To create the three CG creatures, the Frantic Films team used a host of software tools, including Softimage|XSI for low-res modelling, Mudbox and ZBrush for high-res models, 3DS Max for rigging, animation, lighting and rendering, nVidia Gelato for rendering, eyeon Fusion for compositing, as well as proprietary scripting and development for these tools.
Before the modellers and animators began work on the aquatic CG creatures, the team assembled vast amounts of reference material, predominantly images and video footage of the types of fish and creatures that live in deep sea.
“There are some really strange things down there!” recalls Harvey. A practical set prop helped form the basis for the razorfish’s original design. ”We then took elements from the deep-sea creatures and augmented them where we wanted,” explains Harvey.
With concept art for the CG creatures approved, the Frantic team began creating low-resolution models, which served as a backbone from which other portions of the creature pipeline hung. Harvey explains:
“Once the basic low-res model was completed, we were able to simultaneously move into the high-resolution sculpt, rigging, texture painting, shader set-ups, and animation. This allowed for a non-linear creature pipe, which gave us great flexibility for changes.”
Frantic’s modellers then fleshed out the low-res models using Mudbox and ZBrush. Once pristine high-level sculpts were achieved, texturing was begun using a mix of direct 3D painting in ZBrush and custom maps created in Photoshop. The models were dirtied up, with the team adding scars, asymmetrical details and variation for multiple creatures.
“We also sculpted something I call ‘displacement morphs’, which is an entirely different full-body sculpt that’s essentially the body under complete compression or tension,” says Harvey.
“They were referred to by the artists as the ‘wrinkly old man sculpts’. These were then dynamically driven by surface tension and compression in the creature’s surface, adding yet another level of extremely fine and animated detail.”
The non-linear pipeline used by Frantic for this project came into its own during the rigging and animation process. “We built tools that allowed the animators to constantly update their rigs as needed, without losing animation,” explains Harvey.
“The rigs also had a lot of procedural swimming motion built into them so that the base animation tracks happened automatically, onto which the animators could layer the hero animation.”
The animators used 3DS Max for rigging and animating, building custom scripts as needed. “For muscle, fat and soft tissue effects, we used a custom tricked-out version of SkinFX, which our lead technical director, Kees Rijnen wrote.
"Some of these sub-surface animation effects were applied as a post-process pass by creature technical directors but most of them ran in near real-time directly in the animators’ viewports,” explains Harvey.
Once the animation was complete, custom-caching tools were run to generate clean files ready for the next stage: lighting and rendering. To create a realistic CG ocean populated by CG creatures and with live-action/CG interaction throughout the sequence, Frantic Films turned to its in-house Flood toolset – Flood:Surf, Flood:Spray and Flood:Core.
This was because none of the tools on the market offered the same level of control, especially given the scale of the project. “To give you an idea of scale, there was one shot in which we simulated over nine square miles of direct ocean interaction (Flood: Surf is simulated to the horizon), involving the ocean surface, 150-plus fish and seven dinosaurs.”