Painting Pixels is delighted to have worked with the (Worlds Biggest Panto) and helped in the creation of the latest stage version of Cinderella. Get a quick taste by watching the Cinderella showreel or continue reading down to get the full low-down!
Continue reading the full case study below –
As the company name suggest they put on pantos but not just any old panto, but the worlds biggest pantos. And it truly was a major show, with a cast of over 100 members including a large variety of highly entertaining content; from a gospel choir, Bollywood dancers, a circus act with the wheel of death and much more. That’s right all in Cinderella! The world pantomime ay!!
Also and not forgetting the stars of the show including Bradly Walsh, Paul O’ Grady and Dick and Dom. We really enjoyed working with them all. During rehearsals and the video shoot, they were all non-stop laugh out load funny and super professional with the task at hand. We were amazed at how quick they all got in to character and filled the boots of the characters they were playing.
So what did Painting Pixels do? Well we are a 3D animation studio so that’s probably an obvious question. But, along with the large cast, funny celebs and the variety of acts for the show, the pantomime featured a massive imax style cinema screen for projecting 3D stereoscopic content. And that’s were we come in!
Traditional stage shows have a number of curtains that change during scenes and acts in order to help the show change events and scenes but these can be limited due to a number of reasons including cost and space taken by the large curtains. The Worlds Biggest Pantomime did not have this issue as the large projected screen allowed for all backdrops to be digital.
This all meant that it was possible to have large, epic and vibrant landscapes. Also it was possible to have different backdrops for every changing scene.
Best of all because all the scenes were created using 2D and 3D animation, it was possible to animate all the backdrops. So instead of having a static printed curtain, it was possible for the digital scenes to be animated; for example, the scene below; the trees gently sway in the wind, the clouds float by and the waterfall… well it falls!
Same again here…
It all started with a big-a** script.
We read through the script many, many times. It was a funny and entertaining script so was actually enjoyable reading it multiple times and you also pick up a lot of missed details after the 10th read! Anyhow from this script, we extracted out some outlying details including the character’s behaviours and location details.
The particular descriptions for scenes and character features were not laid out for us, which was actually great because it allowed for a far more flexible thinking and allowed us to play with details and have fun with the creative side.
So one of the first thing we did was conceptualise the characters. There were four main 3D animated characters. This included the animated stars; Dudley the Frog and Morris the Mouse and their co-stars including; Mr Scary Snake and Mr Always Angry Snowman.
We went through many doodles and sketches. Fortunately, due do now being as paperless as possible, even for sketching; we now solely use our trusted Wacom graphics table so we could doodle all day long without wasting paper. Below are a few examples for the 3D animated stars.
We went through and did the same with all the locations and created doodles and sketches for each environment. There were many locations within the pantomime; a fact that was taken to full advantage thanks to it being digital.
The locations and environment included – The Ballroom, Outside the Castle Gates, The Courtyard, Hard up Hall, The Circus, The Enchanted Forest Pathway, The Kitchen, The Road to Palace and the Parallel Walk. And finally and not forgetting the Snow ride.
This scene was created as a fast-paced ride that the audience would join in with and involved multiple locations along the ride. The major parts to the ride involved Icy Slopes, An Ice Forest, A Cave Tunnel, Lava Cave Dodge, A Crevasse Jump, and finally, a washed-out snowy barren land where the snow fight takes place.
One thing to point out; and one thing that we take pride in doing was to not just create random and separate locations, scenes and environments. Instead, we created a world.
A world where everything is linked, a world where there’s the logic in how characters would get from destination to destination. This meant that both the real world characters and CGI characters could not randomly get from say; the ballroom to the mansion kitchen.
There had to be roads and paths and logic and destination points. So for the above example of the ballroom to mansion kitchen, the characters would have to first exit the ballroom, go through the courtyard, out to the front of the castle, through the path from the castle to the enchanted forest, run from the enchanted forest through the parallel forest to the front of the mansion and then finally into the mansion kitchen.
This helped to keep logic and order and allowed for a more realistic world without cuts and jumps which meant that the audience could better follow the story without wondering how the hell they went magically from one place to the other!
Although it could have actually and simply been magic and all this logic was pointless. But we created a world nonetheless and both the director and assistant director loved it and actually labelled the world; Painting Pixels land which we were delighted by!
With an idea in our minds of how the characters and environments looked, we then revisited the script once more and started on creating a visual storyboard. It was this storyboard that would help guide us through the rest of the production. There turned out to be more scenes and stuff happening then we had anticipated from reading the script alone. Take a look below at how many slides there are.
One of the toughest and biggest challenges that we came across was with reminding ourselves that this was both a live action and CGI production taking place simultaneously. Many times during the creation of the visual storyboards we would sit back and say to ourselves ‘hang on this doesn’t flow, there’s a massive chuck missing in the animation’ Thinking that we had done something wrong.
Whereas in actual fact every time where the animation takes a sudden stop and jumps to a completely different scene, its because a whole bunch of live action amazingness is happening on-stage, seamlessly linking one CGI scene to the next!
Once the visual story, the characters and environments were approved and signed off we then made a start on the modelling. Everything happens in sequence and so the full modelling stage for both characters, environments and assets took place at once.
In most GCI 3D animation projects, whether they are small web videos, or TV productions or even for Cinema; a lot of 3D modelling work can be saved and filled in by fancy post-production effects like scene assets, smoke, water, clouds etc. all this can sit behind or in front of the actual 3D models and looks fine.
