Chris Landreth Expands Creative and Technological Boundaries With 'Bingo'

Academy Award Nominee Uses Maya Software for Stunning New Animation

Jul 21, 1998, 01:00 ET from Alias|Wavefront

    ORLANDO, Fla., July 21 /PRNewswire/ -- A clown so realistic you can smell
 the face paint, a coy little girl that morphs into a hideous creature, and a
 bizarre, little man with seventeen arms made of money, are a few of the
 characters encountered in "Bingo."  Created and developed by Chris Landreth,
 "Bingo" was has been selected as the grand finale of the Electronic Theater at
 SIGGRAPH '98.  Developed concurrently with Maya(TM), Alias|Wavefront's ground-
 breaking 3D animation and special effects software, one of the goals of this
 in-house production was to rigorously test the software to ensure that it
 could satisfy the most demanding and innovative of creative endeavors.
     "'Bingo' is like no other production both in terms of the artistic content
 and the process for creating it," explains Landreth.  'Bingo' and Maya were
 basically developed in tandem which was challenging and exciting.  The fact
 that Alias|Wavefront would support a project of this scope is a testament to
 its commitment to creating the best tools for artists."
     "Bingo" is a five-minute computer animated adaptation of a live theater
 performance called Disregard This Play which was first produced in Chicago in
 1993 by Greg Kotis of the Neo-Futurists theater company.  The recorded audio
 performance of this play is used in "Bingo" which incorporates exciting and
 bizarre visual imagery to support the telling of the story.  Landreth is a
 senior animator at Alias|Wavefront who in 1995 was nominated for an Academy
 award for his animation, the end.  With "Bingo," Landreth introduces a cast of
 animated characters who are alternately, shockingly human-like and
 disturbingly freakish.
     "'Bingo' is an animation that stretches the boundaries of realistic
 representation while also pushing the limits of the technology," describes
 Landreth.  "We wanted the characters to look a certain way and in every case,
 Maya delivered."
     By using virtually all of Maya's tools in a variety of different ways,
 Landreth and a team of Alias|Wavefront employees who volunteered to help him,
 were able to give critically important feedback on how to make Maya a cohesive
 and comprehensive package that can withstand even the most challenging
 production environments.  The "Bingo" team ranged from software engineers to
 customer support-line employees to product specialists, who were able to use
 the production environment to refine their skills and learn how to build and
 support the world's best software.
     Keeping Up Appearances
     The characters in "Bingo" range from the realistic to the fanciful.  A
 variety of tools in Maya helped Landreth and his team achieve precisely the
 look they wanted.  The blendshape feature was used for setting the facial
 animation for the characters.  This tool allows for incredible precision and
 speed in developing facial animation by allowing the animators to set poses
 which connect the character's facial movement to the appropriate phonemes.
 Landreth took advantage of the customizability of Maya to create unique
 shaders for numerous specific effects.  Realistic hair was created by using a
 custom anisotropic shader which provides directional highlights across both
 the X and Y axes.  Similarly, the strange and wonderful mechanical elephants
 have ears that were built using a variety of shaders layered on top of each
 other until just the right texture appeared.
     Dynamic Movement
     Movement of both characters and objects in "Bingo" is naturalistic and
 compelling. Characters not only have incredible depth of detail, they also
 walk, leap, and bicycle across the stage while exhibiting the subtleties of
 movement that make for very convincing animation.  Objects such as balloons,
 cloth, and even ponytails move with incredible realism and interactivity.
 Maya allows artists to apply real world dynamics to virtually anything in a
 scene, which means that animators don't just have to guess what a response
 would look like, they can actually simulate the real-world effect.  For
 example, the little girl in "Bingo" twists and sways and her dress follows
 with all the fluidity you would expect from real fabric.  Landreth achieved
 this feat by making the dress a soft body and applying weight, gravity and
 other properties so that it deforms with the flow and swish of cotton.  To
 further add to the realism, Landreth made the little girl's legs collision
 objects which cause the dress to shape to the force of her legs each time she
 takes a step.  The inverse kinematics in Maya made it incredibly easy for
 Chris and the other animators to set up walk cycles for the various
 characters.  It also permitted an unprecedented level of control over the
 character's body language by maintaining consistent movement and
 characteristics throughout the production.
     Mood-defining Effects
     With "Bingo," Landreth has created a world that is dark, stark, and
 unsettling.  The powerful mood created in "Bingo" comes, in part, from the
 deft application of lighting and special effects.  As the clown walks onto the
 stage, a subtle swirl of dust settles on his shoes, emphasizing the seedy
 circus atmosphere created in this scene.  The dust was created using Maya
 software's phenomenal particle system which offers a collection of flexible
 particle creation and emission tools that can be combined with dynamics fields
 such as gravity, wind, and turbulence.
     Further enhancing this scene are stark spotlights used in combination with
 gently fogged peripheral lighting.  Artists who helped work on this scene were
 amazed with the speed and interactivity of Maya which allowed them to apply
 and adjust lighting and instantly see the result of their tweaking.
     "Maya really lets you get to the heart of making art rather than spending
 time fighting tools or waiting to see your results," notes Landreth.  "You
 spend more time finessing your work and in the end you have a piece of work
 where the artistic vision shines through."
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