Monday, November 21, 2011

In the Head of Anders Beer, Animation of “Paul”

    “Paul” is a fun movie.  It has everything you would expect from a great comedy film.  It includes religious jokes, comic book nerds, hillbillies, sci-fi movie references, aliens, drugs and more. I visited the NEIA Siggrah meeting in October and was able to listen to the head animator Anders Beer from Brickyard VFX.   He spoke about animating Paul and the processes they used.  There was motion capture involved, but allot of it needed to be scrapped and fixed because Paul is an extremely slim character with long arms and it was difficult to find someone who had those features for the motion capture suit. 

       The one thing that surprised me the most was that he mentioned that they did not animate a facial rig for Paul.  Instead they used a blend shape library where they keyed all the facial expressions.  I asked how it is possible to animate lip rolls or eye lid squishes using blend shapes.  And he mentioned that they needed to build in subtle blend shapes for  those features.  So each blend shape had 2 or 3 subtle blend shapes to get that across in the action. 
       They also created a puppet for the shots to help the actors so they would have something more believable to work with, then later on layered the cg over it.  A great example of this was the shot where the Nick Frost starts strangling Paul in the passengers seat of the Winnebago. 
       Another great shot where the motion capture came in handy was when Paul jumps onto the Agents back and grabs his face to stun him with his visions.  They had a small boy in a motion capture suit that they later painted out.  The weight of a live person gave the shot more believability than if the Actor was to pretend something heavy had attacked him.  The fingers of the real boy stretching the Agents face as he struggled helped sell the characters ability to appear as a solid mass effecting another body. 
       Motion capture has its advantages and disadvantages but I believe in the film “Paul” they used it the right way.  As a tool to make a few physical shots more believable.  And I am glad that the animators did not rely completely on the motion capture performance and used their skills to animate life in Paul to make him more credible.   :)