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Reality Check Studios Tapped for Tricky Titan A.E. Sequence
By Denise Harrison

It's the year 3028 and Earth has been destroyed. The only key to saving the human race is held in a legendary spacecraft called The Titan. What's a superhero to do?

Well the main man, Cale, who was precocious enough to have escaped Earth's destruction at the age of five, sets out to find the Titan, of course, and along the way, has to learn to drive a spacecraft to get around town.

His first driving lesson is a 3.5-minute sequence done by Hollywood-based Reality Check Studios.

"I had a relationship with David Dozoretz, head of animatic at LucasFilm, who took time off in between Star Wars projects to work on Titan AE," explains Kory Jones, co-founder of Reality Check Studios (RCS). "They liked what he did so well that they gave him the final shot, then gave him some more sequences. I went up to work with them because they were so overloaded."

The first project assigned to RCS was the animatics for a sequence called "Wake Angels." Once the animatics were approved, they were assigned the final shot.

"The sequence is the ship flying through a nebula and during his first time flying, he plays "tag" with these creatures called Wake Angels," says Jones. "The environment itself was the tricky part. Creating a nebula is quite nebulous."

Jones said the nebula had to be self-luminated, yet luminated by stars on either end of the travel path. It had to be opaque enough for there to be pieces to dodge, yet translucent enough not to look like fire or seem threatening. It had to have a cloud-like quality, and be organic.

"Throw all those together and you get this indefinable thing that took a lot of experimentation to identify a technique," says Jones. "We did a lot of experimenting with particle effects with Maya and wrote some of our own rendering applications to do the shaded solid-body dynamics."

He said he took polygon shapes rendered in ElectricImage and did the necessary number of layers, then did a lot of work in Adobe After Effects.

"We began to build the nebula like an oil painting, layers for the light from the stars, layers for the color, layers for transparency then a displacement layer that took the edges off the columns to give them that cloud-like feel," says Jones.

The Wake Angels themselves began as models that came from Fox Animation. "We added motion in Maya and did some work on the look of the material. The biggest experiment with the Wake Angels was the motion," Jones continues. "We wanted them fluid, like a marine animal in motion. We put ripples on their edges and their wings now go up or down depending on their angle."

Significant to RCS is that, while it has an extensive portfolio, Titan A.E. is their first foray into feature film work.

"We had planned to start a film department but were waiting for the right opportunity," says Jones. "Now that we have a film in our portfolio, we'll push to do more both from a pre-visualization stage all the way to the final effects."

Jones says the tools are rather agnostic and it doesn't matter what project they're doing. They use the Adobe Suite, Alias|Wavefront's Maya, and Play's Electric Image.

"Having Maya to fall back on was a huge benefit for organic animation," he says. "I don't think there is anything better out there. We started using it last year and the build-up time paid off for this project."

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