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
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
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
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.
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