the volume of version turnover in the facility.  We needed to resolve the process through our pipeline,” says Andrew Orloff, Zoic VFX supervisor. “We had to find a smarter, automated way to do that, and RV gave us an ideal solution.”

Tweak’s RV is a cross-platform, real-time, film-resolution, high dynamic range image and sequence viewer. It can play back industry-standard DPX, Cineon, OpenEXR film, and HD-resolution sequences, QuickTime and mp4 files  (and many more formats) on a computer or via a projector, and in stereo using the new SDI version. It is highly customizable—an attribute that enabled Zoic’s pipeline department to build tools dynamically to fit the production’s needs.

“Typically we use RV to handle playlists, but in this production we were getting EDLs (edit decision lists) from the client. We had to manage those editorial changes in a way the we could quickly set up dailies sessions, so everyone was always looking at the latest versions in context to the edit,” Romey explains.  “We wrote tools that enabled RV to build RV session files on the fly based on the most current animation, compositing, and audio files.”

To do this, Zoic leveraged data from its production management system, Shotgun. That way, anyone from the facility manager, to a compositing supervisor, to an animator could cue up a sequence or range of shots based on the cut, and view the latest versions of shots in context dynamically to ensure continuity in animation, compositing, story, and color.

Romey says, “Because RV session files are ASCII, we can build them in an open manner. This gave us the flexibility to build upon or development to add audio, shot handles, and LUTs to our RV session creation tools. RVIO also helped us take those session files and transcode them to QuickTime off-lines, to send to the client.

Orloff adds, “We couldn’t have done what we did on this show without RV as a component to stitch together the editorial story.”

Romey notes that RV’s new SDI dailies review software extends their uber-fast review pipeline into the screening room, as it enables direct full-quality 2K playback directly from RV, greatly reducing load time required with a projector.  “With the RV/Shotgun integration we’ve built, finding the current version of anything is immediate and automatic. Now teams of animators could come into the screening room, review and make notes just on animation. Then the comp team could rotate in, and we could load the same cut from a compositing perspective. RV can build an automatic playlist geared toward animation, compositing, or toward the overall process and the most current anything.”

To get the most possible speed out of the RV review process, Zoic even upgraded its Isilon storage system and added an accelerator node, specifically to route content going to RV to play back directly without transferring to the array, caching or loading into RAM.  

“RV was one of the hero components of the pipeline that made this production go smoothly,” Orloff said.

About Tweak Software
Tweak Software was founded in 2007 to develop tools that address real-world production needs of VFX and animation professionals. The Tweak partners Jim Hourihan, Seth Rosenthal and Alan Trombla spent many years at Industrial Light and Magic where they developed tools and techniques still in use at that facility today. Jim Hourihan is the recipient of two Sci-Tech Academy Awards and is best known for developing Dynamation, the first commercial particle system that was subsequently incorporated into Autodesk’s Maya software. www.tweaksoftware.com

About Zoic Studios
Zoic is an award-winning Digital Studio involved in producing high end visual effects and animation for feature films, episodic television, commercials, videogames, and interactive media. From visual effects, to live action production and specialty shooting, Zoic Studios’ imprint can be seen on V, Human Target, Fringe, and True Blood, spots for ESPN, Killzone 2, Mountain Dew, NASCAR, and Tour de France, as well as numerous gaming projects for EA, Activision, Pandemic, and Sony. Zoic Studios has offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver. For more information please visit: www.zoicstudios.com