Whale Meet Again

Framestore CFC is proud and delighted to announce the successful completion of over 420 underwater digital visual effects shots for Ocean Odyssey, an adventurous new documentary. This groundbreaking television spectacular will be broadcast in two one-hour episodes on BBC1 on Wednesday 24th May and Wednesday 31st May. An Impossible Pictures production for the BBC and the Discovery Channel, Ocean Odyssey was produced by Ceri Barnes and directed by Dave Allen.

After the enormous (and continuing) success of the two companies’ Walking With?‚àö√묨‚àÇ prehistoric documentaries, the two companies have recently struck out in some exciting new directions. 2005 saw the broadcast of Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® a thrilling round-trip through our solar system. Now, 2006 sees them venture to an area in many ways even more mysterious to us than outer space ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® the depths of our own oceans.

What does it look like at the bottom of the sea? Not the pretty bits of the sea floor that we are able to swim in, of course, but the deepest reaches ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® far out into the ocean and at profound depths? The truth is that we know very little of how this underwater seascape might appear, and there are two main reasons for this: it’s incredibly hostile to humankind ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® freezing temperatures and lung-crushing pressure; and it’s dark ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® very, very dark.

But what if we found ourselves a guide ?Äì a being familiar and comfortable with the ways of the deep, who could lead us through the miraculous and terrifying sights on offer down there? And, in addition, what if someone switched on all the lights?

This, in brief, is what Executive Producer Tim Haines and his Impossible Pictures team set out to do in Ocean Odyssey. Our guide is a sperm whale whom we follow through his life, from calf to veteran bull. And, through the collaborative vision of director Dave Allen and digital wizards Framestore CFC, we are able to follow this whale’s adventures in impossibly clear conditions, with beautiful, long-ranging shots and spectacular views, as if all the oceans had been fitted with floodlights. Visual Effects above the surface, as well as some beautiful graphic elements, were handled by Red Vision.

VFX Supervisor for the project was Tim Greenwood, a veteran member of the Framestore CFC Walking With?‚àö√묨‚àÇ team. “We started to do some initial tests for an underwater project immediately after we finished Space Odyssey,” he recalls, “Although at first it was planned to be an imaginary voyage in a submarine.” But by the time that shooting started in the summer of 2005, the idea had evolved to its final state, with Framestore CFC’s mastery of underwater digital creatures ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® seen to such brilliant effect in Sea Monsters (2004) – being applied once more to a host of aquatic mammals and fish; though this time all of the creatures seen are real and can be found in the oceans now.

Greenwood attended all of the shoots, but he is quick to point out that the backplate shoots, which form such a crucial part in the process of creating the dinosaur programmes, played a much lesser role this time around. “Although we shot for a couple of weeks in the Azores,” he says, “As well as a similar time in Greenford Studios in West London, the greatest part of the ‘shoot’ took place inside the computers at Framestore CFC.” In other words, whilst the Walking With?‚àö√묨‚àÇ programmes called for Framestore CFC to create just the extinct animals that were then placed into real environments, Ocean Odyssey often required them to also create the environments themselves ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® backgrounds, foregrounds, the water itself, as well as designing and implementing the moves of the virtual cameras which shot the scenes. Estimates Co-Lead TD, Theo Facey, “The shot-building time doubled, on average. And that doesn’t include the occasions on which, having created these environments, we had – in effect – to scout them, too. It was important that we provided interesting looking places for the action to take place in.”

It took a core team of around 40 artists and technicians some seven months to create the 422 shots that Framestore CFC delivered. As well as the whale himself, the team animated seven other hero creatures, as well as larger group shots of whale schools and fish shoals. Peter Clayton headed the team of animators that brought the creatures to life.

With such a relatively small amount of live action footage shot, Digital Matte Paintings (DMPs) played a crucial role in the success of the project. They helped to create environments that varied from the depths of the Mariana Trench (a sort of sub-aqua Grand Canyon) to dramatic volcanic stacks and ridges. A four-strong team led by Jason Horley were involved from the earliest, conceptual stages of Ocean Odyssey, creating hundreds of images that were used in both 2D and ‘2.5’D ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® where a 2D painting is mapped onto 3D geometry.

Among the spectacular sequences and effects they created are:

?‚àö√묨¬¢ The Ice Ride – as our sperm whale traverses a field of icebergs, we see some amazing views of it from below, with bright sunlight piercing the water and bleeding through the bergs. Co-Lead TD Adam Burnett worked hard to make this sequence look good, utilising Mental Ray’s ‘Fast SSS’ shader to create some beautiful light effects.

?‚àö√묨¬¢ The Black Smokers – one of the extraordinary geophysical features of the ocean floor, these are enormous (60-80m tall) ‘chimneys’, built up by sub-sea floor volcanic activity. From time to time these stacks are dislodged by tremors or earthquakes, an event that the Framestore CFC team meticulously recreated. Elements created include 3D particles, DMPs (Digital Matte Paintings) and a model shoot.

?√Ѭ¢ The Lost City Рa CG stalagmite-like spire filled world, CG mist and the elusive Oarfish.

?√Ѭ¢ The Drowned World Рan eerie glimpse into a possible future that sees our sperm whale swimming through the submerged suburban streets of a town reclaimed by the rising oceans.

?Ä¢ Underwater avalanches, pyroclastic explosions and bioluminescence.

Once again, Impossible Pictures and Framestore CFC have shown that CG imagery can be used imaginatively and in an original way to bring to life hitherto unexplored areas of the world around us.

Ocean Odyssey

An Impossible Pictures production for the BBC and the Discovery Channel
Production Company Impossible Pictures
Director Dave Allen
Producer Ceri Barnes
Executive Producer Tim Haines

For Framestore CFC

Director of Computer Animation Mike Milne
Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Greenwood
Animation Lead Peter Clayton
Technical Leads Adam Burnett, Theo Facey
CG Animators Antoine Birot, Michiel de Kraker, Vincent Ehrhart-Devay, Kate Hood, Santiago Hurtado, Anders Logstrup Jensen, Angela King, Nigel Rafter, Richard Smith, Max Solomon, Simon Thistlethwaite
Technical Directors Nigel Ankers, Mark Bailey, Gordon Curtis, Grahame Curtis, Chris King, Chi-Kwong Lo, Saul Reid, Andy Rowan-Robinson, Ross Stansfield, Sean Varney
Digital Matte Painters Lizzie Bentley, Daren Horley, Jason Horley, Kevin Jenkins
Digital Texture Artists Virginie Degorgue, Elsa Santos
CG Modellers Ronan Carr Fanning, Neehar Kohli, Donald Pan, Stuart Penn, Romain Segurado, Sarah Tosh
Cyberscanning Guy Hauldren
Compositors Kate Auld, Astrid Busser-Casas, Scott Chambers, Christian Manz, Alberto Montanes, Bruce Nelson, Steve Parsons, Kate Porter, Pedro Sabrosa, Richard Scarlett, John Sharp, Tim Young
Visual Effects Avid Operator Carey Williams
Executive Producers of Computer Animation William Sargent, Fiona Walkinshaw
Visual Effects Producers Joanna Nodwell, Lorna Paterson
Visual Effects Co-ordinators Kristopher Wright, Polly Yates

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