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WETA RV Integration Case Study

Posted by tweak at Jul 23, 2009 05:15 PM |

Weta was the first Studio to use RV besides Tweak Films, and they have been influencing the direction of RV with recommendations, feature requests, and new ideas since they adopted it in 2006. The crew at Weta has modified RV extensively to integrate it into many facets of their artist workflow. The work they have done is a great demonstration of how playback can be seamlessly woven into a CG production environment. They have also pushed the limits of RV with extreme extensions, like rendering 3D models over background plates using RV's built-in extension language. Weta graciously agreed to let us talk to some of their leading artists and engineers about how they have integrated RV and to publish the following case study.

Weta RV Integration Case Study

Overview

Weta was the first Studio to use RV besides Tweak Films, and they have been influencing the direction of RV with recommendations, feature requests, and new ideas since they adopted it in 2006. The crew at Weta has modified RV extensively to integrate it into many facets of their artist workflow. The work they have done is a great demonstration of how playback can be seamlessly woven into a CG production environment. They have also pushed the limits of RV with extreme extensions, like rendering 3D models over background plates using RV's built-in extension language. Weta graciously agreed to let us talk to some of their leading artists and engineers about how they have integrated RV and to publish the following case study.

History of Tweak and Weta

Weta Digital and Tweak first collaborated during Weta's work on THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003). Tweak was brought in to create technology to simulate the destruction of the Barad-Dur (the Dark Tower) at the climax of the film. Tweak developed simulation tools, procedural geometry fracturing software, and an ambient occlusion renderer for the project. Then Tweak artists worked with the production artists at Weta to do the shots.

RV was introduced to Weta by Mike Root, the compositing supervisor at Tweak Films, who traveled to New Zealand to help out during the final production push on KING KONG. Mike brought RV with him and by the time he left other artists at Weta wanted to adopt it at the facility.

RV at Weta

Early on, engineers at Weta saw that they could exploit the openness and customizability of RV to integrate it tightly into their pipeline. According to Johan Aberg, Senior Compositor at WETA “That’s definitely one of the things that sets RV apart, the ability for the end user to customize. It’s apparent that Tweak is listening to its customer needs because with each new release the company keeps adding in new hooks that make it even more fun to work with.” After years of artist input and some custom engineering by Johan and others, RV has become an integral part of the workflow and has also been used as a platform for some very cool special purpose production tools and prototypes.

Seamless Integration

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Weta's approach to playback has been to focus on the workflow and not on the playback software. In other words, they have worked to make it easy for artists to find the material that they need to look at and then view it in RV. The material may be  a particular take of a shot, or a cut sequence, or a shot in context of surrounding shots, or multiple versions of a shot that have to be compared. It's easy for artists to navigate to the material they need because information about shots, sequences,  versions, and edits permeates the environment in the form of web pages, text in emails, special Weta EDL files, and shot IDs. Once artists find what they are looking for, they can load it into RV in a variety of ways that guarantee they are looking at the correct material. 

 

The advantage of this approach is that artists don't have to think about the playback tool itself--playback becomes ubiquitous, like air it's everywhere and artists come to see it is a fundamental right, an operation that can be launched from any place in the workflow.

Some of the tools that Weta has implemented to achieve this seamless integration include:

  • Custom EDL text files - the Weta EDLs can be used by RV to load up the latest take of each shot, while preserving cut data. Artists can create their own EDLS and re-use them without worrying about them going out of date as new takes are submitted for other shots.
  • Drag/Drop of EDLs - Weta's EDLs can be dropped onto RV directly.
  • Drag/Drop Clips from proprietary dailies browser into RV. Weta's in house tools use their own clip data format, and RV has been integrated with these tools through easy drag/drop functionality.
  • Copy/paste text into RV. Email can be generated with special text commands for RV. Users can load the images or sequences just by copying and pasting text from the email into an RV session.
  • Launch RV from links on a web page.
  • Special text entry tools in RV that let users type in Shot names or Shot ID's to load shots automatically.
  • Hot keys in RV for loading shots in particular ways. For example, a user can hit a hot key to create an A/B compare, and then just type in the version name they want to compare against. RV then automaticaly sets up the A/B or side-by-side comparison.
  • Menus to launch custom tools, and to navigate to shots or sequences.
  • Automatic LUT and color setup using RV's Source Setup mechanism so that artists get the right color settings with no chance of user errors.


