SpeedGrade NX Powers Animation Pipeline for Zambezia 3D

As the trend in Hollywood toward increasingly sophisticated, visually immersive stereo 3D production continues, another trend is gaining ground as well; studios partnering with smaller, specialized stereo 3D production artists around the world who have invested in the tools and techniques to create custom stereo production pipelines built on the industry’s most leading edge technologies. IRIDAS customer, Triggerfish Animation Studios, has been building a reputation as one of those experts, with an innovative stereo pipeline built on SpeedGrade NX.

Triggerfish Animation Studios is a Cape Town based studio of professional artists who specialize in bringing fresh, inventive and efficient techniques into long format animation. It took its first plunge in 1996 as a high-end stop-frame studio producing animation for Takalani Sesame Street as well as creating some of South Africa’s most memorable commercials.

Recently, the team at Triggerfish partnered with San Francisco-based Wonderful Works on the production of the newest, soon to be released animated 3D film, Zambezia 3D. We sat down with the team to talk about Zambezia and the stereo 3D pipeline they developed to create this stunning, 3D animated feature film.

“The fact that Triggerfish is the only studio in South Africa that focuses exclusively on feature-length animated films means that we’re one of the few studios on the continent that have the energy and capacity to pull off a big production like Zambezia. The central theme of the story was penned by South African writers, so it made sense for the film to be produced by a studio who has always been passionate about telling African, yet universally appealing stories.

Our co-producers in the U.S., Wonderful Works, saw the potential of an independent studio presenting original stories from South Africa alongside big Hollywood studios which meant that we had to make sure that the movie’s local flavor and humor would also appeal to American audiences. One of the challenging requirements has been to keep an open mind in the creative transatlantic exchange between America and South Africa.

We always knew and had planned our online edit to be handled off premises at our partner company the HD Hub. Once Zambezia received the green light to become a fully stereoscopic film, we immediately began to R&D pipelines that would allow us all the control the 2D Edit and what we now call the 3D Edit. Early on in production we attempted to incorporate all the stereoscopic effects such as depth blending and floating windows into the Final Cut Edit. The 2D edit would effectively remain untouched other than implementing stereoscopic monitoring and effects. Things became a little more complicated when we discussed these stereoscopic effects with the HD Hub and how we would transfer all this information across to them. We could brute force it and manually recreate all the effects during the online, but that did not last long. XML files could transfer all the information needed, but getting time to test on the Baselight system was impossible. Ultimately we needed an all-in-one Online DI solution that allowed our stereo department to apply all the stereoscopic effects too.

The Workflow

The animation workflow is very much shot oriented – right down to the folder structure on the server. Each shot exists as an entirely separate entity from any other shot. Animators produced captures of their work during production that then was pulled into the edit each day. These files were stored with the animation files and originally the final rendered passes and fully composited shot would also live within their own folders.

The workflow developed organically to the system we have now where animation captures are converted to Prores/DNxHD and stored independently of the working animation files on a system dedicated to the edit suites. Final rendered DPX files became the next challenge, the director wanted to see them in the edit as soon as possible, so a few simple tools were scripted for DPX to Prores/DNxHD conversions.

With the addition of the IRIDAS SpeedGrade system for handling the online DI and 3D edit, we simply made a few minor changes to allow for SpeedGrade to access the stereo DPX files quickly and easily after receiving an EDL from the edit.

IRIDAS has become a key component of our edit and finishing solution. Once the 2D edit has been locked on each reel of the film, the editor exports an EDL for SpeedGrade, which then directly accesses the final rendered frames of the film.

Once conformed within SpeedGrade, the stereography department steps in. Their roll includes confirming that all final frames are 100% accurate between eyes as any slight disparities can cause visual artifacts and discomfort when viewing 3D films. They then apply any Depth Blending effects required and the application of floating windows is the final pass. SpeedGrade NX is the last step before going to DCI conversion either for cinema tests or final exports of the film. Effectively SpeedGrade was the solution to all our stereoscopic editing and DI needs. It has also given us the potential to do some primary grade work on the film before sending it out for the final grade.

SpeedGrade certainly filled all our current pipeline requirements with regards to a stereoscopic DI solution. Its near-perfect importing of EDLs which then link directly to the DPX sequences has made it so simple going from the offline edit to SpeedGrade. The flexibility and openness of SpeedGrade’s storage format (XML) has allowed us to write add on tools for some smaller in house requirements. The customization via the .fcps files has also made SpeedGrade fit perfectly into our pipeline.

Once we got our heads around the methodologies and innovations of IRIDAS and SpeedGrade, it became an indispensable tool in our arsenal and an extremely powerful stereoscopic workflow enhancement that has become second nature to our team.

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