Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Golden Oosikar' at Anchorage International Film Festival

I just got back from the Anchorage International Film Festival in Alaska. It was an eventful trip, starting with a missed connection and lost luggage, but ended on a high note with 'Topi' bagging the first prize in the animation category. For the 'Golden Oosikar' award, I received an oosik, which is a fossilized walrus penis (!).

The screening of 'Topi' that I attended went well and there were some good questions at the Q & A after. As I've mentioned before, this was the first time I'd seen the film with a public audience.

I also had the opportunity to meet several filmmakers and festival organizers. And I took lots of pictures of snow :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

River to River Florence Indian Film Festival Audience Award (Short Film)

I'm thrilled that Topi won its first audience award at an Indian-themed festival. This is also the film's first international award.

The festival's name refers to the rivers Arno (Italy) and Ganges (India).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

'Commendation' at 2D Or Not 2D Animation Festival

Very nice to be recognized by this festival because its mission is to promote traditional animation principles and their application in different mediums.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Making-of' Video

A video (created for an award application) that shows the step-by-step progress of two shots. Took forever to resurrect those old files, but it's a nice video to have.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

December Screenings

'Topi' was just accepted to Seattle's 2D or Not 2D Film Festival (Dec 5), which has described it as "the heartwarming tale of how opposites can meet and share in an unspoken brotherhood that defies prejudice, sectarianism and politics."

It will also screen in Florence, Italy, at the River to River Florence Indian Film Festival (Dec 4 - Dec 10) - the first time that any of my films will be shown in Italy.

Siggraph Asia is coming up as well: Dec 16 - Dec 19 in Yokohama, Japan.

Finally, I will be watching the film with an audience for the first time at the Anchorage International Film Festival (Dec 4 - Dec 17) in Alaska (also my first trip to Alaska).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

'Best Short Film' Finalist at South Asian International Film Festival

Topi was one of five finalists for the HBO Short Film Award at SAIFF 2009.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Upcoming Screenings

California International Animation Festival, Galaxy Theatre, Riverbank, CA - September 27, 2009

chashama Film Festival, New York - October 22-26, 2009

South Asian International Film Festival, New York - October 21-27, 2009

chashama is a 'Festival of the Worlds', SAIFF is a showcase for Indian/South Asian films, and CalAniFest is animation-only, so it's a pretty neat group to be part of.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Finalist at Angelus Student Film Festival


Update 9/7:
Although 'Topi' didn't win, I just learned that it will be screened at the DGA on Saturday September 19 (prior to the main screening) and included on a DVD compilation with the winners. Angelus does a really good job of publicizing films, so being included is huge.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First Independence Day Celebrations In Delhi (August 15,1947)

Recd an email forward with these pics that were taken shortly before the events depicted in 'topi':

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Festival update

Upcoming screenings:

Animanima, Čačak, Serbia - September 9-12, 2009

San Diego Asian Film Festival, San Diego, California - October 15-29, 2009

Siggraph Asia Animation Theater, Yokohama, Japan - December 16-19, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

World Premiere!

Just got word that 'topi' has been accepted to the Rhode Island International Film Festival! The festival will be held in Providence, RI from August 4-9, 2009.

*** Update: June 30 ***

'topi' has also been accepted to Animation Block Party in Brooklyn, where it will screen on July 26, 2009, making that the first public screening.

I'm stoked!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Yesterday was my final 5.1 surround mix, and I did my HD layback this afternoon. The layback isn't quite done due to technical problems, but should be in a couple of days.

I had two mixers this time - Paul André Fonarev and David Lankton - who did a fantastic job. One of their best ideas was to repurpose an unused music cue to give the climactic confrontation scene a lot more weight. It was scary adding music at the last minute to a scene that I'd conceived as music-less from the very beginning, but I'm confident that it was the right call.

This is the final version of the scene with the music cue:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Title Font

I ended up settling on the title font really late (the night before going to LA to do my layback).

Here's some options I considered:

And the winner:

I liked starting with a lower case 't' because it reinforces the idea that the prayer cap is a small difference between Hindus and Muslims. This version of the title is the most readable and clear, yet retains a distinct identity.