According to Matt Welford, Head of Compositing, "RV is pretty much integrated throughout the whole company: shots, animation, layering even camera. We use it in this way because everyone submits to the central movie store, as a by-product they end up using RV to view the files. When we’re in busy periods and hiring more artists, it only takes them about five minutes to learn how to drag and drop anything they need to view into RV, without any extensive training.  A lot of our integration is tailored to the end end-user, making our pipeline as artist friendly as possible."

“For animation we’re constantly referring back to previous takes or comparing with reference footage. An artist can load a shot from our web page, and then tell RV which version to compare against. RV automatically sets up an A/B compare. That’s an invaluable tool for us” explained Malcolm Aitchison, Technical Support Team Leader, WETA Digital.

Stereo

Weta  was the first company to use RV for stereoscopic production and they have helped define the stereo tools in RV through feature requests, recommendations, and advice based on their production experience. Weta designed a special nomenclature for multi-view OpenEXR files specifically for stereo production. RV was the first tool to support these "SXR" files. By using the SXR defined channel and attribute names, multiple eyes can be stored in a single OpenEXR file. RV automatically detects these views, and displays them as stereo using anaglyph, hardware stereo, or any of the other stereo modes that RV supports. Weta also relies on RV's support for stereo quicktime movies, in which two video tracks are automatically treated as stereo eyes by RV.

“The way that Tweak has pushed stereo workflow and tools into RV has really helped. It’s the only tool we have that lets us load stereo movies. RV has become key for our artists to view their work in stereo at their workstations,” concluded Welford.

Weta uses a variety of solutions for stereo playback with RV at artist workstations. The original solution, CRT monitors with CrystalEyes shutter glasses and RV hardware stereo mode has become problematic as CRT's get old and cannot be replaced. One new solution is the Zalman 3D monitor which uses polarized scanlines and a special RV rendering mode that interleaves scanlines from alternate stereo eyes. Many artists also have anaglyph glasses which can be useful for a quick check of 3D issues.

Extreme Customization

In addition to all of the work that Weta has done to weave RV into the artist workflow, they have also built some more elaborate special tools into RV. Some of these have been prototypes or designed to solve specific problems that artists or productions encountered. Johan Aberg, in particular, has pushed the limits of what can be done using RV's extension language Mu, including writing an OpenGL renderer for 3D models, creating new UI elements, and building a kind of motion capture tool to record pan and scan animation for export to a Shake or Nuke node.  Here are some of the RV tools that Johan has built:

 

Color Grading

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Weta developed a custom UI in RV with sliders and a histogram display for users to adjust exposure and other parameters according to Weta's preferred techniques for manipulating images.

 

3D Rendering

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Johan discovered early on that RV's extension language could be used to draw directly into RV's interface. One of his first experiments was to create tools in RV that could import 3D models (obj Files) and render them. He set up a general perspecitve 3D environment and also imported camera moves so that models could be rendered in real-time on top of a background plate (to review matchmoves). The system was capable of rendering models with one half million polygons in realtime and it was written entirely in RV scripting language.

Motion Recording

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Another early experiment for Johan was the development of a motion recording system to take pan and scan input from and  artist in RV and export it to Shake or Nuke. This system demonstrated the use of RV ability to capture user inputs and events and the ability to export data to external files. The display shows a motion path and the resulting animation curves. The menu also shows many extra Weta tools that have been incorporated into RV for production.

Conclusion

RV was designed from the ground up to be an open playback platform that studios could modify to suit their own way of working. Weta has taken full advantage of RV's flexibility and openness to create a polished, artist friendly playback workflow. It has been a pleasure for us at Tweak to work with the artists and engineers at Weta -- they have embraced the possibilities of RV and given us a great example of how they can be applied in practice.