Passion Pictures Uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI for Apocalyptic "El Manana" Music Video

July 31, 2006 12:33 am

Passion Pictures Uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI for Apocalyptic “El Manana” Music Video
by Michael Abraham

For those of you don’t already know, let’s get this straight: Gorillaz may be animated, but The Archies they ain’t. Comprising a spacey lead singer (2-D), a 10-year-old girl guitarist and martial arts master (Noodle), a 340-pound drummer (Russell) and a rambling, ribald bassist who just might be a Satanist (Murdoc Nicalls), Gorillaz is the bona fide band for the new millennium, even if they are just a figment of artist Jamie Hewlett’s (creator of Tank Girl and owner of production company Zombie Flesheaters) fertile imagination.

Since they burst on to the scene in late 2000 with their EP Tomorrow Comes Today, Gorillaz have seamlessly blended satiric playfulness with surprisingly passionate delivery to build a large and devoted following. They even opened this year’s Grammy Awards, with a little help from a lady named Madonna. Despite their comical appearance, however, this “band” has a seriously serious side. Witness “El Manana, Gorillaz’ most recent single and video, co-directed by Hewlett and Pete Candeland, with animation from London-based Passion Pictures using SOFTIMAGE|XSI.
“As a company specializing in character animation, we’ve been really fortunate to work on a number of high profile projects,” says Jason Nicholas, Head of CG at Passion. “We’ve done commercials for mobile communications companies like Carphone Warehouse and Vodafone, the long-running germ campaign for Domestos bleach and, of course, our work for Gorillaz. All these projects give us the opportunity for great character development, special effects creation and live action integration. Working on ‘El Manana’ presented some significant challenges involving fire, smoke, dust and collapsing buildings. XSI is at the core of our production pipeline, and we used the system on our entire production, from modeling and rendering to full-scale effects.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
“El Manana” opens with an utterly serene Noodle pleasantly perched on her own castle in the air. The fact that her castle is, in fact, a sedately-rotating windmill, however, grimly foreshadows the quixotic nature of her floating universe. It isn’t long before the idyllic scene catches up with 2-D’s mournful vocals, as two military helicopters infect the cloud-strewn sky. Noodle seeks refuge in her now bullet riddled windmill, but the helicopters prove merciless, returning again and again to wreak their destruction. Gradually, then suddenly, Noodles’ island plummets to earth, an incendiary flash of orange signaling final impact. A final bomb is dropped to ensure the heavenly world and its innocent owner are both no more.

Hey…I warned you this wasn’t kids’ stuff.

As one of the largest and most popular character animation studios in Britain, with 40 workstations helping talented artists and animators create projects such as the Oscar and Emmy-award winning documentary One Day In September, Passion was quite simply the ideal choice to take on the challenge of “El Manana.” The company’s choice of its core software goes back to before Gorillaz came calling, however, to approximately two years ago:
“The main reason we chose SOFTIMAGE|XSI is its versatility,” says Nicholas matter-of-factly. “The system covers almost all of our pipeline and, through scripting and plug-ins, allows us complete control of projects like ‘El Manana’. The UI is very straightforward and even our traditional animators have been able to pick it up relatively quickly. On top of that, the system has great integration with mental ray rendering and is wonderfully flexible if and when we need to work with other packages. Simply put, XSI is the package that best suits our needs.”

While a strong and flexible software package can help out, however, the ultimate success of any project comes down to the artists and animators who work on it.Passion’s flexible pipeline allows artists to use their package of choice for modeling, almost all of which is accomplished using polygons and subdivision surfaces, mostly in SOFTIMAGE|XSI. Once modeling is complete and approved, however, everything is imported into XSI for the duration of the project. Indeed, former Passion Technical Director Mark Wilson used SOFTIMAGE|XSI's C++ API to extend his PointOven cross-platform pipeline tool for that purpose. The results proved so successful it was integrated into SOFTIMAGE|XSI v.5.1 and the new SOFTIMAGE|FACE ROBOT application, all of which has been good news for Passion Art Director Stuart Hall:


“SOFTIMAGE|XSI’s newest preferences for Wireframe Highlight Opacity and Point Size display have proved tremendously helpful when envisioning a model more as a surface than a collection of lines and dots,” he explains. “As an artist, that really helps me feel like I’m actually sculpting, not just joining up the dots. The Tweak tool is also a great addition. With SOFTIMAGE|XSI, it’s basically quite difficult to build bad geometry. All the tools are robust and work well.”

For all its strengths, however, for character animators like those at Passion, it is rendering that is most important:
“We have a render farm composed of 60 dual processor machines,” explains Nicholas. “We schedule our renders using an off the shelf render software which we enable through some custom XSI plug-ins. All the scenes and rendered files are organized, so submitting a render to the farm is easy as clicking a button. It’s bliss, mainly because all the pathnames are automatically taken care of.”

Hall is quick to agree with Nicholas:
“There is something about mental ray that gives our renders a unique quality,” he says somewhat cryptically. “I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s there. The control of rendering is also brilliant when setting up lighting and texturing. Undersampling the anti-aliasing as the lights are dragged about is a great feature, and when I’m refining textures and shaders, I can post samples at render quality and see how they’ll look in the finished piece. What’s more, because the render region can be scaled up, we can work on textures at a higher resolution, which allows us to see what the shaders are doing and improves the final render. It’s all good.

All content and images within this article are copyright ©2006 Avid Technology, Inc. All Rights Reserved.,
and used with special permisson. Use of these images without written permission is prohibited.

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.

  • For more news from Softimage, visit their website.

July 31, 2006

Article Comments

Ilenora ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 July 2006

A very instering story, but why don't the images show up for me? All I get is a little red cross :(

Star4mation ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 July 2006

So where's the pictures then?!!! All I get is words and Big blank spaces!!!!! :(

nickcharles ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 July 2006

Sorry about that. The images should appear now :D

Ilenora ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 July 2006

That's much better ^_^ Thank you!

Ilenora ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 31 July 2006

So... Where exactly can I find this music video? I 'd liked to watch it ^_^

Kid_Fisto ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 01 August 2006

Los manana...many times, you'll want...want want want to be mine. love the gorillaz. thanks for the info...and where is the vid?

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 02 August 2006

I have been a long time fan of the artwork in all of the Gorillaz videos. I was very excited to see this article, as I have been trying to get an interview with Jamie Hewlett for over a year. Each new video surpasses that one before! One site that you can view the "El Manana" video [as well as others]: And just for the fun of it: Visit the Gorillaz Official Web Site, it's just toOOooo much fun! Dee-Marie

linz_gorrie ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 03 August 2006

Folks, go to the Passion Pictures site link embedded in the article and follow the links.. simple really. Linz

linz_gorrie ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 03 August 2006

And their right... that's one HEAVY video!

jhustead ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 03 August 2006

Thanks for the link and the news story you posted for us to read. I went and watched the video and I'm quite amazed at what I saw. Two of my favorite parts of the video were when the bullet holes came flying through the wall, and the other part of the video was when the island in the air was plunging down to the ground and the camera went through some parts of the windmill. Thanks for pointing out this band, because I've never heard of them before but their music is pretty cool and laid-back from what I could tell from the one song. And on the bonus side they have a cool video as well. James a.k.a. jhustead

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 04 August 2006

Hi Linz, The only problem with trying to view the video from the Passion Pictures link, is that you have to download Flash 5, or have pop-ups unblocked ... which can be a pain to some viewers. Thus, the alternative link helps :] Dee-Marie