Cannes attendees were feeling the call of the wild yesterday as MPC’s Diarmid Harrison-Murray gave a crash course in creating photoreal animals.
His talk, Digital Darwinism, was designed to give creatives and marketers confidence to ask questions and get creative when it comes to CG, and to help overcome inhibitions that may arise from not understanding the technical side of the process. “My inspiration behind the whole talk, really, was to try and make something that showed that the technical details don’t matter. So often people come in and they go ‘oh god’ and it inhibits creativity and ideas,” he said.
The focus was on creatures. Between Grand Prix-winning commercials like Monty’s Christmas and the recent eye-popping blockbuster The Jungle Book, MPC have been cultivating a reputation for pushing the limits on CG animals. But creatures, explained Diarmid after the talk, are a particularly challenging thing to do.
“I love CG creatures – to me they’re as hard as it gets. Blowing stuff up and that sort of VFX is really challenging too, but with a creature, it could be 95% done and just doesn’t feel alive. And you can think, I’ve done all the bits… what’s missing? That’s why, for me, it’s the Rolls Royce of VFX.”
The key, explains Diarmid, is to involve VFX partners early in the process. These days the word ‘post’ is becoming increasingly redundant as VFX companies can solve tricky script challenges most effectively by consulting and advising early on. Challenging and creative scripts are a real motivation for Diarmid and his team - the flocks of flying t-shirts in the Dougal Wilson-directed Ikea ad being an example - and the earlier they can get their teeth into these brain-teasing challenges, the better.
“It depends on the director, some do it more than others, but in my experience it gets the most from a story,” Diarmid said.
He also says the increasingly sharp screen resolutions are forcing VFX companies to keep raising the bar. During his talk he explained that, for creatures, they research tirelessly, taking anatomy and movement inspiration from nature, as well as developing tools that help them emulate the random variations and imperfections of nature.
“Traditionally CG was filled with little tricks that faked things, as CG evolves and computers get more powerful we get closer and closer to creating things as they are, simulating real forces,” he said.
The ‘Digital Darwinism’ angle of the talk also hinted at that constant evolution, with learnings or ideas from jobs feeding into each other, meaning every project is a step closer to the Holy Grail of VFX.
And as for Diarmid, he’s got big creative ambitions of his own. “I love working on birds, feather stuff is great. I would like to do a really ambitious feather job. Monty was feathers, but not in the really traditional sense. I’d love to do a vulture or something like that. I’m waiting on that real killer bird job.”