This meant pushing the hair module to its limits. “When we first began this project I knew that it was going to require some serious R&D,” says Saccio.

“We have a great relationship with SoftImage and they sent Dilip Singh to our studio, and he helped us learn how far we could push XSI’s human hair to behave the way we wanted it to.

“The engineers at SoftImage also helped us with some engineering fixes and coding, which was immensely helpful.”

One problem the team encountered in using the hair module was the sheer length of ‘hairs’ needed: “There were limitations due to the length of the hair as the river is very long. We created different sets of connecting hairs from the curves, generating rendering problems,” says Marinov.

The hair could only have a certain amount of divisions in it. “We had to come up with a technique for combining sets of hair end to end,” says Saccio.

“Normally, if it wasn’t moving, that wouldn’t be a problem. However, given the chaotic movement we had, it was an interesting and challenging problem.”

Saccio continues: “In the end there was quite a lot of geometry and effects all built layer upon layer, relying on each other. They wound up being complex and heavy scenes.”

Next, the river needed to interact with the yaks that wade along it. “In order to ease the tricky transition between the yak and the water, we created what we called a CG ‘water skirt’ around each yak.

“We had this ring of splashing water move along with a CG version of the yaks we’d animated to match up with the live-action yaks,” says Saccio.

“Along with this, we had extra 3D spray elements that could be placed where needed. There were other tricks that we had to do on a scene-by- scene basis.”

One such shot is the close-up at the start of the video, where a yak laps from the river. “One of our animators, Susie Jang, used a couple of tricks for this.

“She set up deformations in the surface of the hair strands that made up the water itself to move the water up to the yak’s mouth and [make the] ripples, and in addition used a particle system with a Metaballs plug-in, written by Michele Sandroni, to handle the droplets and splashes of water.”

The water also had to interact with the riverbank: “Many of the scenes required new hand-layouts of the water, so that it could ripple correctly with the shape of the shore.”

At Wanderlust’s climax, Björk encounters a river-god, who hovers in front of a waterfall, welcoming Björk’s character as she reaches the river’s end and tumbles over the brink.

The river-god’s face is a puppet, and its hands are those of a live actor but his eyes are CG. “There are a couple of bits that seem to be puppets, but are actually CG – and probably a couple that appear the opposite!” says Saccio.

In this climactic scene, Björk’s backpack straps, as she is suspended by them over the water, are also CG. The project was released simultaneously in a 2D version and two 3D versions.

The 3D anaglyph version is designed to be watched through blue and red glasses (which are included with the deluxe DVD of the album, Volta). There’s also a 3D stereoscopic version, for viewing with polarized glasses in special theatres, such as IMAX.

“It was such a long project that it feels a little weird not to be working on it,” admits Saccio. “However, we’re extremely happy with the outcome – it was an amazing project to work on.

“My one wish is that more people get to see the special 3D version that requires polarized glasses. It’s stunning and I hope we can arrange more showings... It’s something you wouldn’t want to miss.”

The points where puppetry and live-action characters – such as the yaks and Björk – interact with the water required special attention. UVPhactory turned to Michele Sandroni’s Metaballs plug-in, which was used with a particle system to generate the splashes and droplets.

An extra dimension

To achieve stereoscopic 3D, footage must be shot by two cameras a short distance apart, so that two subtly different images are filmed simultaneously.

Clearly, this meant that two subtly different versions of all the CG would be needed too. “I had been afraid this meant we’d have to do [all the CG] twice,” says Damijan Saccio, “but there were a number of things that could be done and then have their settings applied to the other camera.”

He adds: “On the 3D CG side, things were easier with having virtual cameras involved, because we could use a special lens shader in XSI to render a left eye and right eye.”

Using the right eye as the master scene and rendering that, “we were able to pretty quickly generate several left-eye sample renders at different distances, to find the one that gave the best 3D effect per scene.”

The trickiest bit was getting the water simulations right – often they were “slightly different when we rendered them later in the left eye,” says Saccio.

“In the end all scene simulations had to be frozen to ensure things were rendered exactly the same in both eyes.”

The UVPhactory team learned a few stereoscopic tricks from the project. “The compositors discovered some unexpected flexibility with how layers could be slid back and forth to accentuate or de-accentuate the 3D effect,” says Saccio.

Bubble trouble

At one point, Björk stares into a pool of water and it bubbles up towards her. Saccio says that this was among the most challenging scenes in the project, as the water’s motion here was non-linear, unlike in the rest of the video, but “we were trying to keep this aesthetic with the ‘hair-water 3D modelling that we had developed.”

UVPhactory used a Softimage|XSI hair module to achieve the water’s look, adding animated kink values and additional movable distortion fields to achieve the fast-moving look of the current.


Project: Wanderlust
Client: One Little Indian
Production: Ghost Robot
Direction: Encyclopedia Pictura
Animation: UVPhactory,
Software: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Apple FinalCutPro, Imagineer Systems Mocha, Next Limit RealFlow, Softimage|XSI

Full credits here