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Arriving at Home: DreamWorks Animation on emotions as color, losing gravity, and friendship in "Home."

DreamWorks Home © DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

When Oh, a lovable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME. 

Home is the result of artistry and technology working together. At DreamWorks Animation, artists and engineers collaborate to leverage the power of technology in order to produce visually compelling stories. The making of Home required hundreds of artists and engineers working together to hand-craft every asset, design every set, and calculate every visual effect on-screen. The combination of a heartening storyline and visually stunning CG animation resulted in a DreamWorks Animation success. 

DreamWorks Animation utilizes technology to enable efficiency and creativity. With the help of state-of-the-art tools, artists are able to unleash their imaginations to realize their creative visions on-screen.  In Home, the DreamWorks Animation team used a variety of tools, including DreamWorks Animation’s own proprietary tools, as well as third-party tools like The Foundry’s NUKE.

Emoting with NUKE 

DreamWorks Home © DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

Oh, the lovable misfit from another planet belongs to the Boov species. The Boov are very different from humans: they have roly-poly frames, six little legs and tentacles in the place of ears. The Boovs’ most defining feature, however, is their color-coded emotional energy. The Boov are naturally purple, but change colors when experiencing different emotions, much like a living mood ring. For example, a yellow hue indicates fear; red signals anger; and blue reveals sadness. In Home, the effects artists worked on over 400 different shots involving color emoting!

When charged with the task of creating the emoting effect, the DreamWorks Animation team intended to use a 3D animation package for all patterns and color changes. Waiting for the renders proved impractical and time consuming, however. To speed up the process, DreamWorks Animation migrated to The Foundry’s NUKE

“NUKE’s collaborative workflow and interactivity allowed the effects department to own the effect,” said Amaury Aubel, Head of Effects on Home. “This meant we could turn around shots in hours as opposed to days.” 

To achieve this, DreamWorks Animation set up emoting Arbitrary Output Variables (AOV), including flow UV mattes, body parts mattes (head, arms, legs) and emotion beauty renders. An install script ensured that these AOVs would be generated automatically and that emoting gizmos would be added to the lighter's NUKE script.

Using a combination of animation variables and curves, artists controlled when the effect would be activated in lighting and which particular AOVs would be generated by a lighting render. Ultimately, most color flushes and a number of patterns were generated directly in NUKE. NUKE also handled reflections by setting up equivalent reflections of emoting AOVs.

With NUKE’s capabilities, DreamWorks artists were able to bring every one of the unearthly, yet sensitive Boov to life. This color-changing, visual effect allowed audiences to connect with these highly emotional aliens, despite their vast differences.

Navigating the Computer Room 

DreamWorks Home © DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

At a pivotal point in the storyline, the main characters Oh and Tip enter a virtual world where digital data flows freely. The DreamWorks Animation team was able to render each individual data stream directly in NUKE as textured planes driven by an external particle simulation. 

“We would tweak the transparency, color, or the computer symbol textures being mapped,” said Aubel. “This proved to be a great time-saver as most of the lighting and shading could be done interactively in NUKE.” 

NUKE enabled animators to craft this never-before-seen digital landscape, which helped drive the storyline as the two unlikely friends set out to stop a home-planet invasion by their enemies, the Gorg.  

Losing Gravity 

DreamWorks Home © DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

The Boovs also possess some wild technology, including the ability to control gravity. Throughout the movie, massive clusters comprising bikes, statues and accordions drift aimlessly above the Boov’s home planet. When Boovs no longer have use for a particular item (namely, human inventions), they simply gather it up and dispose of it, floating the items away. 

Accurately creating and rendering these clusters proved essential in conveying the film’s overriding themes. The sheer number of these visual representations helped demonstrate the Boovs’ complete lack of empathy for the human’s lives and belongings, as audiences watch everyday necessities like toilets and bikes float out of reach.   

To repeatedly render the gravity balls would be extremely expensive due to the density of the geometry needed, especially on a close up shot. Instead, the DreamWorks Animation team rendered the gravity balls once, spinning in place with multiple lighting scenarios. They then used NUKE to place them in a 3D scene. 

“Our layout department provided a particle file that dictated which type of ball showed up where, and we had a NUKE gizmo that assigned the images to cards and put the right cards in place,” said Betsy Nofsinger, Head of Lighting on Home. “We could then blend between the different rendered lighting scenarios to match the lighting in the shots. This was really convenient and saved a lot of time during production.” 

Looking Ahead

Home delighted audiences worldwide with its lively colors, beautiful imagery and entertaining storyline. During the five years spent creating, editing and rendering Home, The Foundry’s NUKE became an essential tool in the production pipeline, enabling complex scenes and enhancing artistic capabilities.  

As DreamWorks Animation looks to future productions, artists will continue to expand their creative ambitions with every film.  At DreamWorks, creative challenges are as inevitable as they are exciting, and the team will continue to rely on The Foundry to provide efficient solutions for complex scenes.