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Cinesite Takes Character Animation To New Levels in Megiddo

(September 24, 2001)
Cinesite Hollywood created an entire 3D devil-like creature for the independent feature film Megiddo: Omega Code 2.

The film, a sequel to Omega Code, is partially funded by Trinity
Broadcasting Network and stars Michael York and Michael Biehn. It was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Leprechaun 4: In Space, Leprechaun 3, Night of the Demons 2).

Cinesite's character animation team moved onto the Megiddo project immediately after finishing their groundbreaking work on AMEE, the robotic character designed for Red Planet. According to Tom Smith, Cinesite's visual effects supervisor on both projects, the devil character ups the ante.

"We did 26 shots of the devil character," says Smith, "which has detailed exterior skin with many subdivisions and transparent layers. The character has actual movement through the veins and you can see the muscles and the structure under the skin. When the character gets angry, it's apparent all over his body."

To design the devil character, animation director Steve Markowski created a maquette from a drawing. The sculpture was modified and refined with feedback from the production. Once a bust was approved, it was recreated in the computer using scanned photos from a variety of angles. Smith says
creating a physical model and scanning it helps prevent too much symmetry and perfection in the beast, which is a giveaway to the audience. Further refinement was done in Photoshop.
After the body was fully designed, the team began working on facial expressions to sync up with the character's lines of dialog. Modeling and animation was done using Maya software. Surface features and textures were created with RenderMan.

"The devil character has about 30 different expressions," says Smith. "You have to be aware of functionality and at the same time, give aesthetic values to it. We also developed a set of wings for him. They are functional and transparent with bat-like skin. All that takes a tremendous amount of detail work."

At various points in the film, the devil character flies, engages in fights, and at one point rips himself out of York's body. The interaction with live-action characters is accomplished in a number of ways. Some are intercut, some are composited and others are done physically with prosthetic hands and other body parts. To accomplish much of this work, Cinesite developed a proprietary seamless technique that applies 2D surface texturing to a 3D model -- in this instance, adhering the beast's skin to the skeleton.

"Megiddo has been a good project for us," says Smith. "It challenged us to take our character animation skills and 3D pipeline to the next level."

With facilities in Hollywood and London, Cinesite provides a wide range of visual and physical effects, digital film mastering, digital film restoration, scanning and recording, preservation and DVD services. Cinesite is a Kodak subsidiary and part of the company's Entertainment Imaging

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