Night Feeders

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(Copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved.)

A meteor plummets to Earth in the remote southern wilderness. Four deer hunters arrive at their camp, ready for a weekend of fun and sport. These events collide as the meteor releases nocturnal alien creatures intent on one thing: Eating! And the luckless hunters, in the wrong place at the wrong time, are on the menu!


So begins the terrifying story of the Night Feeders, a new movie produced by Paul Barrett and Synthetic Fur™ Productions. Synthetic Fur, an independent film company presided over by Tony Elwood, and based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an adjunct to Indievision™, a marketing and advertising company. While they have devoted their talents to marketing, the folks at Indievision have always wanted to keep their feet in the industry that they started in: film work. They have done so with two new films they are currently marketing to film festivals around the world: Night Feeders and Cold Storage.


When deciding how to proceed with the extensive CG shots needed for the production of Night Feeders, the decision to use Cinema 4D™ for 3D work was pretty much a given for Tony. "I had been using Cinema 4D for the last 3 years in work for my corporate clients. With GE™ we do a lot of 3d mock-ups. We have also used it for some animations." Tony explained, that while they had been using Cinema 4D for their marketing and advertising, "we had never taken it into the film world before. Night Feeders was sort of taken on as a test-bed to see if we could pull it off. It was a low enough budgeted film that I was willing to take some chances, mixing in live action with CG." Ultimately, when all was said and done, over 70 shots in the film included Cinema 4D CG elements.



(Copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved.)
The original Clay figure Created by Andy Boswell


"I come from a special effects background," Tony explained. "I worked in movies like Evil Dead 2™ and Catseye™. And I had worked with a talented guy by the name of Andy Boswell on those films. I tapped Andy to create the original clay model of the creature we had in mind for the film. Due to budget constraints we didn't have the luxury of being able to scan the clay model that Andy had created, so I built the CG creature myself in Cinema 4D, vertice by vertice. This was the model that we ended up using predominantly in the movie."



(Copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved.)
Tony Elwood hard at work translating the creature
from the clay figure, to a 3D mesh in Cinema 4D.


"When it came time for rigging, a friend who uses Maya™ offered to rig it for me, but it really ended up being a nightmare dealing with two different platforms. Here in North Carolina, everything seems to be Maya, but I knew I wasn't going to be comfortable with the cross platform production; I really wanted to do it all in Cinema 4D if I could. As I started doing some research on what I was capable of doing in Cinema 4D, I realized fairly quickly that while I could do all the animation no problem, the joint work was a bit beyond my experience. For someone who works in Cinema every day, I'm sure it would be a piece of cake. But, for someone like me who uses Cinema primarily for stills versus animation, it was a huge undertaking.

"I started investigating different plug-ins which could help with this phase of the project. That's when I discovered the work of Dan Libisch (better known in CG circles as Cactus Dan). So, I purchased and started using some of the animation plug-ins that Dan had created. Then during that process, I started thinking he obviously knows what he is doing with these amazing plug-ins, as well as the rigging examples he exhibits on his website, so I decided to ask him directly, if he was interested in helping out."


Daniel "Cactus Dan" Libisch, had never done film work before Night Feeders, "In fact the extent of my commercial work in the past has been for games. I have done animated sprites, things like that. Not a whole lot of frames involved in doing sprite animation.


"The plug-ins started out just as experimenting, doing some tests and showing my buddies what I did, and one of them said, 'Hey that's pretty good you should make a plug-in.' I had never really thought about that, so it pretty much developed into a plug-in with no advanced planning involved." Dan originally got into the inner workings of Cinema 4D when Version R8 was released and he started experimenting with Expresso. "Expresso was extremely easy to use, and I started to play around with making things happen with expressions, and it went on from there. As I progressed, the expressions became more and more complex. Eventually the expressions got so complicated that it slowed things down, so I tried turning to C.O.F.F.E.E™, which has some similarities to C++ which I am familiar with, to streamline the expressions. Ultimately, I felt more comfortable using C++, so eventually started developing my ideas with that, and that's when the plug-ins really started developing. And it grew from there. I currently have 3 plug-ins on the market and one freebie. The freebie was actually the first one I did. It was a helper expression for the older Cinema 4D IK expression ( the one that's part of the core, not the Mocha version). What that plug-in did, was work with that expression to keep the bones on a rotation plane. The CD IK Tools was sort of an offshoot of that."


"Tony had purchased one of those plug-ins, then a few days later he contacted me out of the blue, asking if I was interested in rigging the model for him."


When Dan got the model, he found that there was fairly little work that he needed to do to the mesh to prepare it for boning."The mesh was pretty good from the start. The only thing that I recall that I added, was a few edge loops in the forearm area, and that was simply to get smoother forearm twist. Of course there were little things I would have preferred, such as the arms and legs straight out, and I would have preferred that they be bent a little bit" in order to deform with less pronounced stretching. But it still worked out pretty well."


Once Dan had jointed the figure, he decided to add several joint controlled morphs in the shoulder and hip areas to help get better deformation. "I also did a full facial morph rig, so that the face could be animated: morphs such as eyes squinting, eyebrows going up and down, lips curling to make the creature be able to snarl...things like that. The morphs for facial animation were really fairly simplified, based on the needs of the movie: like there was no need to make the creature be able to smile, or look sad. Also, since the creature doesn't need to speak intelligently, there was no need for phoneme morphs."


