‘The Way of Water’, ‘Across the Spider-Verse’, ‘Elemental’ tech talks and more revealed at SIGGRAPH 2023

The conference’s ‘secret weapon’ Talks sessions are now available to browse through.

I’ve always thought that the Talks sessions at SIGGRAPH are one of the conference’s secret weapons. That’s because they occupy a place in between detailed Technical Papers and in-depth Production Sessions, where they allow VFX and animation studios the chance to do fun, concise, deep dives into very particular aspects of their recent work.

At SIGGRAPH 2023 in LA, the Talks have already appeared on the website, and they include some very awesome-looking sessions on films like Avatar: The Way of Water, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Elemental, and more. Wētā FX, Imageworks and Pixar, among many other studios, will be going into lots of fun detail on technical aspects of their work. (The Elemental Talks from Pixar are off the charts!)

Here are just a few highlights (there are so many more from studios like Walt Disney Animation Studios, Framestore, Animal Logic and DreamWorks Animation, so be sure to check the full program).

On Avatar: The Way of Water

Fire and Explosions in Avatar: The Way of Water – We present volumetric and combustion workflows for the Avatar sequel(s) built from the ground up, aiming at physical plausibility and predictability, which has been facilitated by careful modeling from molecular level chemical reactions to large-scale thermodynamics.

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Bodyopt — A Character Deformation Pipeline for Avatar: The Way of Water – We present Bodyopt, a character skin deformation framework developed for Avatar: The Way of Water. Our approach aims to learn the skin deformations from a given dataset and reliably reproduce them during shot production. It handles runtime skin dynamics and includes utilities to transfer the deformations to new character types.

Avatar: The Way of Cloth, Hair, and Coupled Simulation – We present CreLoki, an extension to the multi-physics framework Loki, that enables unified creatures physics with straightforward coupling. CreLoki includes a highly reusable scene configuration and offers a familiar interface in Autodesk Maya without compromising quality, customizability, or extendibility. It encourages a broader adoption of unified physics among creature artists.

Pandora in Motion: Plant Simulation in the Avatar Sequels – We introduce a new workflow for plant animation built for Avatar: The Way of Water. The workflow combines new solver features with a suite of procedural workflows to streamline the massive scope of setting the virtual world of Pandora in motion while pushing the quality beyond Wētā FX’s previous capabilities.

On the new Spider-Verse film:

Repainting the Spider-Verse – This talk is a presentation of the integration of Rebelle, a watercolor painting application software, into Sony Pictures Imageworks VFX pipeline for the production of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Linework in Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse – We introduce an artistically driven line art pipeline employed in the making of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Non-photorealistic Compositing of the Spider-Verse – The various worlds of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse have wildly varying art styles and rules. Matching 2D concept art in an animated 3D world requires finding novel ways to marry the guiding hand of an artist with procedural tools. We present novel techniques to apply painterly effects on 3D renders.

Fitting Variable Rate Animation Into a Modern Feature Film Pipeline – Variable rate animation is a technique that resembles traditional animation and comic books. How do simulation-based departments work with it? The short answer is, they don’t. This paper will explain how the style was defined for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and thoroughly solved on a technical level for the sequel.

On Elemental:

A Procedural Approach for Stylized Bark Shading – We present a new procedural method to generate the stylized bark patterns used in the Earth characters of Pixar’s feature film Elemental. At its core, our approach is based on in-house geometry tools that generate shading surface attributes followed by custom shaders that combine these attributes into a stylized texture.

Elemental Characters: The Living Vegetation of Element City – Pixar’s simulation artists share the technology and techniques used to bring life to the variety of plant-based characters in our latest animated film, Elemental. Through a combination of procedural tools and internally created solvers, we will cover the challenges we encountered during the production of this film.

Shaping the Elements: Curvenet Animation Controls in Pixar’s Elemental – This work presents a new shaping rig for creating fine animation controls deployed in Pixar’s feature film Elemental. We developed new tools that auto-generate surface-aligned orientations mapping animation controls into curvenet deformations. As a result, animators can quickly reshape the character articulation free of any extra rigging setup.

Everybody’s an Effect: Scalable Volumetric Crowds on Pixar’s Elemental – Pixar’s Elemental is set in a world teeming with fire, air, earth, and water characters. By building a Houdini-Engine character pipeline based on blended simulation caches and extending our crowd pipeline to approximate non-skeletal deformation with blendshapes, we were able to animate, deform, and render an absurd number of voxels.

Singed Silhouettes and Feed Forward Flames: Volumetric Neural Style Transfer for Expressive Fire Simulation – To tackle the challenge of creating characters out of fire for Pixar’s Elemental, Pixar and Disney Research worked together to craft recent advances in volumetric neural style transfer into a production-ready pipeline. Our system used hand-painted style targets to displace low frequency pyro simulations to illustrative fire shapes.

Volume Rendering for Pixar’s Elemental – This work presents recent updates to the volume rendering algorithms in RenderMan, the production renderer used at Pixar. These algorithms were deployed on Pixar’s feature film Elemental which featured an immense number of highly complicated and detailed volumetric characters.

Elemental Characters: From Sparks to Fire – We present a talk about the development team’s cutting-edge approach to create fully simulated and stylized fire characters that retain full animated performance and character personality from the beginning of the pipeline to render time for Pixar’s “Elemental” feature film.

Procedural Techniques for Large, Dynamic Sets in Elemental – In this talk, we present our techniques for handling problems of scale, such as parameterized building generation and dressing, application of a variety of FX elements within large sets, and novel approaches for automated color palette generation, both in an asset and shot context

Elemental Characters: Making Characters Out of Thin Air – We present a system for creating air characters for Pixar’s upcoming film Elemental. Our solution combined procedural and simulation techniques in a seamless way to bring characters to life. We preserved the performance and design of our main characters and accommodated the vast scope of secondary air characters.

Elemental Characters: Bringing Water to Life – For Pixar’s Elemental, we strived to create water characters that felt non-human and of water, yet still maintained readability and charm. Design choices and new technical approaches for characters at Pixar helped achieve this balance.

SIGGRAPH 2023 is taking place 6-10 August, 2023. befores & afters is a media partner.

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