The Making of Narnia 3D

Since 1998, TRIXTER has been creating outstanding visual effects and digital character animation for feature films, television and commercials. From the early days, TRIXTER established itself as a major player in the field of emotive character animation, both for fully computer generated animated features as well as live-action productions. In the past few years, TRIXTER has been broadening their expertise into visual effects and have recently accomplished some outstanding work for German and international projects such as Ninja Assassin, Percy Jackson, Lilly The Witch and many more.

Today, TRIXTER is unique in its ability to provide quality digital production for live action or animated features, in mono or stereo 3D. Whether it be key framed computer generated characters or motion capture driven performances, matte paintings or FX work, TRIXTER has the experience and talent to work to the highest standards. And it is precisely this expertise that has captured the attention of major studios and has earned TRIXTER highly coveted spots on the productions of such new 3D blockbusters as Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Green Hornet.

IRIDAS recently caught up with the team at TRIXTER to talk about one of their recent crowning achievements, Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

TRIXTER has quickly become renowned for their expertise in stereoscopy, their early experience with stereoscopic conversions, and their advanced in-house tools and standardized workflows. TRIXTER has also earned a reputation for managing conversion projects with extreme accuracy. Following a test project for MARVEL Studios, TRIXTER earned the confidence and trust of Walden Media and FOX Studios and earned a spot for the stereo 3D work on Narnia.

We spoke with Michael Coldeway, president of TRIXTER, and asked him about their work on Narnia, the production pipeline they executed, and the challenges they faced.

What makes TRIXTER stand apart? What made TRIXTER so ideally suited for the conversion of Narnia?

I believe that one attribute that is not only unique to TRIXTER, but attractive to our clients, is that we do not use an automated process as part of our workflows. But rather, we select appropriate VFX techniques for each shot, be they projection, feature detection, motion detection, 3D point clouds, keying, cleanplates, and in combination with our proprietary stereo 3D pipeline tools.

We are first and foremost a VFX company. We’re highly experienced in solving problems creatively and technically. Before landing Narnia, we had already put several films in their entirety through our facility in various capacities; this means that our pipeline is proven and reliable, and we understand the realities of stereo conversion, post production and a deadline.

With our general understanding of storytelling and visuals, we now approach stereo conversion in a very unique way – it’s not necessarily about just rotoscoping everything, but using all the VFX tricks we’ve learned, we create a stereo volume which helps the narrative or mood of a scene.

What were some of the key requirements and demands on your team?

The team had a number of challenges and requirements, including the need for our team to work in strict adherence to a detailed creative briefing and tight delivery schedule. The flexibility of our workflow and our ability to leverage all of our technical procedures while keeping the focus on the substance of the shot was also a key challenge. But we invested the time and energy to truly understand what the creators had in mind, the story they wanted to tell, and how the stereoscopic effects would enhance the story. Then we rallied our team behind the vision of the client!

What stood out as the immediate challenges for the project?

We entered this project knowing that 2D – 3D conversion – or movies that had recently been converted – received a lot of criticism, so the anxiety level was high. For the major US studios, the pressure was high to get the movie into the theaters with no complaints about the S3D. So while quality expectations were very high, there was also a significantly high level of stereoscopic complexity and detail, so the pressure was on!

We also spoke with Michael about the pipeline and asked him to describe TRIXTER’s workflow on Narnia for us. Here’s what he had to say:

For the Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we were able to use our standardized in-house workflow from the many, many 2D projects we’ve completed. We only needed to make some changes to our file structure. Additionally, we already had a basic stereo compositing pipeline. Additional modules were needed to implement additional stereoscopic VFX layers and — especially in NUKE — we created a lot of creative gizmos to help us control of the 3D space. IRIDAS FrameCycler is our main tool for stereoscopic reviews. The FrameCycler timeline is generated automatically by our pipeline tool using database information. All artists render directly into a FrameCycler timeline, and review shots in context of the edit (at a workstation as well as in screening room). It’s a huge help that all of our different systems are supported: interlaced screens, shutter projectors, anaglyph, you name it.

Plus, and this was a huge benefit of FrameCycler, the XML format of the IRCP files enables us to easily implement FrameCycler into our automated pipeline.

How important is pipeline automation to your process in general?

Pipeline automation is absolutely crucial for any production over a certain scale.

We utilize a very unique data import process for a company our size. FrameCycler DI and MetaRender are important parts of this procedure.

As conversion is much more a process of incremental changes compared with shooting live action 3D, how important are real time review capabilities?

Reviewing shots on a decent desktop 3D monitor is crucial for every artist, however in our experience, we realized that regular reviews on a big screen are even more important. FrameCycler made that not only possible, but easy!

What kind of data would you ideally like to get from the set for a conversion projects?

There are some specific things we need to see, including separate, pre-combined and pre-multiplied 2D elements according to arrangement in depth with alpha channel – clean plates or clean backgrounds – any roto masks created for 2D composite – witness camera footage in sync with original plates – general camera data (lenses, apertures, distances) – ideally a z depth channel for rendered CG elements.

How would you sum up your experience with IRIDAS FrameCycler on this project?

We can safely say that the team at TRIXTER heavily relies on what is a highly stable, well developed and proven solution from IRIDAS. Framecycler not only delivered the performance and quality our clients demanded, it also seamlessly played with all of our 3D hardware, and that’s critical for us. With a project as massive as Narnia, you don’t want to have to waste precious time wondering if your tools will work together. FrameCycler delivered with flying colors!

TRIXTER has offices in Munich and Berlin, in Germany and is opening an office in Los Angeles in early 2011.

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