"Dan rigged the character and did some walk and run tests for us," Tony said. "When we got those back, we were overjoyed with the work. It just made sense to offer him the actual animation work. I called him up and said, 'obviously you are very familiar with the character, would you like to move forward and actually help me out with some of the effects shots?' Needless to say, Dan jumped at the opportunity.


"We had already shot most of the live action shots, so I created a sort of a scene morgue for the film with all of the background plates, and posted it online for Dan to take a look at, with descriptions of what was going to happen in each scene. For example: 'there are three Creatures Running out of the woods and they are getting ready to attack one of the characters here.' I would then get together with him and Jet Eller (the Director), to go into more depth on each scene."


As preparation for compositing the film with the CG animation, Tony took pains to be on the scene for each of the shots involving composites. "I went out with the second camera, and we shot all the plate shots making sure everything was locked down, so we wouldn't have problems with motion tracking." While you can do motion tracking for film work using software such as Matchmover ™ or Boujau ™, and import that info into Cinema 4D, it involves a lot of added expense which the budget of a small film can ill afford. "We did do a little motion tracking in one scene, by moving the creature around with motion tracker in After Effects. That worked well, but we wanted to limit that kind of work as much as possible."



(Copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved.)
The Creatures walking across the scene.



(Copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved.)
The walking Creatures Composited into the scene.


You can see the compositing process here.


"The CG scenes were all quite short; pretty much all under 3 seconds each. One of the reasons for that, is we didn't want to show too much of the creatures. You never really see the full creature till the end of the film. While we did build a full size puppet for the film, primarily for reference for the actors so they would know what they were reacting to, it did end up in one or two quick shots. But, primarily we used the CG figure."


"They gave me a detailed description of what they wanted the creature to do in each one of the scenes. They also sent me a disk with what they call a scoring dub, which was the whole movie with just the dialog and a time-code running along the bottom. This allowed me to design the animations to fit exactly to the timing of the scenes. They made it easier for me because most of the scenes where they were going to have the creatures inserted, they had the camera locked down. So this allowed me to work as if I was working against a still image. For a lot of the scenes where the creatures actually had to interact with buildings, I used Arndt Von Koenigsmarck's Photomatch Plug-in. What PhotoMatch does, is take the Cinema 4d Camera and match it up with a background photo. It's used a lot for architectural work. It will match your perspective to the photo, so that the objects you create in Cinema 4D will be in the right spot. What I did a lot of times to sync up the scene, was to actually cut out the appropriate section of the scoring dub and save it out as a QuickTime movie. I would use that in a material and assign that to a background object, so when I did the test previews I could see the time-code in the background and really be able to line everything up well."



(Copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved.)


In this scene where the Creature has to run past the headlights of a car, it was convenient for Dan to have the Scoring Dub, allowing him to put it in the background and set up lights based on the scene. The numbers you see in the scene, is the time code.


"That system actually really became handy in one scene where the creature had to jump off of a roof and land on the back of one of the actors. We had discussed that scene at length, and Tony said we would like to get that action, but if we can't pull it off we will have to figure out something else. I told him I would give it a try, see if I could get it working, and using that technique with the video footage in the background and using that Photomatch plug-in, I was able to pull it off." You can see the actual footage for the attack from the rooftop, and how it was put together here.


Once Dan got the figure animated properly, he would render out a pass with just the figure and an alpha channel. One thing that was interesting was that while most of the creature action takes place at night, so that any halo-effect not covered by the alpha wouldn't be noticeable, there were a couple of daylight shots, which may have had issues with halos, so he came up with an interesting way of dealing with that situation for those shots. "What I did with those was, I had Tony send me a full resolution JPEG file to use as a background. I rendered those scenes with the background, so the alpha would show a little of the color of the background around the edge of the animation." This effectively killed any halo-effect issues due to the antialiasing in compositing. Compositing of the animation and live action shots was then done by Synthetic Fur in After Effects.


So, thanks to a plug-in, its creator was able to expand his work into the film world, Synthetic Fur got what it needed, and there are some fat, happy aliens running around. Keep a look out for them in your neck of the woods, unless you want to become their next meal!




See the Trailer for Night Feeders at their official website.


Tony Elwood is president of Synthetic Fur Productions. He lives in
Charlotte, NC, where he oversees various motion picture and television
projects.


Daniel "Cactus Dan" Libisch lives and works in Utah. Currently he works as a freelance 3D character rigger/animator/plugin developer.


Will Dupré is an independent modeler who works exclusively in C4D. His primary income comes from producing products for use in Poser and DAZ|Studio. For more information, please visit: www.willsmind.com




All supporting images are copyright 2006, Synthetic Fur Productions, All Right Reserved,
and cannot be copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission.

May 8, 2006


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Member Opinions:
By: kromekat on 5/9/06
Excellent article! - congrats to all concerned for the achievement. Having just rigged and animated a character for a film myself using Dans excellent IK tools, I understand completely why Synthetic turned to him for the CA!

By: McDod on 5/9/06
Very interesting, will definitely check the sites mentioned.

By: deemarie on 5/10/06
Outstanding article. I have always found the back-story of a movie fascinating [so much so that I have recently purchased several DVDs just to listen to the Director/Writer's commentary]. Although horror is not my forte, I will be sure to check out this movie, especially for the 3D aspects.

Thank you Will Dupré for bringing Night Feeders to our attention. Also, a special thanks to Tony Elwood for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give us an inside look at the making of his film.

Dee-Marie

By: sd012q on 5/10/06
a must read
thanks for letting us know about night feeders

By: tafsheep on 5/12/06
anyone ever seen inseminoid?


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