“On August 17th 1986, the geniuses at Pixar released a short film that would change the way we make films, forever. Here are our motion control robots…”
Last year fxguide was proud to spend a week with Stiller Studios shooting.
It’s 5am we have been shooting all week, it is down to just three of us now, all the rest of the crew having done their jobs have left for the night, Patrik Forsberg (Director and head of Stiller) walks the tracks one last time, given the time and when the Bolt rig will be shipped out to London, this is our last take. It is cold, it is dark and we are out of time. Tomas T Jernberg has not slept in what seems like days, ever since in a pre-production meeting earlier in the week and an idea appeared we could not kill.
Sitting around days earlier planning test shoots with the team from Mark Roberts Motion control, someone had joked we had a big and a small rig like Luxo Jr. A big lamp and a small lamp in the two massive motion control systems downstairs. The huge Cyclops rig, one of the most impressive motion control systems in the world, was sharing a studio this week with a Bolt also by Mark Roberts Motion control. Once it had been verbalised – we knew we had to do it. Animate the Cyclops and the Bolt to reenact the most significant piece of computer animation ever. Every member of the team knew and loved the landmark Luxo Jr. animation from Pixar.. but was it possible?
Tomas thought it might just be possible to use the pre-vis software at Stiller (IKtrix) to animate the motion control rigs over the top of a youtube version of Luxo Jnr. – “but it would take some time”, explained the steely-eyed Tomas. While the rest of the week’s shooting continued with explosions, fights, trampolines and semi-naked fashion models, Tomas worked around the clock to animate not one, but two rigs to perform the ballet of heavy metal robotics.
The rigs are incredible accurate, – as we posted on fxphd at the time “If you put a laser on your Red Epic at one end of the 8 metre track and fly back at an incredible rate (arm and rig) then fly back again and repeat, the accuracy from one end to the other is half a laser beam wide. “In your face tracking software… ” (to paraphase Matt Damon).” But for all the accuracy we were flying two vast robotic rigs around with tonnes of inertia and millions of dollars of precision motion control at stake.
The time came to attempt the last take. Stiller DOP Marcus Dineen had lit the set, but after a long week of shooting he had left me to turn over the cameras for filming, while Tomas ran the software and Marcus stood next to the panic kill switch should anything go wrong. The Cyclops is a 4.5 tonne robot that reminds me more of a Transformer than a tripod.
We had had a series of delays as the quick motion risked tripping the safety protocols. Also this was not going to be filmed as two separate passes, both rigs had to run in sync and in time, the entire way.
Final checks, from the three of us, – and the knowledge that this was a last chance to get the take… and none of us are fully awake.
Tomas runs the motion control commands and two camera platforms come to life and start to move. There is something truly impressive watching these rigs move with all the precision and repeatability that such professional rigs have… right up until they don’t. Disaster. Just over half way through and the safety trips and the rigs freeze. Our hearts sink.. that’s it – weeks of work wasted. It is extremely rare to have two such rigs in the same studio and have the studio free to do this. I was myself flying to Sydney, leaving for the airport at 8am (in 2 hours time). And then it occurs to us – the rigs are so steady – so precise – we can just start them again from their frozen point and the two sections of the film will cut together seamlessly. We had been shooting slower than realtime for safety reasons, so there was no motion blur to worry about. Tomas restarted the animation sequence 1 frame on and the entire sequence finished as the dawn approached. Patrik Forsberg is one of the most dedicated and enthusiastic studio heads in the world, he has gather a team around him dedicated to producing great imagery and in Sweden he has one of the most advanced motion control studios we have ever visited, I could not help thinking Patrik had just willed this project to work… in the entire week – working through the night, he was the last to leave and the smile on his face said it all as I waved goodbye in the taxi…
Later, the team at Stiller did the single edit of the two halves, removed some rig and then added the ball in post and thanks to Rasmus Pultz. The Mark Roberts rigs are 100% in camera.
Happy Birthday Luxo Jr.
(See more on this week of shooting for fxphd.com here)