Case Study: Milk VFX, Beowulf and CG fur using Yeti

We are very excited to share this detailed case study prepared by the team at Milk VFX who used Yeti to bring almost every creature to life for the new series, Beowulf.

Incredible work, Milk!

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Overview

“ITV’s new series Beowulf, helmed by Walking with Dinosaurs producer Tim Haines, is based on the oldest English poem of the same name. Milk was awarded all vfx work which meant we were responsible for bringing all of the creatures to life. We collaborated closely with Tim Haines and knew that from concept stage that we’d be having to add fur and hair to nearly every creature on the show from the protagonist Grendl to the wolf like Wulfingdogs.”

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Choosing a fur tool. 

“CG fur and hair has until recently been very much a luxury of film work given the time and research required to get it looking believable (i.e., Life of Pi, Tangled, and The Planet of the Apes films). Given fur is a real world asset, there are certain rules and behaviours we have to abide by in order to convince audiences that what they are seeing is real. We needed to find a tool that could help us achieve this. We had used Yeti previously on the feature film Hercules with great success.”

“At that time we were using the feather features introduced in Yeti 1.3 which were still quite a new asset to the Yeti toolset. Anytime we ran into a problem or requested a feature, the Yeti team were quick to respond and help out. The support we received and the features available to us made using Yeti in Beowulf a no brainer. A lot of the creatures in Beowulf also required varying fur/hair styles on different parts of their bodies and this was easy with Yeti. We could create multiple graphs inside one node and then simply duplicate setups and even reuse them on other creatures if necessary leaving us with just a small amount of tweaking, this flexibility was key.”

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Pipeline

“In episode one alone, we are introduced to three very different looking creatures and they would appear in no less than 100 shots, fur and all. I can’t think of another TV show to date that required such a heavy need for CG fur, which meant we had our work cut out.

The first part of the fur development was to take each creature model, create a fur groom which would roughly take 2 to 3 days and then attach it to the look development scene so we could test how the fur would look as part of the final creature design. We’d create turntables for client reviews and make changes according to their notes.

Once a groom had been finalled, we needed to figure out how we would populate each shot with fur. Each groom needs to be attached to the animated creature mesh on a per shot basis, then cached to file and loaded into the final creature template scene that had all the working shaders and lighting. This meant a lot of manual time would be required. At this stage we hadn’t even considered dynamics, and we wanted to avoid heavy dynamic tweaks being done on each shot. It became clear that we had to figure out a way to streamline the fur dynamics and caching process for each shot.”

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Fur Dynamics

“To test the dynamics, we ran our groom lookdev scenes through a number of different animation cycles all the while adjusting the dynamic settings until we felt we had something that would work in all circumstances. Our goal was to have just enough dynamics to add a nice amount of weight to the fur as it collided with the body, horns, etc. whilst still maintaining the original groom pose. These settings were then stored for each creature.”

“In summary, our Yeti pipeline consisted of a 3 step process for each shot.

  1. Bake the tension displacement to a single tile map sequence.
  2. Add displacement to the animated mesh thus offsetting the Yeti node that is attached
    to this mesh.
  3. Set a pre­roll, assign the optimal dynamic settings and bake Yeti to file (cache).”

“To simplify things further, our in-house technician, Alexandre Pavot, created a UI which ran all these steps automatically on the farm. All we had to do was provide the UI with the animated creature alembic cache (which stored all shot information in the filename) and it would automate all the steps and deliver them to the farm leaving us with a final Yeti cache.”

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Getting Dirty

“On previous projects, due to software limitations, it was a challenge to attach dirt or snow for example to fur and have it move with the fur as though stuck within it. With Yeti, we knew we could add instance geometry into the Yeti graph on the same groom curves. So we created four distinctive dirt objects and scattered these through the fur by introducing instance nodes to the graph. We could then randomise quantity, size, rotation and position along the groom curves.”

