|Ghost In The Machines|
Posted by on February 15, 2002 at 10:05 AM CST:
I conducted an interview via email with Jeppe Nygaard Christensen, CEO of Ghost Aps, the CGI house responsible for the computer-generated BIONICLE™ graphics and animations. My questions are in Blue and his answers are in Black.
Q: Would you please tell our readers a little bit about Ghost Aps?
Ghost Aps is a CGI facility house. Our main focus is computer generated images and animation for commercials and feature films. Compared to international houses we are a very small outfit. Despite that we have managed to land a fair amount of interesting projects and clients; BIONICLE is our crown jewel. If you want to know more, please feel free to visit our website at www.ghost.dk
Q: How did you, Ghost Aps, get involved with LEGO® and BIONICLE™?
Ghost is owned by three former LEGO employees. While working at LEGO we produced a number of multimedia titles and other digital animation work which gave us a solid knowledge of LEGO and how LEGO wants it's products to be portrayed in the digital realm. Apart from that, I hope it is the quality of work which the graphics artists at Ghost produces which made LEGO's Ad agency "Advance" choose us for the assignment.
Q: Are you involved with the direct-to-video BIONICLE movie slated for 2003?
It has not yet been decided who will produce the direct-to-video movie.
Q: Were you involved with the exclusive BIONICLE BOHROK videos to be shown at the Times Square Toys "R" Us this Saturday, February 16th?
We are very much involved with that but I can't comment on the details at this time.
Q: Are you currently working on any other new BIONICLE projects?
BIONICLE has been part of our lives here at Ghost for the last 2-3 years and we have recently finished working on the BOHROK. What lies beyond this is confidential I'm afraid.
Q: What are some of your other (non-BIONICLE) projects (past, present, or future) our readers might be interested in?
The biggest project before BIONICLE was creating the 3D effects for a Danish feature called "Dykkerne" ("Beyond" - English title) This was a traditional live-action movie which needed a number of different fx such as melting a boy, blowing up a submarine, creating an artificial German attack-sub with 50 years of rust and seaweed plus a few animated divers.
Since BIONICLE we have produced a number of commercials for companies like Carlsberg, Sony and LEGOLAND, and the latest project we have been involved in is the creation of 3D-effects for a new underwater thriller called "BELOW" from Dimension Films (US).
Q: How many people at Ghost Aps worked on the 2001 BIONICLE promos (graphics and animations)?
We had about 16 people working on the interactive CD-ROMs which were delivered with the TOA. It was the same team of artists who created the TV and cinema promos. Of the 16 people, only 6 were 3D artists and compositors.
Q: How much of the promos' content was provided to you and how much was developed in-house?
The images and animation were all developed in-house. The models we use in the promos are built upon models that we got from LEGO's CAD system. The models had to be degraded to a much lower amount of detail before we could use them. The creation of all graphical content has been firmly supervised by Art director Christian Faber from Advance.
Q: Who decided Pohatu should moonwalk?
This was one of those late night decisions. Christian and I sat at 2:00 in the morning and couldn't decide how Pohatu should exit the scene — I think it was Christian who came up with the idea of having Pohatu moonwalk out of the scene — we found this would be a nice way to underline the playful nature of Pohatu after the brutal rock-soccer-sequence.
Q: Was there interaction between LEGO and Ghost Aps while developing the promos?
LEGO was part of the approval-loop, but most of the communication went on between Ghost and Advance. Actually, AD Christian Faber from Advance spent most of his working days at Ghost throughout the startup of BIONICLE.
Q: Do the people of Ghost Aps have favorite BIONICLE characters?
Hehe, I think we all have our own favorite. I personally have a soft spot for Pohatu since I did his action sequence. However, we all agree that Onua is the strongest of the characters from a design point of view.
Q: Could you elaborate on Onua's design strengths?
Taste is a difficult thing to explain, and it is only tiny margins which made us like Onua a bit more than the rest. I think that what makes Onua special is that you can read his personality just by looking at him. That is due to his bent back, great mask, and cool claws also; and the color coordination is beautiful.
Q: What was the most difficult part of developing the promos?
If I have to choose from the many different challenges, it will have to be the character-animation.
Q: What was the best part of working on the promos?
Working with LEGO is much like playing with LEGO as a kid. That, combined with creating imaginative and fictive worlds, and the fact that we got to produce material that a lot kids worldwide would be able to enjoy, made working on BIONICLE a fantastic experience.
Q: What tools, computers, and software did you use to create the promos?
All the CGI for BIONICLE have been developed in a PC environment and all the 3D-effects have been produced using Maya from Alias|wavefront. Other than that, we have used tools like Photoshop, Digital Fusion and other smaller tools for editing and rendering.
Q: How many still images were developed for the promos?
I don't remember the exact number of still images, but alot!!!
Q: How many minutes of animation were developed for the promos?
Roughly 10-15 minutes.
Q: The animations tell little 40-60 second stories without dialog. Was this difficult to do?
It was important to us that we could roughly tell each Toa's history just by placing each of them in their native environment. When we did the storyboard for each action sequence, we tried to imagine what each of them would do while being on their own and how that would affect the environments around them. It was surprising how fast the stories evolved and telling them through 3D was "just" a matter of traditional storytelling.
Q: The KANOHI (masks) in the promos have wonderful textures: dings and scratches, unlike the smooth shiny plastic surface of the actual toys. What can you tell us about the CGI masks?
The CGI masks are low-detail versions of the actual CAD-data used to mould the actual LEGO brick. We have shaded the masks to look like LEGO, but also to look a bit metallic in order to make the Toa look a bit larger than the toy.
The scratches on them are actually a handdrawn bumbmap by Christian Faber.
Q: The large posters of the TOA have an incredible amount of detail in them. What is the resolution of those images? Just how much information is in an image like one of those?
That was a BIG one. The rendered images were split up so we didn't have to include all the TOA in one rendering. Again, I can't remember the actual size, but the rendered images were rendered in 7000 x 7000 pixels.
Q: Do different images need to be made for different resolutions and media (e.g. computer monitor, a large poster, a 35 mm film, video), or do they all spring forth from one master graphic? Is one medium more difficult than the others?
Wouldn't that be nice! Unfortunately you can't always predict what the graphics will be used for, so most of the graphics we did in the beginning were developed for TV and resized to CD-ROM. Part of the 35mm was rescaled TV material and part of it was true 2K renderings.
Q: The sounds of Bionicle are almost as striking as the graphics. What can you tell us about them?
The sound for the action sequence and the interactive CD-ROMs, cinema and TV commercials has been developed by sound designer Soeren Bendz at Soundmill in Denmark who is a personal friend and former LEGO colleague of ours. Soeren has been working closely with us throughout the Bionicle productions.
Q: BIONICLE obviously appeals to young people. Do you have any advice to those kids who might like to be involved in that type of project later in life?
It's difficult to say. You can't force something like BIONICLE to happen to you no matter how hard you try. If you have an interest for adventure, fiction, storytelling and animation, my best advice is to keep playing, drawing; maybe playing an instrument, etc. I believe it is creativity which is the most important nerve in a project like BIONICLE and the rest is "just" technic which can be learned later on.