The font was something I downloaded, but I ended up tweaking it slightly for clarity. Here's what the raw font looks like:

I do like how the font looks in general, so I used it unmodified in the end credits. The line across the words is similar to Devnagari (Hindi) script, while the serifs and dots have an Islamic influence, again complementing the theme of my film.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New goon line

Old (can't use because the recording is bad):




(The new recording is me!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Score 6th Draft

Ludwig tried adding a flute where the vocals used to be:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Notes to Self

Towards the end of the production process, it's interesting to reflect on these notes that I scribbled at a much earlier stage when things were not looking so good:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Score 5th Draft

For the chase cue, I asked Ludwig to take out the vocals and also tone down the part where the goon chases Bir. There's also a new cue after the goons leave.

Just music:

With sound:

As an experiment, I also asked him for two new cues:

Just music:

With sound:

Just music:

With sound:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Score 4th draft: Chase

Here is just the music:

And mixed in with the sound:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To Premult or not to Premult

Now, I've known that 3D elements rendered out of Maya need to unpremultiplied before compositing, but I still wasn't sure when exactly I needed to do it.

I stumbled onto a document at work today that explains the rule:
  1. Unpremult before any color correction, and pre-mult after
  2. There's no need to unpremult before filtering options like blur because these operations should affect the alpha channel

Without un-premultiplying:


It's subtle, but the white 1-pixel halo around the green character's arm is gone. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Score 3rd draft

New hat cue:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Score 2nd Draft

Intro v2 (with strings):

Intro v2 (without strings):

Hat Sequence:

Ending v2 (tweaked beginning, and also continues all the way through the credits):

My thoughts:
  • The new intro I think matches the mood of my film better, but at the same time, I kind of like the music in the old one better. However, the flute sounds much better in the new one.
  • I didn't really like the hat cue at all, it seems too flourishy and ornamental. I think something a lot simpler might work better. I'm not sure if I even need music in this section.
  • For the ending cue, I like the part when  the credits start playing, but I'm wondering if the tabla beat is too upbeat. The other instruments sound great to me, including the harp that he worked in.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Score 1st Draft

My composer is Ludwig Goransson, a graduate of USC's Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) program. He's worked on the following cues so far:



I had some notes for him, but I think it's a strong start and I'm excited about the rest of the score.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Animation Pipeline

Here's an overview of the process I've used to animate most shots in my film. After much trial and error, I came up with a hybrid approach that combines keyframe animation, motion capture and crowd simulation.

Step 1: 'Hero' characters - keyframed by hand in Maya

Step 2: Add in background crowd (authored in Massive, then imported into Maya using a custom script)

Step 3: Add in middleground crowd (authored in Massive, then imported into Maya using a custom script) *

Step 4: Add in foreground crowd (motion-captured and solved using Vicon IQ and Motion Builder, then imported into Maya)

Final Shot:

* In my pipeline, the middleground crowd could be either Massive or custom mocap. The tighter the shot, the more I used mocap characters that were placed individually in the scene (which takes ages)


Three layers of crowd (Foreground, Middleground, Background) seemed to be the most effective at creating believable scenes with depth. I also had to spend tons of time randomizing models, shaders and movement so that the crowd was convincing. Check out this test and this other test to see my earlier attempts.

Crowd simulations generated out of Massive seemed to work best for background characters. The problem with building an entire scene with Massive was that it 'felt' like a simulation (no doubt due to my own inexperience with the software). As a result, I resorted to individually placed motion-captured characters for the foreground and middleground crowd layers which really helped break up the crowd motion.

The other advantage of using custom characters in the FG and MG was that I could art direct the crowd and ensure that the crowd parted at just the right time or that the crowd characters helped direct the viewer's eye to the action.

Although all the keyframes were created in different software, Maya became my central application to combine all the animation elements. This approach deviates from the standard industry practice of rendering crowds straight out of Massive using PRMan, but numerous technical challenges (unavailability of RenderMan Pro Server/PRMan at my school, problems importing Maya cameras into Massive, etc) necessitated changes to my workflow. Therefore, I hacked together a MEL script that imported characters from Massive into Maya, and then rendered everything out with RenderMan for Maya. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My, What Long Arms You Have!

As I get closer to finishing, I cheat more and more. In this case, I wanted to exaggerate perspective and scale, and had to stretch out Sam's arm to make the shot work.