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Shading and Lighting 

“For Beowulf we decided to use the AL shaders (a group of shaders created for Arnold by Anders Langlands) for all the CG creature look development. This meant we could use the included hair shader allowing us to take advantage of the extra features absent in the current Arnold hair shader. For example, we could add kajiya­kay scattering, dual specularity (a broad and tight specular at different locations along the length of the hair) and transmission to bleed light through the hair giving us nice rim light results. It also made creating ID’s much easier (they are built into the shader) because often you struggle to retain the opacity in fur when creating ID’s. All of our renders required that we create deep aov’s and this shader set worked perfectly with Yeti for this purpose. For the dirt we were able to create custom attributes in the Yeti graph that fed into our shading networks allowing us to further adjust their look separate to the main fur shader.”

The Team

VFX Supervisor – JC Deguara
CG Supervisor – Nicolas Hernandez
Lead Modellers – Sam Lucas and Jason Brown
Lighting & Look Dev – Bastien Mortelecque, Adrian Williams, Dominic Alderson
Grooming – Dominic Alderson
Lead Animator – David Bennett
Lead Rigging – Neil Roche
2D Supervisor – Sara Bennett
Tracking Lead – Amy Felce
Effects Lead – James Reid
Lead Concept Artist – Grant Bonser
Texture Artist – Henry South

Realistic Conan was created with Yeti by Black Studios

Earlier this year, Bläck Studios was tasked with executing a cinematic trailer for Conan Exiles, Funcom’s new multiplayer online game to be released this summer. The realistic Conan was created with Yeti and the results are stunning.

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We recently caught up with Henrik Eklundh, VFX Supervisor at Bläck to talk about how and why they used our software for this project.

“The trailer features Conan and he had to look iconic and cinematic. So to reach that level we needed the hair, brows, lashes, beard and ‘peach fuzz’ to look stunning. Our brilliant character artist, Jonas Skoog, took a turn in zbrush with fibremesh to place out the hair which I took and refined using Yeti tools. We converted the hair back and forth from guide curves to grooms to get the look we needed.”

Eklundh went on to tell us, “We are very comfortable using Yeti and have a great pipeline written by Erik Johansson for it. We can go back and forth with guide curves/grooms and simulate the hair in either Yeti’s simulation tools or other programs. We trust Yeti to give us what we need in terms of hair and fur, therefore, it was the obvious choice.”

When we asked Eklundh if Yeti was able to achieve the desired results and accommodate the project’s needs, he responded that, “The results were great and it’s easy to get clumping on clumps using procedural setups in the Yeti graph. We can take setups from different characters and apply them to get a good start. The new viewport rendering of the hair helped out a lot. It’s much easier now to see the result you are getting with the width of the hair, clumping and density etc.”.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Henrik, and congratulations to the entire team – the trailer is terrific!  Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEIcftl0OZk

Yeti used extensively by nWave Digital on Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe, the classic tale of a castaway who spends thirty years on a tropical island, is set to hit theatres this spring as a full-length feature. Produced by nWave Digital, a state-of-the-art animation studio in Brussels, this 3D animated film is told from the perspective of a bold parrot named Tuesday. We were very excited to learn that nWave Digital used Yeti extensively in Robinson Crusoe for fur, feathers and hair. 

We recently spoke with Carlo Giesa, Character FX Supervisor of nWave Digital, about how they used Yeti for this project.    

“Yeti was used for the first time on our most recent production, a full length animated feature film, Robinson Crusoe. Because we used it for all hair, fur, feathers and also some environment tasks, it is visible in almost every shot of the movie.”

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“One of my roles as a Character FX supervisor was to make sure that our groomers and character FX artists had all they needed to fulfil the requests of the art department and the director. Together with my leads, we tested the package intensively, integrated Yeti into our pipeline, set up the work flow and conventions and provided any additional tools that could help improve the results.”

We asked Carlo why they chose Yeti, and he told us, “On our previous shows, we felt pretty limited with the tools we used. Robinson Crusoe turned out to be a much more challenging project than what we had before. A lot of special character effects were needed and the grooming required much more detail in terms of the amount of asset, amount of hair as well as control of hair color and style. From the beginning, the director insisted that this movie was to have a different look. Advanced wet and wind effects were desired along with better control of hair variations that evolved throughout the story.”

