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Local touch to Life Of Pi


Siti Syameen Md Khalili talks to the team of local artists behind the 3D animation movie Life Of Pi

THERE are many reasons why Malaysians should be excited with the upcoming release of Life Of Pi at local cinemas. While fans of Yann Martel and Ang Lee have already made plans to catch it in 3D theaters, those who enjoy out-of-this world CGI effects must not miss it either as this film is  laden with Malaysian creative juice.

Since April 2011, more than 47 artists attached to Cyberjaya-based Rhythm & Hues have spent thousands of hours working on the original footages of Life Of Pi. According to its senior manager, Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, the studio is part of a global team that is spread over seven locations, which include Mumbai and Hyderabad (India), Vancouver (Canada) and Kaohsiung (Taiwan), and these studios are not just linked to each other but more importantly, to the headquarters in Los Angeles.

Life Of Pi marks an important milestone for the Malaysian studio as it presented the team with an opportunity to prove itself capable of handling  complex processes within post-production stage, of creating the visuals that cinemagoers get to see on screen.

“We have teams handling all parts of the pipeline, which begins from background preparation to matchmove and camera tracking. We also did animation, lighting and finally compositing. For Life Of Pi, we (KL studio) handled the  prep, the matchmove and camera tracking as well as lighting.

“At the end of the day, we’re supported by the technology and infrastructure, in which we also have a team of pipeline artists who manage all the assets.”

Resham Aaron Povananthiran, matchmover artist, says the matchmove and tracking team is responsible for recreating what was shot on set. “We recreated, for example, the scene of Pi petting the tiger. On the set, a stuffed animal was used instead of a live tiger, we removed the stuffed, so that when the plate is passed to another team, such as the background prep, the team will know the placement of the CG tiger in the scene.”

See Shae Lyn, BG pre artist who heads the background preparation team, shared her experience. “In short, the background prep team removes the unwanted stuff. We traced out the character and created a reference map for the next team to insert CG characters. There was a shot of 900 frames where we had to trace out Pi’s hair and in the scene, his head was turning and the wind was blowing. We traced out each hair strand!  The scene lasted for only 37 seconds in the film,” recalls See.

In explaining the task of the lighting team, lighting artist Teoh Wei Liat, says: “We took in models from the modellers, tracking object from the tracking and animation assets from the animator department to set up a CG scene. We would then study the lighting based on the original plate and apply lighting to the CG scene. When everything was accurate, we would proceed with rendering and submit the results for the supervisor’s approval.”

“The special thing about Life Of Pi is that it was the first time we did something called remote rendering, where we engaged our cloud infrastructure in Taiwan called CAVE (Cloud Animation and Visual Effects). Traditionally we worked on a shot, rendered it locally then submitted the results. The team was responsible for the development of CAVE and Life Of Pi was the first show to use it. It has evolved so much since we first started, but getting the first foot in was a challenge. I’ve forgotten how many new codes had been added since then, but we improved the pipeline as we go along. Now, rendering can be done in which ever studio that has some free resources,” says Abdul Rahman.

“The idea behind CAVE is to optimise the usage of all the resources that are available across all of our studios. Now, a single file can be opened and worked on simultaneously at any locations for many times. That is the reason a lighter can work on one shot and a compositor in another location can do compositing work on the same shot, at the same time. Whatever the changes that is being done are reflected on each other’s screen. We also achieved this by using our own proprietary software, such as Voodoo for animation and tracking, Lighthouse for lighting, and ICY for background prep and compositing to deliver visual effects,” says Mandeep Singh, manager of Production Management.

Apart from Life Of Pi, Rhythm & Hues Kuala Lumpur has stamped its mark in 18 films including Snow White And The Huntsmen, Hunger Games and Knight And Day while upcoming films include R.I.P.D, 300: Rise Of The Empire, Black Skies and Hunger Games 2.

A scene from the movie Life Of Pi

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