Siggraph 2015 Rewind - Brandon Parvini: Optimizing Sketch and Toon Renders

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Technical and Drafting Table looks from Sketch and Toon and Physical Render in A Faster Horse.

Brandon Parvini of Ghost Town Media demonstrates how Cinema 4D's Sketch and Toon render combined with Physical Render in both technical and watercolor / drafting table looks for the documentary film A Faster Horse. Brandon explains the challenges Ghost Town faced in rendering the project, and how they overcame them by understanding the technical aspects of Sketch and Toon.

04:40A Faster Horse
06:36Optimizing Sketch & Toon Performance
16:45Animating Sketch & Paint

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- Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming out. I guess I'll start off I'm Brandon. I'm one of the CDs over at Ghost Town. My main focus over there is kind of heading up a lot of our 3D, and a lot of our look dev, but why don't I start us off by just showcasing some of the recent projects that we've been doing? ♪ [music] ♪ So that's some of the recent projects that we've been working on over at Ghost Town. Today, I kind of want to, kind of focus in on the idea of C4D as a bit of a platform for us. So, really, up until we kind of bounced into Maxon and Cinema 4D, we hadn't really been much of a 3D house. We'd dabbled in some of the different packages, but it'd just never really taken hold; it never really spoke that well to the arts, kind of, driven community that we have at our offices. And once we found Maxon and Cinema, things just seemed to kind of click, and from there it really... Cinema and Maxon turned to kind of this Grand Central Station, where it, kind of, turned into, kind of, the bedrock of a lot of the projects that we do. It was easy enough to, kind of, do R&D and for us to kind of feel comfortable that we can toy around and, kind of, play and have fun in 3D in a way that we really hadn't been able to do in other packages up until this point in time. The first thing that I want to kind of touch into, though, a little bit, is really for us... When you do a lot of experimental work and you do some more straightforward work you have to have a really firm understanding of, kind of, the technology that you're using, and the ability to, kind of, fix it if there's a problem. Every single piece of software has its own quirks, has its own kinks to it and rendering for 3D is a major, major item that also has a lot of debugging and a lot of, kind of, work that has to go into it. And that really, kind of, came to a very specific, kind of, point with a recent project that we did for this documentary called, A Faster Horse, and I'll show you guys that real quickly, some shots from it. So essentially, we had three major sections that we had to worry about for the film; some general clean-up and your general v-effects approach. And then we had this major scene that you're seeing right here, where we had to, kind of, create this illustrative, kind of, cell-shaded-style approach and render, and then this more of a CAD-style approach to kind of showcase all the bits and all of the engineering that really goes in when you're designing a car from the ground up, like they recently did with the new Mustang. We had a really tight timeline, a very small staff that we're working on, here, we don't have a massive render farm or anything, really, that we're relying on. We do a lot of oversea renders, and we kind of have to be really nimble about our approaches. And as we were going into the project and doing some of our general R&D...let's see, I'll pull this up quickly. While we were talking with the director, David, he really wanted to go for this feel of, kind of, this CAD, industrial, kind of authentic look to really showcase this, you know, the feeling as if you're going through the CAD sequence itself and you're really understanding, like, how many bits and pieces are there in the car. And over the course of the look development, which we basically had the better part of about a week to do, we were like, okay, that sounds really, really good. But we still wanted to have this certain, kind of, patina to it to kind of showcase the physicality of the car, show the weight, show the dimension, and give it a little bit more pizzaz. You're seeing some of our early look development as we were going through, and thankfully David liked it and we moved forward with it, so it's great. We go through, we do all the camera animations and get everything all sorted out. And it was a Friday, we send off our renders and we come back in on Monday and we weren't quite as far along as we thought we were going to be. And so at this point I want to kind of bring up--and it's going to be super, super techy at this point, but it's really, really worth understanding, because any creative notion that you want to start off with, you have to understand the execution path that you're going to plan on doing. Workflow is the make or break of a lot of your creative. You may have a great idea, but if you cannot render it in time, if you don't have the budget to do that kind of render, you're going to have to adjust your creative. And so, really being able to kind of troubleshoot on the fly; how can I make the look work based upon the heavy metal that you have in the office, the budget, and the timeframe, and your staffing that you have for the project overall. And, so, what we ran into with this one, really specifically, and what I ended up learning this really, kind of, valuable lesson on, is the full understanding of a multi-threaded versus single-threaded application approach for the software. So I came back in on Monday, and we have iMacs, we have big workstations. And I come back in and I'm looking at the render timeframes between the two of them, and I realize that, okay, I'm looking at 21 minutes-frame for this machine. I walk over to another machine and I'm seeing 21 minutes of frame? Now, mind you, I'm looking at these two systems, and I'm like, this doesn’t make any sense. System B, here, is a Duel Xeon 8-core, hyper-threaded to 32 cores, has 64 gigs of RAM, solid state everything, it is a workhorse. This thing melts frames for fun. And then I walk over to my iMac, and the iMac rendered it in about the same amount of time. This doesn't make any sense to me. This is going to be a huge problem if, all of a sudden my heavy hitters are no longer being heavy hitters. So then, of course, I get to dive in and say, okay, well why is your render slowing down? What's going on? What's your optimization failure right now that you're not getting the results that you're expecting to get? So then you go through, and I basically started kind of ripping apart the render and really trying to understand what we're looking at, here. So I did just a render using the physical render engine to get us that nice reflection and sheen that was making me feel really good about my life. And as you can see here, okay, now my big workstation is doing what it's supposed to do. It's rendering at, you know, over 30-seconds faster a frame, which adds up really really quickly. I'm like, okay, well that makes enough sense, I can live with that. Then I went to the sketch and toon