Roger Ebert gives Janimation’s
Spy Kids 2 Effects: “thumbs up”

IRIDAS Products at Janimation

IRIDAS customer Janimation has FrameCycler Standard deployed site-wide. Janimation relies on FrameCycler for reviewing and selecting footage before importing it into the compositing system.

Janimation will be working with IRIDAS to beta test interoperability plug-ins with Softimage's XSI.



Janimation recently completed the Sea Creature sequences among others for Robert Rodriguez’s latest film release, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.

The reviews are out and Janimation’s debut vfx contribution did not go unnoted. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “I liked the special effects, especially a green-and-gold sea monster that was kind of beautiful in its own way.”

Janimation’s owner, Steve Gaçonnier, was extremely pleased with the kudos. “I can’t think of a better review than getting your work specifically mentioned in a critique by Roger Ebert”

Janimation’s assignment began with a feverish pace of concept designs for a two-headed sea creature. About thirty drawings were presented ranging from cartoon playful to demonic realism. At that point Robert explained that he had directed Chris Olivia at Troublemaker Digital to ensure that the animatic was a strong base for design, composition and animation for all aspects of the movie. Janimation immediately created a new series of designs based on the provided animatic. Upon design approval, the Janimation team went to work on building the CG character.

The model was “nothing new” according to 3D supervisor, Greg Punchatz.

He was more hyped about the rigging of the character. “One of the really cool things we used for animating our sea monster was the “Isner Spine”. The spine was originally created by Michael Isner of Softimage’s special projects group. It gave us a fantastic way of animating the long necks of the creature which were much easier to use than a traditional “bones” setup. Using the “Isner spine” we were able to animate the neck with only four control objects and get much quicker results than traditional techniques.”

The creature animation was developed by Punchatz and lead animator, John McInnis.

Janimation used a Synoptic view as another time saving tool. Punchatz explains, “What the synoptic view did was allow us to design our own portable interface for our characters. This XSI feature allows the animator to easily select parts of the characters quickly and is much less cumbersome than trying to pick directly on a complex model. What you need is right at your fingertips. The other thing this does for us is gives us the ability to hire animators that may have never worked with XSI because all of the tools he or she needs is in this simple to understand interface. Besides that, being able to build and design an interface of your dreams that works using not much more than Photoshop and simple scripts is just too cool!” Technical supervisor, Ludo Michaud, performed the rigging set-up as well as generating the custom synoptic view. When asked about the rendering, Michaud just twitched and walked away.

Janimation also had the task of integrating the sea creature into the water plates. After consulting the visual effects coordinator, Keefe Boerner and the post supervisor, Brian “more cowbell” McNulty, it was determined that Janimation would need to shoot water practicals to complete the shots. The practicals were shot in HD with vfx direction duo of Lyn Caudle and Steve Gaçonnier. The practical elements included dripping water, wakes and splashes. Caudle fondly reminisces, “We brought out a 70' crane in order to drop and lift 55 gallon drums in and out of the water. In addition, we built a jaw skeleton to emulate the CG shape of the creature for more accurate drips. Air cannons placed just below the water surface provided a wide variety of bursts and sprays. Oh and should I mention the wave runner? Anyway, the results were just what we needed.” Additional CG particle effects were sprinkled into the composites and were provided by Caudle and fx animator, Jason Stambolian.

Says Caudle, "After the shoot we had quite a bit of footage that the comp team would have to go through and find something they liked. Thats where IRIDAS FrameCycler came in. All these clips were stored as sequences and at HD res. 1920 x 1080. We needed to be able to playback this footage for the compositors. This gave them the ability to quickly view and decide which elements they could use on any given comp. Much of the time we used proxy footage at half that res but still. FrameCycler worked into the pipeline quite well so that we could view elements and shots quickly. We are eagerly looking forward to IRIDAS plug-ins to our 3D software. This would be an even bigger improvement to workflow."

The variations were then acquired into Janimation's HD|DS to create a library of luma-keyable elements for the compositors to use.

The 2D team had the task of removing the land behind the floating spy kids, adding another 2-3 miles of ocean into the distance. They also tackled the splash and wake water integration, some manipulative color corrections as well as the tedious task of rotoscoping mattes for the kids in order to composite the monster behind them. Lead compositor Alex Neuman commented, “During production I kept wishing the monster would go ahead and eat the children so we wouldn’t have to rotoscope them anymore!” Additional compositing credits go to Gary Walker, Jenni Hudgens, Fran Gaçonnier, Jana Oleksinski and Ben Hoffman.

Janimation communicated directly with Robert Rodriguez utilizing a real-time application by Hybride Technologies called Quicktime Synchro. As soon as Robert was available, we were able to view the same QT movie simultaneously from Austin to Dallas. With this technology, feedback was immediate and Janimation was able to work shots through with Robert without the need for overnighting dailies. This communication proved efficient and allowed for the implementation of more creative shots in less time.

FX Producer, Pete Herzog, was in charge of asset management and shot organization. Herzog stated, “Pre-pro and keeping organized to a sickening degree helped meet our deadlines. We listed every single step of the production pipeline to ensure nothing was missed and no mistakes were made. The internal communication and daily 'reality checks' meant no surprises and kept our focus clear. We knew where we were going and how we were getting there. It was a thing of beauty to watch all our artists come together as one and see the finished project due on time when it seemed that time was against us. The end result was very rewarding.”

“Working with an inventive creative like Robert Rodriguez was a great opportunity for Janimation. It was astonishing to watch Janimation’s resourcefulness and imagination elevate as a group. The experience will refine the way Janimation will approach all our work for the better.” added Gaçonnier.

When asked what was next, Gaçonnier replied, “We will continue to do what we love to do and coincidentally what we do best… animation and visual effects… any style, any impossibility… bring it on!”

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