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“Yeti, with its nodal workflow, gave us the flexibility that we were looking for. Once you get into the logic of Yeti it provides all the necessary tools to achieve any kind of fur/hair/feather effect you want. Expressions and user attributes were heavily used on this show to control different kinds of modifications on existing grooms. All this combined with textures, animated or static, satisfied most of our expectations. We really enjoyed the way Yeti handles the clumping. Creating multiple layers of clumping was just a question of plugging a few nodes together and with a small amount of parameters, we were able to achieve very complex grooms. The pipeline integration was pretty straight forward. Its caching system allowed us to go further in terms of detail. Hair and segment count was much less constraining. Our existing LOD system needed only a few modifications to be able to work with Yeti.”

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Finally, Carlo added, “It’s really fun to play with Yeti and to test things out that you never thought of trying to do with a hair tool. Due to its procedural work flow, it can be handy in many more situations than just grooming.”

This film is sure to be a hit with adults and children alike thanks to the great work with Yeti.  Stay tuned to see the trailer soon. Congratulations on a job well done nWave Digital!   

4th Creative Party chose Yeti to create Realistic Tigers

When tasked with creating realistic tigers for their latest project, 4th Creative Party chose Yeti to achieve the desired result. We were blown away with their work and recently spoke with the team about how and why they used our product.

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“The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale”, is a film about the last tiger and a hunter of the Joseon Dynasty period in Korea. The main character of the film features the “King of Joseon’s Tigers”, his family of five, and a pack of wolves.

“We started to study and research fur which is essential to convey characters such as tigers and wolves realistically. To achieve this we needed to divide the texture of fur, movement of muscle and the surface area of characters into several parts. Yeti was just right for this work method and way of expression. Yeti is easy to work with, so even someone who uses it for the first time can learn it easily and quickly.  Also, the node-based workflow enabled us to control many parts and groom more details with only basic and simple node.”

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“What we especially liked about Yeti was that it’s really easy to move fur between each model. We made many kinds of tigers (with varied ages and appearances) based on a single tiger model by modifying its shape. Yeti helped us save tons of time because it’s easy to convert fur between different-shaped models with the same topology.”

“Lastly, we are very satisfied with your Technical Support Team’s quick and kind feedback on Yeti Central. We will continue using Yeti for future projects.”

Thank you for your kind words and for choosing Yeti, 4th Creative Party! We can’t wait to see what comes out of your studio next!

Watch the trailer here. Warning: contains graphic content.

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Media Design School chooses Yeti for Short Film

At Peregrine Labs we believe it is important to foster creativity and innovation in educational institutes around the globe. That’s why we are pleased to offer a significant discount on permanent Yeti and Bokeh licenses to qualifying schools. One such institution who recently used Yeti for a short film is Media Design School, New Zealand’s most awarded tertiary institution for creative and digital technology qualifications.

We spoke with James Cunningham who wrote, produced and directed the short film titled, “Accidents, Blunders and Calamities” that looks at all the perilous ways humans inadvertently bring death to animals. Thirty-one creatures were developed, 11 of which had fur or feathers and were created using Yeti.  Inspired by the Edward Gorey classic, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies”, James created an alphabet storybook that a concerned father possum reads to his kids.

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In total, 44 students were involved in this project and all visual effects were completed by those in their final (third) year of their degree. The team included 3-D generalists for model, texture and light, animators and compositors. Some students were set up to be fur specialists and groomers but in some cases, strong students would complete a creature in its entirety, including adding the fur.

We asked why Media Design School chose Yeti and James told us, “We had been wanting to play with Yeti for a while and finally had a project that screamed out for the control and complexity that Yeti could achieve for us. One of our more precocious students was also mad keen on Yeti. He ended up being the lead fur designer on the possums. Yeti also fed well into our Maya and Vray pipeline. Peregrine were very supportive of the project and donated the licenses we needed for this educational production.”

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He went on to explain that, “With the quails, we attempted to not use Yeti as we didn’t have that many artists trained up and interactive licenses. However the texture-only approach was just not selling it. We got an extra seat and very quickly another student got up to speed on Yeti and it turned out much better doing the feathers properly. The rendering of the close ups of the possum shots were very heavy in memory usage but once we nailed the culprit we were able to keep even these hero close shots in reasonable render times.”

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James also told us that he is “no longer intimidated by creating creatures with fur. And the audiences love watching cute furry creatures.”

We are so glad Yeti could help you get over your fear, James. Fantastic work!

Watch the trailer here.