Science Today: Animating Life | California Academy of Sciences

Science Today: Animating Life | California Academy of Sciences


♪ (music) ♪ For Habitat Earth, our new show
from the Morrison Planetarium, one of my new jobs was to animate
all the living creatures in the show, so we see Sea Otters and ants,
fish, a lot of birds and my job was to animate them and try to make them look as realistic
and life-like as possible. When we build these animals for the show, we start with a lot of reference. For instance, for a couple of the shots, we are here in Oakland,
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. So, we went out and shot references
to see what kind of birds were out there. For the Sea Otter, I went down to Monterey to actually check out some
real Sea Otters for myself. Then, really early in the process, we checked in with
the scientists here at The Academy. to make sure that we’re on the right track before we go too far down the road. With the birds, as an example,
we met with Jack Dumbacher, the head of Ornithology and Mammalogy
here at the Academy of Sciences. We told him that we’re thinking
of doing a scene here at this time of year,
and these are the birds that we expect to be there. We double checked
with him and he said, “Yeah, these birds will be migrating. These ones will be
in their breeding plumage.” So we assembled our cast
of characters from there. Then it’s a matter of building
the 3D models. We utilized some of the collections
here at The Academy whenever we can. The sea otter is a
great example of that. We were able to take
a sea otter’s skull that’s in our collections
and do a 3D scan of it to build a 3D model and then
I used that the infrastructure for building the actual
skin of the otter. I layered that with photographs
and used that to mold it, it’s kind of a sculpting process. Then after we built it,
you have this 3D model, but you need to give it clothes,
or a texture, is what we call it. Again, we went into the collections. We have all these sea otter pelts
here at The Academy. We went in and we took
photographs of it. I was able to use those
photographs to paint on the texture of the sea otter. Next, you need to make it
ready for animation. We call it rigging. One of my favorite parts, actually. What you are essentailly
doing is building an animatable skeleton
within the animal and giving it controls
that you can animate easily. It’s really fun because it’s like
you’re building a robot in the computer. The sea otter was really
challenging in that way because their bodies are so fluid, and those smooth curves
and they are so quick. That one was pretty challenging
versus something like
the ant, for instance, the movements are a little
bit more robotic. For the birds, it took a lot of research because just from looking at them,
you might not understand the bones that are in a bird’s wing
and how they all function or what their different rotations are. I did some research and talked
to some people here at The Academy and found out exactly how birds fly. That helps in building the rig
because you got to get all the rotations right if you
want it to look really accurate and not just like it’s
swimming through the air. After we get the rigging done, then you’re ready for animation. It’s like puppeteering, in a way,
just inside a computer. You have all these animation controls
that you can manipulate to pose the animal in different ways
to get that natural movement. We work as a team. Let’s take the kelp forest, for instance. Matt Blackwell was doing
a ton of work building this beautiful kelp forest environment and meanwhile I would be
in a separate program animating the sea otter and then
I would give it over to Matt and he would then
integrate it into his scene so that all the lighting could properly
function on the sea otter. Because it’s such a recognizable
and charismatic creature that we really wanted
the audience to connect with, it was important to get it right. I learned and got better as we went. I’d like to keep moving forward with it and see how we can continue
to get more interest out of these specimens or whatever
it is here at The Academy to teach people and to inspire
people to come here and actually see the real thing because nothing beats
the real thing.

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