Making Jimmy Neutron

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DMN: What is it you like about messiah?

Davis: At the time, LightWave, didn’t really have the character tools that we wanted. They were fine for television work, but for feature quality to get the expressiveness and control over the deformations and the speed also because the OpenGL refresh, just pure performance was really sluggish when you load a lot of characters in. They’ve improved a lot, version 7 is pretty darn nice actually. But at the time we started Jimmy Neutron, it wasn’t quite there. I still think LightWave’s modeler is one of the best, love the renderer. So it’s like all the pieces were there except for the character animation part. Messiah really filled that niche pretty well for us. DMN: Did you use LightWave’s Morph Gizmo?

Davis: Yes, what we would do is use Gizmo so we could break off, well, we actually used Magpie doing the lip sync as sort of an initial pass, give that to the animators and then they had slider controls within messiah where they could go and they could tweak it. So a lot of their work was done, and they didn’t have to worry about sync issues. Then they could just go and make it expressive. That was really a good way to do it.

John Davis talks about his creation in this video (click image to begin playback). For more video interviews with the animation staff, click here.
DMN: How did you storyboard this, with paper and pen?

Davis: Yeah, it starts out the same way a normal 2D show starts off, with the storyboard process, building your animatics, and live to reels and everything, the same way.

One thing I’ve learned is 3D really has more in common with live action than it does 2D. So in terms of your layouts, most guys in 2D are used to taking their storyboard panels and blowing them up and there’s your layout and you clean it up and stuff. But in 3D, it has to go through this whole other process where you’re just referencing that image and then you get your 3D environment. It’s just different. It’s like live action -- you can draw a character walking from the car to the store and then when you get to the actual location, it’s a little different.There are other opportunities, and that’s the big challenge. You really have to be familiar with live action principles in filmmaking, because you build these elaborate sets, you want to show them off, you want to come up with angles that look cool, so you need the ability to go off storyboards and really show it off and be able to come up with unique compositions. And if you try to just emulate storyboards, you’re leaving a lot of value on the floor.

DMN: So do you start off with sketches of interesting angles?

Davis: Well in the boards, we’re working out things like we want to go to long shots, closeups, two shots, master. And then once we get into the environment, we say, OK, it’s drawn as a two-shot from this angle incorporating these elements. But in the environment, this would be much cooler over here. So let’s switch over here and still keep it a two-shot, it’s just going to be composed differently.

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