That's Incredible!Pixar Animation Studio's Supervising Technical Director Rick Sayre talks about making movies and buying gadgets.
Narasu Rebbapragada, PC World
Where Bob Parr is concerned, leaping tall buildings in a single bound takes as much effort as stepping onto a curb. The reason is not that he's a superhero but that he's a character in The Incredibles, a digitally animated movie, where the normal rules of filmmaking don't apply.
Bob, aka Mr. Incredible, is the star of Pixar's latest flick, which opens November 5. The action-packed adventure is about a superhero who returns from retirement to save the world. Surprisingly, the everyday world can be just as difficult to animate as superhuman feats.
"It's no more difficult for Bob to pick up a bus than to pick up a fork," says Pixar Supervising Technical Director Rick Sayre, who contrasts that scene with the complexities of animating an argument during a family dinner.
"You've got the food, they're all wearing loose-fitting clothes, the family is sitting close together. Everyone knows what that looks like, says Sayre. "[The characters'] proportions are comic booky, but they need to read as people."
In that pursuit, Pixar animators utilize an arsenal of software, including an application popular with the garment industry. (Even animated actors need to dress well.) Animators also use Adobe Photoshop for painting, Alias Wavefront Maya for 3D modeling and effects, the proprietary Pixar Marionette for animating scenes, and Pixar RenderMan as their primary tool for rendering digital scenes.
Rendering a digitally animated feature film is no small task. Pixar used an army of 2000 blade servers, most of which are RackSaver (now Verari Systems) units and IBM BladeCenters. "These machines are created to compact a lot of processing power," says Sayre.
The Incredibles features more virtual sets and locations than any Pixar flick to date. "We have shots that take place in the ocean. We have rain, we have fire, we have smoke, we have explosions," says Sayre, whose team had the luxury of viewing their dailies (rough cuts of a film seen for reviewing purposes) on a movie-theater style 2K-resolution DLP (digital light processing) projection system. 2K DLP is a Texas Instruments-developed technology that can display an extremely high-resolution picture on a screen up to 75 feet wide.
"If we had a situation where things didn't hold up, we would go back to our source data at that very high resolution," says Sayre.
Right now 2K DLP systems are primarily in the domain of state-of-the-art movie theaters. According to Christie Digital Systems, Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater installed the Christie CP2000 in December 2003 to become the first North American commercial theater with a 2K DLP projection system.
Unless you've got a gymnasium and a 2K DLP set up of your own, Sayre naturally recommends seeing the movie in the theater. "The Incredibles is a movie made to be seen big," he says.
Sayre's Personal Tech
Not surprisingly, Sayre's own home contains a digital home theater--one based on a Yamaha DLP projector. While Sayre wouldn't comment on the exact model he had, Yamaha DLP projectors can run upwards of $5000. What is surprising is that the rest of Sayre's gadgetry is about a fraction of that cost.
"I have more of a ghetto value philosophy," says Sayre. "I like the overlooked not overly expensive, very high-quality gear."
That includes some old Pioneer speakers, a Klipsch subwoofer, and DVD players he says were "ridiculously cheap," but which generate amazing image quality.
Sayre recommends trying to find a DVD player that is capable of producing pure black levels and that doesn't have the so-called chroma bug that causes streaky lines to appear, particularly in bright colors.
And as for a TV: Well, Sayre doesn't have one. "I don't watch a TV except for Aqua Team Hunger Force."