Innotion Studio Uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI To Create 100+ Characters for Tonki Bear
By Michael Abraham
My nine-year-old son, Zack, recently informed me of his career plans. First, he wants to be a fire fighter. Once that is accomplished, he is willing to become an astronaut if, and only if, the world is under attack from space aliens. Though young in years, however, my Zack is nothing if not a realist; he knows that even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry and, for that reason, he has a backup plan. If worst comes to worst, he says, hell just become a doctor.
Wouldnt it be great if we could just try out careers and see what theyre like? Maybe actually working as a sanitation engineer or hockey player; as a heart surgeon or brick layer; as a social worker ordare I say it?a 3D animator would help each of us find out not only what we love to do and what we dont, but also give us a better, more respectful understanding of what all those other people out there do with their days and lives. That would be a great gift indeed.
Thats what happens to Tonki Honeywell, the young bear cub and animated star of Tonki Bear (http://www.tonkibearmovie.com/), an upcoming animated feature film from Hong Kongs Innotion Studio (http://www.innotions.com.hk/) featuring more than 100 animated characters created through extensive use of SOFTIMAGE|XSI.
Founded in 2005 by veteran CG Director Tung Ming Tony Tang, Innotion has quickly become the recognized leader of Hong Kongs nascent 3D animation industry. The shared imagination and hard work of Tang and his extraordinary colleagues, including Director Chung Man Calvin Siu; Creative Director Pak Nin Felix Chan; and animator Wai Ho Fan, has already begun reaping benefits. Innotion recently collected the award for Outstanding Start-up Company at the 4th annual Hong Kong Digital Entertainment Excellence Awards (www.hkpc.org/hkdeea/professional_category/pc_ca_s_eng.htm). Perhaps more impressive, given that Tonki Bear is only slated for theatrical release in the spring of 2007, is the fact that the companys inaugural feature film project received the Best Computer Animation award at the same ceremony.
Like every bear growing up in Wintergreen City, Tonki Honeywell receives a Dream Card for his eighth birthday. With this magical card, Tonki is given the great gift of two full days to find his dream job. As Tonki experiences the particular challenges involved in working as a doctor, a nurse, a professional basketball player, a Formula One race car driver and the corporate CEO of Honey Cola, he realizes that some jobs are not always as fun as they seem.
As the challenges of each job rise, Tonki takes full advantage of his gift by simply moving on to another job. As he summarily quits each job, however, the young bear begins to realize the importance of seeing things through. With help from his toy whale Belu, Tonki learns some valuable lessons about a complex world.
Even for so gifted a team, however, creating this story about the intrinsic value of work required a great deal of hard work to accomplish.
Put simply, the biggest challenge on Tonki Bear came with the creation of over 100 bears, says Tony. There were bears everywhere, each with different fur and a different personality to go with it. That made for a huge amount of character animation work. Even with the 40 talented animators we had working on the project, we were stretched to our limits.
Fortunately, according to Tony and his team, SOFTIMAGE|XSI was around to help extend those limits. With two studios in Hong Kong 4000 square feet in Cyberport, and an additional 3000 square feet in Causeway Bay Innotion has room for approximately 100 HP XW4300 CPUs running various production software packages, among which SOFTIMAGE|XSI is a definite favorite:
All of our animators have experience with SOFTIMAGE|3D and XSI, says Felix. For that reason alone, XSI was the best and most suitable choice for our Tonki Bear pipeline. Beyond that, however, XSI also has the best rendering engine, final gathering and hair/fur capabilities out there. The hair/fur dynamics are easier to manipulate, more stable and precise, and much faster than other 3D systems. All the tools are well-organized and integrated, and the Reference Model function makes it easier for artists to switch between them. Its also easy to create custom setups in just a few easy steps, which allows our artists to create their own hot keys and other conveniences to speed up the workflow. We needed it all on Tonki Bear.
For his part, Animation Supervisor Wai Ho Fan is quick to praise the SOFTIMAGE|XSI Animation Mixers contribution to Tonki Bear:
The Animation Mixer lets two animations become one, he says matter-of-factly. It can also change a complicated animation into a simple clip, making it much more easily manipulated. Features such as these are a tremendous benefit to project of this size. The Animation Mixers ability to reuse animation data on a large number of different character made for a huge saving in both work and time.
Rendering Over and Out
On a project the size of Tonki Bear, however, it seems fair to say that, both figuratively and literally, everything comes down to rendering. The Innotion team would agree:
With the fully integrated mental ray renderer, SOFTIMAGE|XSI has the best implementation of the fastest renderer there is, says Director Calvin. In addition to providing the highest quality animation in the fastest time, SOFTIMAGE|XSIs Global Illumination, Final Gathering and Caustics let us create more realistic and infinitely prettier scenes, while also creating more realistic reflections and refractions, which was of great value.
The XSI Render Region and Render Tree are very easy to manipulate, which saved us a lot of time while increasing the quality of the final rendered images, continues Tony. Its easier to make modifications any time we need or want to, which adds significantly to our artists creativity.
There is no question that Tonki Bear was a big job by any standard, but the Innotion Group has no intention of resting on their laurels. The team already has plans for two new 3D features, including the sequel to Tonki Bear, for their 2007 work schedule and, unlike the young bear they created,none of them have any plans to quit.
About Softimage Co.
Softimage Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc., delivers innovative, artist-friendly character creation and effects tools to animators and digital artists in the film, broadcast, post-production and games industries. Its product line includes SOFTIMAGE|XSI, the industry's only non-destructive digital character production software, and SOFTIMAGE|Face Robot, the first production toolset that multiplies face animation productivity by simplifying the complex process of preparing the face for animation and by giving artists precise control over the results.