In our chase, this was not possible. The whole production from start to finish was created in not just 3D but 3D stereo.
This meant that it was possible for the audience to wear 3D glasses, which enabled them to enjoy the work in a more immersive way, as content would literally float off the 2D screen and been seen in front of their eyes. So in order for this effect to work you need to have layered depth in your scenes.
This meant that it was not possible to simply add in effects or items as a 2D layer into the scene and backdrop. We would need to physically model everything in 3D and position it to real-world values to give it depth.
3D modelling for the characters, environments and assets all starts with a 3D virtual cube that we create and then mould that like clay into any object and item as desired.
As mentioned we could not take any many industry time saving short cuts by using most and so created many many objects and assets all the way from the larger more obvious 3D characters to the finer and smaller objects including plants and screws and pots and pans etc
This also included creating a full set of phonemes for the 3D characters which will later allow them to speak and create facial expressions.
After completing each 3D model we then immediately take it to the next step in the pipeline which includes the texturing. We had to painstakingly texture each and every item. There are multiple methods of texturing that we used, including UV mapping for complex and detailed models and the quicker but just as effective; multi-layer procedural effects.
3D Character Rigging
After the modelling and texturing stages its then the rigging stage. Rigging involves setting up a skeleton or nodes for a character or object to give artists the ability to manipulate and move it. With traditional clay-based stop motion animation; it would be necessary to move and manipulate the physical model to get the animation.
So artists would take a picture and then remodel the object slightly and then take another picture until they built up a sequence that when played back at a certain number of frames; say 25 frames per second, for example, it would look like the clay model is animated.
However, ours is digital and even though it requires moving and manipulation for the animation to work. We don’t need to make a movement every frame and also have a skeleton structure within our 3D character models, which allows us to create movement and animation without disturbing or modifying the actual physical 3D model.
Layout and Animation for 3D Stereoscopic
The next step in the pipeline was to layout all the environmental scenes. This required bringing in all the 3d models including all props, assets and 3d characters into the scene or virtual world environment ready to organise and layout.
We set up our shot with a virtual camera and lay the scene out so that it looks best for that shot. However, and once again we were challenged with the fact that it was a 3D stereo animation so we had to be careful and balance the scene so that both the scene and shot looked good and also had an effective 3D stereo effect. It was super important not to clip certain 3D objects as clipping would result in loss of the 3D stereo depth.
Additionally, and because 3D stereo is not true real world 3D, but instead a trick of the eye and mind we had to make sure that we used multiple layers with real world distances for depth to give the required and proper 3D effects.
For example, even when a 3D background is set up with a 3D stereo camera, it still wont look 3D no matter how much depth you apply to the camera settings. The trick is to add many layers of items and objects in the background layer, the middle ground layer and the foreground layer in order for your eyes to distinguish and see a change in depth and give the false 3D effect and create 3D a stereo effect.
So when animating characters or creating transitions or moving objects around the scene it was necessary to make sure that we kept multiple layers of depth and never clipped off the screen otherwise it would lose the effect.
When laying out a scene we tend to do simple lighting so that we can see the assets within the environment so that we can actually grab handles and animate. However, we leave true lighting till the end so that we can see how the scene lays out and how the animation plays out and then bring in the full and final lighting. At this stage we also apply any additional textures and adjust texture levels. We tend to do this on a case by case basis as the levels in textures will vary depending on the brightness of the scene.
One of the most time-consuming parts was the rendering process. Our render times varied from scene to scene depending on the complexity of the scene and the number of polygons and effects added to each scene. Some simple scenes rendered out within a minute or two but others took up to an hour. And these values were not per scene.
They were per frame; so imaging an hour per frame and each second of animation runs at 25 frames per second and we had 10’s of minutes’ work of animation. So you can see that it takes ages and a heck of a lot of computing power.
And the fact that the whole animation was 3D Stereo meant that we needed to cater for twice the mounts of renders per second of animation because we needed to render out both a left eye and a right eye for everything. So imagine a 30-second scene that takes 1 hour per frame – 1hr X 25f X 30s X 2 for left and right.
That scene took – 1500 hours or 62.5 non-stop rendering days for just that single 30-second scene. (Crazy right?) We, fortunately, have many multi-processor workstations within the studio and have access to a massive render farm so in the end, it wasn’t that dramatic. But if we didn’t we would still be rendering.
Once we got all the renders back and all the finished 3D scenes we took it in to our post-production software and applied any final edits and effects where possible and needed. We then took those composited shots into our editing suit and created final cuts and edits and then finally had the slow and painstaking task of rendering out all the shots individually and for both left and right eye to plug in to the stereo projectors.
It was great to go see the final live show and see how our hard work and all the 3D content sat inline with the real world stage and actors. It was a joy to see all the audience reacting to the stereo content and gasps of fear as they jumped over a artic ice crevasse and to see the energy as they dodged the snowballs flying towards there face and of course to see the joy and smiles when they first meet Dudley and Morris and their enjoyment throughout.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our journey into creating the 3D stereoscopic animation Cinderella project. Read more about The World’s Biggest Panto! here. If you have a project of your own that requires the same level of high-quality animation and attention to detail along with a lot of love and care then call us today on 01473 857860. Or check out our 3D animation service to see even more projects like this one!
Thanks for reading.