No Ordinary Guinea Pig

May 28, 2011 11:35 pm

Tags: CINEMA 4D, MAXON, Scott Strohmaier

PBS Kids' Hooper Gets a Makeover in C4D

Hooper, the lovable talking guinea pig who stars alongside his teacher, Miss Rosa, on PBS Kids has always been short, cute and full of personality. Now, after being recreated using MAXON's CINEMA 4D, the five-year-old, furry preschooler is even more engaging and interactive. (See a clip here)

Santa Monica, California-based Eden FX used MAXON's Hair module to ensure Hooper's fur had the same look and natural movement it had in Autodesk's Maya.

Hooper's makeover was part of a larger effort to attract an even bigger audience to PBS Kids' popular lineup of hit shows, including "Sesame Street," "Curious George," "Super Why!," and "Sid the Science Kid." The project began with PBS producers hiring the Santa Monica, California-based visual effects and animation house Eden FX (a Point.360 company).

Run by John Gross, who is also the company's VFX supervisor, Eden FX was asked to create 70 interstitials that would air between each of the morning shows. Just over 23 minutes, the new animated material would essentially be a teaser for Hooper's highly anticipated second season. (See the Eden FX Montage Reel here)

Animation director Jason Hearne headed up the team charged with recreating PBS' beloved Hooper in Cinema 4D.

There was just one major challenge. Hooper was originally created in Autodesk's Maya, which meant render times were longer than optimal considering the project's six-month deadline and the capacity of the in-house render farm. So a decision was made to add C4D to the pipeline, says Jason Hearne, the EMMY-nominated animation director who headed up the Eden FX team that recreated Hooper.

"Our plan was to use both CINEMA 4D and Maya side by side so we could have many options for artists working on multiple platforms," he explains. "Even though some might balk at the idea of trying to replicate the same task across two different programs, I knew we could do it with CINEMA."

In all, Eden FX created 70 interstitials as teasers for Hooper's second season.

Using C4D and Maya side by side

To transfer everything into CINEMA 4D, Hearne first used Maya's FBX Exporter to send character mesh, blend shapes, joints, control splines, and make texture maps with UV Coordinates (which allowed for quick texture placement). This gave the team about 90 percent of what they needed. Minor tweaking, such as binding, physics and refining Hooper's fur, was done by David O'Reilly, creator of C4D's Hair module and freelance designer and animator Rob Garrott.

As VFX supervisor on the project, Hearne helped actors interact naturally with Hooper's character even though the guinea pig was added to the scene later.

Converting the FBX bones to joints was a cinch using a C4D auto function. Hearne and his team also used Cactus Dan's plug-in suite CD Character Bundle Pro to convert the bones and do the rigging.

Bringing Hooper to life

Ensuring that the look of Hooper's fur remained consistent was a challenge for the team as any change in things like thickness, color and shadow would be noticeable to fans. Hearne handled the task with C4D's Hair module and liked how "intuitive" the process was. "I didn't need to spend a lot of time learning how to use it like you sometimes do with other software," Hearne says. "With a couple of clicks I was able to get you most of what I wanted." All that was left was trimming Hooper's hair to match his original look.

Creating a sense of playfulness was key to the success of the interstitials since Hooper's character interacts with other preschoolers on the show.

Hearne's team also used Hair to make Hooper's fur move as it had in Maya. The end result was realistic-looking fur that moved when Hooper moved. "We took a lot of pride in making it look like he was real," says Hearne, adding that when the project was finished, no one could tell the difference between the original Maya Hooper and the C4D recreation in side-by-side comparisons.

"It was very exciting to get this character exported successfully out of his native program with such amazing results," says Hearne. "But most importantly, we took a 20-minute per frame render from Maya and we reduced it to a two-minute per frame render in CINEMA 4D."

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Article by Scott Strohmaier

Scott Strohmaier is a writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and son.

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