Emmy Award-winning team behind the ‘Baymax Dreams’ shorts for Disney shares funny new film, the free tools and best practices used in its production.
Sherman, which premiered earlier this month at the Annecy Animation Festival, is a CG short that was animated, lit and rendered in Unity 2018.3. It tells the humorous story of a racoon, under the watchful eye of Sherman, a little yellow bird, desperately trying to evade a renegade sprinkler and snag some dog food from an unattended bowl. Hijinks and pratfalls ensue. No surprises there. From the same Emmy Award-winning Unity team that collaborated with Disney Television Animation to produce three Baymax Dreams shorts inspired by Big Hero 6: The Series, Sherman was designed as a learning tool for the artist community and animation studios to educate them about best practices when setting up a real-time animation film project.According to Isabelle Riva, head of Unity Technologies’ Media Entertainment Innovation Group, her team workshopped the story moving straight into 3D to script the action. “Once we developed the story and assets, seven people - cinematic creator (editor/layout), rigger, animator, lighting specialist, VFX artist, CG artist, and a graphics programmer - worked 2-3 weeks to lock cameras and animations. It was very quick to ideate in real-time, and no storyboard was required. Assets from Maya and Substance Painter were loaded into Unity, and our Timeline (sequencer) and Cinemachine (smart procedural cameras) features were used to layout and edit the action. The team saw the whole picture early on, thanks to round-tripping workflows between DCC software and Unity. Animation cycles were quick to refine, and we could work on real-time lighting setups in parallel!”The team then spent time refining the film’s look, especially the fur. “From there, we focused on look development and polishing eye and fur shaders over several weeks,” Riva continues. “The goal was to design a real-time UX/UI to allow our lighter and CG artist to quickly iterate on the fur groom maps and refine lighting across the entire short in a few hours, compared to days or weeks as in a traditional pipeline.”
The team took full advantage of the Unity Platform, from tools like Timeline and Cinemachine, to the High Definition Render Pipeline and Post-Processing Stack. Unity provided AWN a breakdown of some of the key tools used in the project as follows:
Timeline gives you a mission control view of the project and can replace non-linear editing solutions. It allows creators to move “tracks” around (whether those are lighting, cameras or characters,) through time, putting every department at their fingertips! This means changes are propagated automatically for every other creator in the scene and reduces human error around frame changes.
Cinemachine is a smart camera animation package that allows you to point and shoot characters procedurally, meaning those cameras follow the location of the object and never break frame, even when the layout does--which is revolutionary for previs and layout supervisors! It offers huge time savings when it comes to fixes and costly reworks.
High Definition Render Pipeline helps creators achieve beautiful looks and styles in 2D or 3D and allowed us to fully customize the fur on our project. Best of all, it means you can have physically-based shaders that can be updated instantly at any point in all shots at once, along with complex material and light shading out of the box.
The Post-Processing Stack combines many bells and whistles from the compositor’s toolbox, empowering creatives with color grading tools, atmosphere, and lens effects. It gives you everything you need to polish renders early in the pipeline.
The Visual Effect Graph allowed us to make water and other advanced effect simulations in Unity. It’s a brand-new tool for building real-time visual effects in Unity. It uses GPU-powered compute shaders and offers an artist-friendly node-based visual workflow. Artists can leverage the power of Unity without engineers!
“We also used tools like the Shader Graph to create custom shaders and see their results in real time, and the Progressive Lightmapper to simplify the lightmap generation used to emulate global illumination,” Riva adds. “Other tools, such as the Unity Recorder and FBX Exporter, were vital to the success of the final project.”
More and more, individuals and creative teams are moving to Unity to empower directors and makes it easier to facilitate the cross-department collaboration required to ensure every story element is aligned throughout the creation process. “Unity is a true end-to-end platform for making real-time short films and episodic animation,” Riva emphasizes. “It gives creators the power to do modeling, layout, animation, lighting, VFX, render, and composite all in the same platform, in one place, at the same time.”