When Rookie entrants started flooding in to use YellowDog’s Cloud Render Platform this year, the diversity of work from a range of students and recent graduates shared with us was brilliant to see.
Standing out from the crowd was Douglas, a student at Think Tank Training Centre in Vancouver, who – despite decades in the industry – has a new found passion for the ‘totally digital realm’.
Our very own Jack, spoke with Douglas to find out more about him, his work, and his experience with Cloud Rendering for The Rookies.
I’ve had a fairly long career in theatre, television, and film; mostly as an Art Director and Set Designer.
In 2011, I began work on a TV Series for ABC called Once Upon a Time. It was a show that mixed the real world and the fairy tale realm using a lot of green screen shots which required virtual scenery. I was lucky enough to work in the pre-production team who built the virtual scenery which was eventually comped into shots by our post-production suppliers. I was totally hooked…
For all of my career I had been self-taught, working in software that was not the ‘industry standard’. I wanted to find out whether I could fit into that industry standard and produce finished shots myself.
I looked at a few schools including online courses but opted for the Think Tank Training Centre. Their mentorship program seemed like a good fit for me. When I went to check out the school I was shown around and interviewed by Scott Thompson, one of the school’s founders. He had come in on a Saturday just for that purpose. That kind of personal attention and the quality of the student’s’ work convinced me that was where I wanted to be.
In spite of my background in art production in the entertainment industry, when it comes to this total digital creative realm, I am definitely a rookie.
This was really the first project where the entire process from start to finish rested with me. Anything that worked is mine and anything that didn’t is mine too. It was a far cry from years of the collaborative environment I had worked in for so long on shows such as Once Upon a Time. Entering my work into the Rookies contest was a logical end to my time at Think Tank.
I have experimented with online render farms but never in a big way. I’ve generally managed my single frames on my own computer.
But shot sequences are a different matter altogether. 4 shots x 360 frames per shot x 2 separate passes = 2880 frames being rendered. Even if I brought my average render times to around ten minutes per frame, I was looking at 20 days of rendering 24 hours a day. And that’s assuming that I had done things perfectly enough that I only had to do the render once. Pretty unlikely.
Cloud rendering became not just a good idea, but a necessity.
Fortunately, through V-Ray Cloud’s Beta and YellowDog’s partnership with The Rookies, I was able to use V-Ray Cloud and YellowDog.
Working with YellowDog’s cloud render software was great. The plugins installed easily and worked without any problems. Any small problems or unexpected actions were of my own creation and resolved quickly with a couple of questions to their brilliant tech support.
The privilege of working with an amazing amount of computer power without having any render nodes within sight. Its pretty amazing when you think about it
My next favourite thing though would be how easy it was to use and how tightly it integrated into Maya. It was almost as easy as rendering locally. The local machine was available to move forward on details and fixes while the render was going on. Several weeks of rendering got compressed into a day or two.
Modelling and UV’ing was done in Maya (trees for the most part done in speedTree). Most of the texturing was done in Substance Painter with a bit done just with procedural textures in V-Ray. After the first set of render tests I decided that I needed to take some of the model pieces into ZBrush to sculpt some detailing for displacement maps. Since I already knew exactly what my cameras were I was able to keep this to a minimum, detailing only what I knew I was seeing closely.
I used a lot of Render Elements in V-Ray. This gave me a lot of room to adjust final lighting in Nuke. I did a totally separate render pass for the fog which was also comped in later.
Final assembling of the reel was done in Premiere Pro CC 2018.
The project was inspired by two things: The Cedar of Lebanon Circle at Highgate Cemetery in London and Galadriel’s monologue at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings. I loved the haunting quality that the opening to that film had and wanted to attempt to create something that evoked similar emotions.
I decided to try and do the reel as if it was a short teaser trailer for an imaginary movie.
The reel is about 2 minutes long and is divided into two main parts. The first part lasts about a minute.
This is the part that ate up most of my life for what was almost two years at TTTC. All of the elements (with the exception of two crows) are computer generated.
The second part, also about a minute in length shows a bit of a breakdown of the process. After that… a few credits and it’s all over.
Many months of work and hundreds of hours of rendering boiled down to two minutes. Here it is!
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