View from Shot Cam:

View from a different angle:

Topi featured in 'Introducing Maya 2009'

A couple of stills from 'Topi' have been included in Dariush Derakhshani's new book, 'Introducing Maya 2009'.

The still of Bir in the book is actually an early version. The final composite looks more like this:

Needless to say, I'm super-stoked that the images were published.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Making it feel like a 'Movie'

Sometimes, a little bit of editing/camera work and different character models can make a world of difference to the same bit of animation.

1. For instance, here's a fight scene I shot in an introductory motion capture class applied to generic off-the-shelf characters (the old man is actor Kevin J. Ryan and the alien is classmate John Helton):

2. Next, I created some really basic crowd character models and used a segment of the same motion on them, but changed the camera angle:
(This step is important because it verifies that my models have been rigged correctly)

3. That looked ok, so I spent some more time on the camera angles to previz the sequence as it might take place in the film:

4. Hmm, what about with tighter editing, better looking characters and some lighting?

5. And here's the final sequence:

All through this process, the actual animation on the characters was unchanged.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Composite Breakdown

I started off compositing in After Effects, but have since shifted over to Nuke. I was reluctant to learn another piece of software at first because I had already had to learn how to use Massive, RenderMan for Maya, IQ, Motion Builder and others for this film. But I'm glad I gave Nuke a shot, because it has turned out to be a lightweight, fast and intuitive package.

I like rendering in layers, it gives me a lot more control in the composite.

For example:

Render Layers:
  • Character (from multipass render):
  • Middleground Crowd:

  • Background Crowd:

  • Ground:

  • Platform:

  • Sky:

Result of combining the layers with no compositing:

Final composite (after color correction and addition of atmospheric elements):

Working in 16-bit color is also very useful, as it expands the range within which you can color correct the image without creating artifacts.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Render Workflow Overview

The main reasons for using RenderMan for Maya as my renderer are:
  1. Speed, especially when scenes are not raytraced
  2. Fast motion blur, which is important in my film
  3. Good memory management, which means fewer crashes (my Maya files contain anywhere between 2 and 200 characters, and can get as large as .5 GB)
  4. Render-time smoothing (i.e. subdivision scheme) enables me to avoid heavy polygon meshes in my already huge scenes
  5. Integration with Massive - initially, I was going to use Massive's direct integration with RenderMan, but have since abandoned this approach
  6. I'm a geek - I've always wanted to learn more about RenderMan because of its role in the history of CG
Due to time and resource constraints, I can't render everything with all the bells and whistles I like. I've avoided ray tracing because the size of my scenes would probably cause all sorts of memory issues and require heavy optimization. As a substitute, I've relied on RenderMan for Maya's point cloud occlusion, which is a non-raytraced solution. Even with this feature, however, I can't render entire scenes in a reasonable time frame. (i.e. less than 10 minutes per frame as I only have access to 4-6 render nodes at a time).

Therefore, I only use occlusion on the 'hero' characters such as Bir, his mother, the old man, the goons, etc. For the rest of the characters and the set, I baked the occlusion into the respective file textures using Mental Ray. While baked occlusion doesn't look as good as the real thing, the rendering speedup makes it a worthwhile compromise.

So for example, a multipass exr might contain:


DiffuseIndirect (i.e. Shadowing):


OcclusionIndirect (i.e. Ambient Occlusion):


Put the above layers together*, and you get:


Initially, I was rendering out all my render layers (such as the background, sky, etc) into multipass EXRs, but found that it was overkill and I really just needed that extra level of control on the hero characters.

* The actual compositing operations are:
(DiffuseDirect - DiffuseDirectShadow + DiffuseEnvironment) * OcclusionIndirect

** I left out the Specular components for simplicity, but the math is the same as for Diffuse

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Confrontation Revisited

The confrontation between Maqbool and the goons has been bothering me for some time now. It feels a little sluggish and lacks impact. With input from colleague Joanna Griebel, I reedited the sequence.



The new cut has an added line of dialogue for Maqbool ("He dropped his cap"). The old edit seemed unclear to a lot of viewers, and I think adding this line back in is an improvement. (The line was in the original script, but I had taken it out for some reason that I can no longer remember. Perhaps I felt it was redundant at the time.). Another reason I like the new line is that it is a reference to Bir's "Sir, you dropped your cap" earlier in the film.