How Hollywood Makes High Quality Block Buster VFX Movies so Fast? – Part 5

Learn how Animation and Visual Effects movies uses Miniatures and Scripting (Programming) for better 3D and VFX pipeline.


animation and visual effects movies

Before going ahead, check out amazing facts and insights of CGI and VFX movies, described in earlier series of ‘How Hollywood makes High Quality Block Buster VFX Movies so Fast?’. Don’t miss out earlier four chapters of best VFX techniques.

Part 1: 3D Scanners and Digitizers

Part 2: 3D Camera Projection and Motion Capture / Performance Capture

Part 3: 3D Assets Library and VFX Stock Footages

Part 4: Animatronics and Prosthetics

8) Miniatures:

Miniature refers to small replica in physical form. It is identical to real life things / creative​ visualization. Such low cost special effects plays a huge role in film making process. It was handy, or you can say the only, technique available to Director before we enter into hi-tech digital 3D and Visual Effects softwares world. In early days, gigantic environment creation or specific set design were all done through miniatures. It is also considered as one of the best old school effect.

Miniature supports for on set camera shooting, compared to camera projection and static matte painting of post production pipeline. It can be integrated with CGI elements / crowd simulation through 3D tracking and matchmoving to create outstanding Animation and Visual Effects sequence. Specially designed mini cameras are used to shoot for go-through sequences, which ascertain highly advanced cinematography. ‘Star Wars’ is the best movie series to give example of Miniature usage in film making, with heavy interaction of live action shooting and 3D render passes.

star wars miniatures george lucas

In the very essential answer of how to make miniature, first thing is to maintain ratio of its architecture with real life objects. You just can’t make it of any size. They need to be properly scale models. This width-height ratio plays very important role during shooting and post production pipeline. Using specific camera angles, we can play with perspective on a huge scale. LOTR is an excellent example of perspective cheating shooting. From Bollywood, ZERO movie, starring Shah Rukh Khan and directed by Anand L. Rai, will be the movie which will use same camera technique.

Use of miniature or 3D model, it depends completely on Director’s vision, how he wants to execute the shot. There are no boundaries in making of Animation and Visual Effects movies. On a larger scale, miniatures are created for period movies, the monuments / structure which doesn’t exist today and imaginary / fantasy creations. On the contrary, if real life structures​ needs to be shown, VFX artists takes help of various photogrammetric softwares / solutions. Such programs provides complete 3D mesh (modeling) which can be very easily integrated with CGI softwares for further enhancements. It needs some mesh clean up though, but it saves a huge cost and time, compared to creating miniatures from scratch. Moreover, such photogrammetric software also gives texture information. LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) is also used in conjunction with same.

batman miniature set

ghostbusters miniature set

miniature set

Even today’s digital age, the art of miniature is not dead. Many of the latest blockbuster Hollywood Animation and Visual Effects movies like Harry Potter series, King Kong, Inception, The Dark Knight, Blade Runner 2049 and many more still relies on it. They have coined the new word of miniatures, that is ‘bigatures’.

9) Scripting / Programming / Coding:

Sometimes it just takes a few lines of code to do mammoth work. It saves hundreds of hours of post production pipeline. Scripting is also coined as programming, coding or expressions. In a nutshell, every visual tool we are using is the outcome of scripting. You pull up a vertex, draw rotoscoping spline, create a light setup, edit an animation curve, tweak shader, manually place tracking points, apply texture or any other operation – that large chunks of codes had made it easy in visual format for digital artists. Scripting is one the best VFX techniques.

Custom tools through scripting are always needed because default software tools can’t always comprehend the necessity of every project. Every Animation and Visual Effects movies can come up with it’s own challenges and complexity levels. Production pipeline of every movie / TV series / commercial can be different as per various parameters like deadline, quality, budget, output format and so on. This is the reason scripting artists are needed every now and then. Every project contributes in building up shelf of custom tools in post production house. These are used as production assets and continuously updated or saved as new versions for different work genres. Many studios also make these scripts public for benefits of other artists and small scale post production houses.

multithreading for visual effects

Scripting is extremely helpful for entire production and post production pipeline of Animation and Visual Effects movies. Benefits of scripting can be outlines as described below:
1. Streamline mundane and repetitious works on automation mode (changing naming convention, working on specified file/attribute, passing data from one application to another, applying same effect on various footages, changing animation curves, error checking, rig setup, light setup, path change, update textures and so on)
2. ‎Managing long and complex mathematical calculations with utmost accuracy
3. ‎Creation of macro / gizmo / plug-ins / custom tools
4. Reducing render time with maintaining exact quality output (render farms, cloud based rendering setup)
5. ‎Cutting down production time
6. ‎Streamlined and Standardization of workflow
7. ‎Optimized utilization of resources
8. Process / workflow automation
9. Creating relationships through linking different tool’s parameters for logical reaction
10. Enhancing and altering default software
11. Accurate data flow management to make sure that model/element don’t malfunction in various modules

CGI Animation and Visual Effects softwares are using various programming languages like C, C++, C#, Java, CUDA, Perl, Lua, MAXScript, MEL (Maya Embedded Language) and other, but at current stage Python is the major player in various scripting languages. Due to its advanced architecture and adaptability, Python in CG pipeline is the most preferred among software companies, freelancers and third party plugin developers. Python is based on Object Oriented Programming (OOP), which makes it pretty flexible and powerful to either run as standalone script or getting integrated in native software coding. You can get several video tutorials for Python scripting for CG and VFX online. One of the best industry standard Python tutorial is from non another than VFX Maestro Chris Maynard.

Check it out >> Intro To PYTHON Programming For CG

python scripting cgi

Why Python? Because it can be integrated into production pipeline of various high end 3D softwares. Major Animation and Visual Effects softwares like Maya, Nuke, Fusion, Houdini, Mari and may more are supported by Python scripting / programming. What more, it can substitute the default language of the software (Hscript of Houdini, TCL of NUKE, MEL of Maya). All thanks to extensive Python API. It helps developer to write cross platform coding, so same script can run on all operating systems (Windows, Linux, Mac) with no or little tweaks. Python APIs also supports the Blender, free and open source 3D software.

Scripting can be integrated at any level of production pipeline. But, industry demands programming at some of the most crucial job categories including:

  • Rigging
  • Animation
  • FX / Simulation
  • CHF (Cloth, Hair, Fur)
  • Lighting
  • Rendering

Don’t miss the two hour free masterclass of Python in CG Pipeline.

python cg pipeline

Some of the best websites which provides free and paid scripting / tools to use in Production and Post Production pipeline of Animation and Visual Effects movies are:

On a monetary note, applicable knowledge of coding increases your salary as well as your value in the post production house. If you know core fundamentals of Mathematics and Physics, you can combine it with programming language to create high end tools/render engine.

Keep in mind, it is steep learning curve. But, the rewards are outstanding to give it a go.

blender meets python

Maya Programming with Python Cookbook

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