Hive FX and the Creative Pipeline

July 18, 2015 12:56 am

Tags: HiveFX, Monster Making, Pipelines, Special Effects, VFX


Picture It

HIVE-FX on using their custom creative pipelines for product visualization.

Over the past five years, Portland, Oregon-based HIVE-FX ( has made a name for itself making gruesome monsters for NBC’s Grimm. Based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, the series centers around ordinary-looking people who morph into hideous creatures and back again. Creating a pipeline capable of pulling off such complex character transformations on tight deadlines wasn’t easy. But the busy VFX, animation and live-action studio did it, and the result has enabled them to take on an increasingly wide range of projects.

Since opening its doors seven years ago, HIVE-FX has done product visualization for clients, including Nike, Razorfish, Empire Green Creative and Wieden and Kennedy. Recently, they were asked to do visualizations for Riddell and Microsoft. Relying on an array of software, including Cinema 4D, Maya, ZBrush, Mari and After Effects, they created an animated 3D model of a new football helmet for Riddell, as well as 3D renderings of the Microsoft Band, a new health and fitness wristband ( Each project was made for Web-based use and took about two to three months from start to finish.

While they love the cinematic challenges that go with working on a television series, it’s nice when HIVE-FX artists get the opportunity to do something different. “We do so many creature shots for Grimm, which is really fantastic,” says Executive Producer Gretchen Miller. “But building something you can actually hold in your hand and is a fun change.

A Better Helmet

Empire Green, a Portland-based creative agency brought HIVE-FX on for the Riddell project, which involved working on the football helmet manufacturer’s InSite Impact Response System ( The technology, which is integrated into the helmet, is intended to monitor and record head impacts during practice and games to enable improved management of injuries such as concussions.

In this final render, the path of the helmet’s force field is visible. The force field simulates the distribution of the impact on the helmet.

After doing boards and discussing ideas, Riddell provided the helmet and the HIVE-FX team took reference photos and meticulously modeled each piece using ZBrush and Maya. At the same time, the team’s rigger started assembling and developing the toolset for the animators. Textures were created with the 3D painting tool, Mari.

Cinema 4D’s editor view of Riddell’s new helmet before rendering. Check out the artist’s custom interface layout.

 “After we hammer out the model and textures, we start our look development process and lighting in C4D,” Guy Cappiccie, HIVE-FX’s creative lead explains, adding that, next, they output open EXR’s, which are composited later in After Effects. “We had a lot of back and forth on it that was really about just finding the balance between how something would look in reality versus hyper reality,” he says. 

Modeled in C4D, this final composited render shows the helmet’s impact information using LED readout.

As they worked, the team learned a lot about the complexity and sophistication of helmets and spent a good deal of time developing the right look for each surface. In keeping with their pipeline, rigging, animating, texturing and lighting, were done in Cinema 4D. The main challenge was getting the quality they wanted with manageable render times. “Each new job present some kind of technical challenges,” Cappiccie explains. “That’s where our departments collaborate to find the best possible solution.

Microsoft Band

Razorfish, a global agency with offices in Portland, hired HIVE-FX to work on the Microsoft Band project. The job evolved over time from standard product rendering to a full motion, exploded-view 3D renderings generated from CAD models as the client expanded their advertising plans into more interactive forms. “They really wanted to allow their target audience to get a feel for the product itself,” Project Coordinator Ian Chapman recalls. “They required some animated cycles that people could interact with online that would display the product design and features when selected.

 The final render of the Microsoft Band.

For the most part, the HIVE-FX team used the same pipeline for Riddell and the Microsoft Band. Starting with the CAD files, the team exported the model into Cinema 4D and then started the look development and rigging processes, which included texturing the object and giving it a control system for moving all of the components. Once the rig was finalized, the animation process began. There were two versions to do: A regular 360-degree rotation and an exploded 360-degree view. After animation approval, they moved to lighting setups that would give the product the final look for client approval.

The exploded view gave people the opportunity to really see how the Microsoft band’s technology fit together. 

As they usually do, HIVE-FV provided each client with high-resolution stills, as well as Quicktime files of the final animation in multiple sizes. But in the case the Microsoft Band, they also needed to composite the product onto various backgrounds and transparencies for use in different applications. “The transparencies allow artists to cut out and keep the render separate from other elements they may be working with, giving them more freedom and control of things like color, background and screen content,” Chapman explains.

    C4D’s editor view of the product shot ready for rendering.

In addition to many other types of projects, Miller says HIVE-FX will continue to seek out product visualization work because it’s something they enjoy doing. “It’s a very important component to any new product line, and can also be a very helpful sales tool,” she says. “We have some clients who have us make 3D products so they can presale before they go in to manufacturing. That way they know if there is a demand.”

-Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.


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