Depending on the context, VFX either stands for virtual fire extinguisher (not very helpful in putting out fires) or visual effects (very helpful in putting out fires or making realistic-looking fires). Several departments at Blue Sky are responsibile for some real movie magic.
In the Effects department we use design and technical skills along with cutting edge software to simulate complex structures and motion. We create shattering land masses of rock and ice, as well as send dust and debris crashing into the ocean, creating massive splashes of vaporized water. We build peaceful formations of clouds and calm rolling oceans and then turn them into tidal waves, rain and tornadoes. Sometimes we even help integrate moving characters to their environment with effects such as footprints and dust.
Our Technical Directors are talented people with a good balance of art and technical training. It is no surprise that our backgrounds and interests are so varied. We have people from nine countries and who speak thirteen different languages. We have parents, hikers, rock climbers, photographers, painters, computer builders, a curler, break dancers, fitness enthusiasts, home brewers, composers, guitar players, an industrial electronic musician, a car racer, and a black smith and metallurgist. Our experiences range from escaping a communist regime to flying a plane.
Perhaps the best thing about Effects is our sense of humor. We always tackle challenging work with a joke!
The Blue Sky Character Simulation Department creates character-specific visual effects for clothing, hair and skin. Working closely with other departments such as Design, Animation, Modeling, Rigging, and Fur, the process of Character Simulation adds physically accurate and visually pleasing motion to a character's hair, skin, clothing and accessories. The addition of this motion, whether subtle or dynamic, helps flesh out the worlds we create, making the characters and environments even more believable.
During character development, Character Simulation will work with the design team, as well as the Director and Art Director to assess the needs and expectations for each character. We then develop strategies to meet these challenges, refining the look, feel, fit and behavior of characters' simulated elements.
During production, Character Simulation happens in tandem with the work of the animation department. Character Simulation TD's use combination of commercially available simulation software and in-house tool-kits to fine-tune the fit and physical properties of a garment in every shot. Character Simulation TD's must use a combination of technical, aesthetic and creative skills to efficiently create an attractive and consistent result.
The dynamic motion supplied by Character Simulation compliments the work of the motion created by Animation, adding weight, secondary motion, and personality to our animated characters. Whether it's the folds of a character's shirt, the swoosh of a villain's cape or the subtle swing of a character's hair, The work of the Character Simulation team adds to each shot, helping bring Blue Sky's stories to life.
The Crowds department is tasked with filling the screen with characters. While we are the smallest department at Blue Sky, we get to build scenes with the largest head count.
We use both custom code and consumer software that take the models, rigs, and animated character clips built by the departments upstream in the pipeline and convert them into crowd assets. Essentially this means we try to make the rigs and models as simple and light as possible so we can shove as many characters into the scene as possible.
Then the fun part begins: actually building and simulating the crowds.
To create a huge crowd that looks dynamic and realistic we have to add a lot of variation to what the crowd characters are doing. The characters have to look like they really live in the scene. They should react to the environment, not walk into walls, wave when they see a friend, and run away or fight when they see an enemy.
Since we are dealing with large numbers of characters, it would be impossible to hand animate each one. Instead, we create simulations to drive the actions of the characters. The simulations define the dynamics and behavior of how the different characters should interact. We might create a particle simulation that defines physical forces, constraints, and rules that guide how the characters behave. Then each character's animation cycle is synced to each particle. We can build fuzzy logic brains for the crowd characters to allow them see, hear, and feel - so they can interact with other crowd characters and their environment on their own.
No matter what technique we use, the main goal it to make the crowd characters look and behave in ways that appear as though they are "acting" in believable ways.
Compositing is the stage of production where images of each element in a shot are combined and integrated to become one unified image. Compositing is a discipline that spans several departments at Blue Sky, but the Compositing department is where all the final elements are balanced together into a seamless, unified product... the final frame.
Picking up where the lighting department leaves off, different shots are given various levels of attention in Compositing. Tasks range from creating large vistas with digital matte paintings, creating and balancing atmospheric, volumetric, and environmental effects, in addition to handling more nuts and bolts tasks such as paint fixes, noise cleanup, and roto. Each and every shot in our films goes through compositing as the last creative stage of the monoscopic movie making process. It is this attention to detail that helps immerse the audience in the picture and contributes to Blue Sky's mission to pioneer creatively superior photo-realistic computer-generated character animation.