[continued from last page] One tool turned out to be a great fortune in this regard. It was a point cache generator, which would frame-wise save the position for each vertex of a Maya character to a file, that could thereafter be read from within MAX in near-realtime. This way the vertices of a character in MAX performed the exact same movements as its twin in Maya. This was also a less RAM-consuming approach than using tradtional morphing, because every frame's motion data could directly be loaded from the harddisk. For cameras and light sources we wrote little scripts, which just transferred the respective parameters from Maya to Max.
The final "hairy" character, fighting against some furry rats
Toby: If there's only one proprietary tool worth to mention, which has been used in my field of activity, then it's "SpreadObjects" by Dirk Balluch. In fact it's just some sort of "Scatter", as you might know it from 3ds max, but much faster and more flexible due to a lot of optional settings. Once you have understood its ways, it is very easy to plant trees in the scene, for example, with any parameter you could wish for, such as the amount of planes in each instance, their relative frequency, priority, slope-dependent scattering rate, grouping and much more. Furthermore it included crowd-functions, meaning it could resort to a database of cached characters and invoke related animation sets either randomly or based on certain events. The shots at the beginning and the end of the film were done with it. All in all, "SpreadObjects" turned out to be a must-have tool.
Michael: I did the texturing and shading of the characters also in Maya of course, since it was our primary platform. For it has very sophisticated features especially for texturing by default, we could get away without any self-written scripts or tools. When it comes to a possible future project of that kind, I'd be happy to have a decent special-purpose skin shader, though. :-)
Otherwise we were solely utilizing Photoshop for the creation of the textures (color/bump/specular maps).
Many scripts and custom UI extensions to Maya were in use
Manuel: Especially on my part (lighting/rendering) we had many dedicated scripts, partially written by in-house developers or the render guys themselves. These were mainly extensions to the Maya user interface or automization tools, which pushed our workflow by several degrees. This was the only way to manage hundreds of shots, which needed an intelligent structure in order to be easily available for further tweaking by several team members at once. For example, we had the "render wizard", which would combine scenes and layers, optimize them, merge characters with their matching cloth set-up and submit it all to the render farm automatically. Each shot had its own separate layer for characters, the set environment, things like z-buffer and, as necessary, a motion vector layer. This was all performed by the script in a few minutes. Without it we had certainly required about two hours to set up each shot manually for rendering.
Apart from the scripts, nothing special has been used for the lighting, only Maya 4 with its default renderer.
3DLuVr: Just the default renderer? But Toby also mentioned "Renderman" before?
Toby: Yes, you're right! On my part (landscapes) we've also been using "Air" from Scitexgraphics, a renderman-compliant renderer, for scenes with masses of trees and smaller crowd scenes. All other "standard" scenes were done using the default renderer, though.
A preview frame at "low resolution"