CRAFT: TECHNIQUE; Guinness man tackles features with Ridley Scott

Grahame Andrew talks to Margaret Hood about his computer graphics vision

Grahame Andrew talks to Margaret Hood about his computer graphics vision



So good was the computer graphics team at Cel Animation that ten of them

were recently lured by the rival post-production house, the Mill, to set

up a joint venture with Ridley and Tony Scott. The collaboration has

been billed as the start of a new era in British feature-film post-

production (Campaign, 5 April).



And one of their number, Grahame Andrew, now the visual effects

supervisor at the Mill, has a reel of computer-graphics achievements

that some would die for.



His three personal favourites are the award-winning ‘chain’ for

Guinness, Muller Light and a bouncing BBC2 ident.



For the benefit of those who have been stranded in outer Siberia,

‘chain’, with its notable transitions between live action and computer

animation, opens on a pint of Guinness and zooms in on the bubbles in

the glass, each of which forms a galaxy. In each galaxy a planet

evolves. On one planet we see a tower, and then we are drawn into a room

inside the tower. On a table in the room is a pint of Guinness. In the

final production - which involved a post-production budget of almost

pounds 150,000, and more than six months’ work - not even hardened

industry veterans can spot the joins.



The Guinness commercial owes its existence to motion control and the art

of computer-controlled cameras. ‘A lot of people dislike them because

they are so slow to work with, but they have developed enormously and

people just don’t know what they are capable of these days,’ Andrew

says. ‘In computer graphics, you have the ability to control an

imaginary camera, and in motion control, it’s a real camera.’



‘Chain’ was shot on a Cyclops motion-control machine, which has a camera

capable of speeds of up to 11 feet per second. Even experts cannot see

the seams because the camera movement was planned in computer graphics

and designed as computer animation before the model elements were shot

for the film.



The team then moved to the motion-control rig, where they were able to

maintain the right scale of models and a consistent camera speed. ‘It

was hard to work out those camera moves to maintain consistency of scale

and speed,’ Andrew explains. ‘I think that what everybody likes about it

is the slow determination of the speed all the way through.’



The commercial breaks down into two main parts. The first is the

transition from the real bubbles to the computer-generated galaxies. The

second is the transition from the top half of the tower, which is a

model, to the bottom half, which is, again, computer generated.



The Guinness bubbles were shot in a flat-sided tank. The team kept

filming until they captured a formation that looked like the ‘swirl’ of

a galaxy. The real bubbles were then duplicated using computer

animation, the computer-generated galaxy was tracked over the top of the

real bubbles, and the two were mixed together to form the finished

sequence.



The next scene, the room in the tower, began with a full-size set, shot

at the beginning of the motion-control move. The lens pulled back as far

as possible, resting at the final position with the camera still

rolling. This allowed the move to be continued later in post-production,

while still keeping the live action going along with light effects,

moving models and so on.



The top of the tower, a 15ft-high model, was the next scene to be shot.

The same technique of pulling the focus back as far as it could go was

used with the moves that had already been designed on the computer.

These moves had been plotted so that the life-sized room would fit into

the smaller room in the model of the tower.



All of the space sequences were computer generated, but specially shot

footage was used for effects. The swirls on the planets were actually

mixtures of Guinness, full cream and washing-up liquid, which gave very

interesting slow-moving textures that looked like planetary atmosphere.

This method of mixing ‘live’ footage in an animation programme resulted

in film that did not look like conventional computer animation.



The other computer animators who worked on the film were Paul Kavanagh,

now at the Framestore and Ben Hayden, now at Industrial Light and Magic

in the US. The music track, Louis Armstrong’s All the Time in the World,

made the charts (again) as a result of the ad. Interestingly, the film

was found to work with almost any music, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to

thrash metal.



Andrew likes the ‘bungee 2’ ident for BBC2 for its simplicity.



It was a continuation of the initial set of idents first produced by

Daniel Barber, then at Lambie Nairn, and a collaboration with the Henry

operators, Rob Harvey and Tim Burke, who both moved from Cel to the Mill

and were recently named in Campaign as the best operators by a group of

top ad directors (Campaign, 21 June).



It featured a gold ‘2’, made to look like latex, and designed by the

BBC’s Ian Greenaway. The original idea of shooting a model with a high-

speed, photosonic camera (at up to 1,000 frames per second) to make

things appear in slow motion was dropped because of cost and

unpredictability.



Instead, Andrew suggested a latex ‘2’, which was shot at 125 frames per

second. This gave a slow-motion version of the live action and the

ability to slow down the action even more than normal. The rubber ‘2’

was thrown into shot repeatedly, and a computer graphics model was then

made of the ‘2’.



Andrew explains: ‘We still had all of the good things from the live

action, like weight transfer as the model bounced on the floor, the way

it landed and took off. But the good thing about computer animation is

that everything is controllable. The down side is that it is not very

natural looking. So what I did was take the natural element from the

real footage and add colour and lighting - things that would have been

hard to control in the shoot.’



Muller Light was anathema to Andrew’s other favourite work because there

was no computer-generated imagery in the final film, although it could

not have been made without computer graphics. Bill Mather, then

directing through Redwing, asked for an M. C. Escher-like scene, with

two people walking at 90 degrees to each other in different directions

on the same staircase. As Andrew points out: ‘This was a very difficult

thing to shoot, especially with a moving camera.’



In the past, a locked camera would have been used, which is not,

according to Andrew, a very elegant solution. Instead, he plotted the

two moves in computer graphics. The first was plotted in as a

conventional move and, for the second, Andrew had to work out the path

the camera would have to take to mirror the first, but make the

staircase appear to be at 90 degrees to the original one.



The advantage of designing the move in computer animation, Andrew says,

is that you can keep refining the whole picture, including the set and

its size, to make the most of the shoot.



Profile



From maths student to collaborator in Britain’s most ambitious effort in

the post-production feature film industry, Grahame Andrew has an

exemplary career pattern. So great is his devotion to computer graphics

that his four-year-old son is called Harry, yet before you reach for the

sick bag, he insists that his wife ‘just liked the name’. However, Harry

is already proficient in Adobe Photoshop, a mere 2-D software package.



The 38-year-old Andrew’s fascination for computers started after he did

a degree in mathematics at Bath University. He taught himself computer

graphics in 1982 while studying for an MA in design research at the

Royal College of Art.



Andrew’s first job was at CFX, a commercials computer-animation house,

where he worked for six years until 1990. From there he went on to Cel

Animation as head of computer graphics. It was here that he developed an

interest in the integration of live action and computer graphics.



At the Mill he is part of a team working on features and ads part-funded

by Ridley and Tony Scott. The pounds 6.5 million venture centres on

digital effects, like those seen in recent films such as Toy Story and

Jurassic Park.



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