shader. So, this is where the big uh-oh kind of flew up on screen, where I'm looking at this and I'm saying, okay, my iMac is crushing my workstation, what is going on right now? And all of a sudden it kind of re-dawns on me, oh, that's right, sketch and toon is a single-threaded render operation, which means that you can have 64-cores in your system, doesn't matter. You're bottlenecked to the fastest core speed of any one item that you have inside of there. So, you could have a ton of cores, but if they're slow it's going to be slow. So I'm like okay, well I have to re-think how we're handling our render, here. We can't just batch everything out and hope that it's going to come in in time. I need time to comp all this. So, we did a little bit of quick math, and, you know, broke out the cell phone, because of course arithmetic is always way beyond me, and I was doing some kind of simple calculations. And, so, you can see here with the mixed renderer basically doing both the sketch and toon and the physical shader at the exact same time, we were going to be clocking in at about, you know, 210-or-so hours, you know, soaking it over to the iMacs versus the amount of time it would take on these systems. And mind you, these hours are going to get split across a bunch of machines because we have it all networked together. So it wouldn't have been that long, but it just didn't feel all that efficient; I'm not getting the most out of C4D, I'm not getting the most out of my systems, I'm not asking my systems to do the right things. So then I was like, okay, well then what if we compare the timeframes? And so, if you look over here at the toon shade system, asking the iMacs and basically the faster i7s that have a higher internal clock speed, you guys just worry about the toon shade system. You big workstations? You worry about the physical renders. What happens then? Now we're seeing we have some serious optimization that we're being able to get out of our render timeframe, where our iMacs are being able to handle all the toon shaders in about 150 hours, and our physical shader blasting through all of our main workstations in 10.5 hours, which overall ends up being a difference of about a little over 50 hours. Now, 50 hours in a 4-week timeframe for delivery is night-and-day. That is you getting files right now in your hand that you can begin to get comping on, you can begin to do look dev on, you can really, kind of, figure out any quirks or any issues, versus just sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting to get everything at the last second before you realize, “Oh, I probably should've tweaked the camera on shot three. ” You don't want to be in that position. You don't want to be put up against that wall where all of sudden now you have to make compromises to the overall project just because you were sitting there hoping that it was all going to come in at the right way. So, this was such a wild optimization that I really kind of wanted to take the time today to really, kind of, bring these kinds of items up because it's not just about the good ideas, it's about what you bring to the actual execution of the idea. A good idea and a good set of mood boards is one thing, but being able to actually figure out how that workflow is going to work, how you can get the most out of all your systems, and how you can be efficient with your process means that you have more time to be creative. And that's really, for me, the paramount of why I really enjoy Cinema 4D so much is because I really enjoy being in it. So you want to kind of reduce these uh-oh's as much as you possibly can during the process. So, let me show you really quickly, because while this is all pretty dense, kind of, talk right now. So we have the same file up here: super dense, super heavy, and all this math, all this talk, all this tech that went behind there, it was as simple as a little three-second blip where essentially... So, as some of you may be familiar, you have your render settings. And so we had our baseline render settings for the scene, you had everything all set up, all your multi-passes that you felt super good about, right? In order to basically split this up, toss it over to the server and be able to give myself these two delta projects to be able to run from, it was as simple as literally just taking my base render file, dupe it. We're going to call this one "physical." Toon. Now, all I have to do is, I'm going to take my toon, turn off ambient inclusion, because that's not really important, go into my sketch and toon, make sure that I'm set to color, not off or texture so, that way this guy's only worrying about toon shade, not having to think about anything else, so color's good. Go into our options, let's get rid of all this other stuff that's just not really worth anything when you're doing toon shading. Drop this down to five ray depth. Now all of a sudden, I have an optimized toon shade render ready to go out, ready to be deployed to all the iMacs and let those guys start tearing. I go over to my physical shader and literally, I can do that or I could just swing myself over to the actual physical render engine and it would automatically get rid of the toon shade, because that only works in the standard and advanced render engine. And that alone was enough. That's all it took for me to get my project set up, sent out, and I just saved myself 50 hours of render time. Or if you're sending off to do remote rendering, that could be a lot of money that you just saved on the project or didn't go over. So super simple, really straightforward, and actually, this is really easy to handle now also in the take system, where you could be assigning all of this and, basically as you're doing your different builds and different looks you just assign to the two different takes and you know that your renders are ready to roll and kind of take it out from there. So I wanted to spend a quick moment on that, and just kind of walk everyone through this general notion. Now of course by doing this, I now have these extra layers that I need to kind of now deal with, essentially, over in comp. Being able to think kind of open about what your... We'll ignore that. Being able to think, kind of, openly about... There we go. It's fine...about your multi-passes and how to get the most out of them; thinking about what the data that's coming in, so that way you can kind of continue to refine and build the look dev, not necessarily asking the 3D to do everything for you, what can we get done in comp? So we have actually--This is an actual project build from the project here, and you can see it's not many layers that are really, honestly, going on. So if I kind of walk through here, we have our background. I used drop codes horizon to basically get this nice, happy little grid system. I got my camera brought in from Cinema 4D, so it wasn't really that big of a deal. Then we have our baseline physical footage, it's all pretty and reflective which is nice. Prep the field. Our lines, simple little bit of color burning that's happening inside of there, and then this was actually from our AO pass that was giving us this nice kind of illumination or this kind of energy inside of all the pieces and all that literally was, if I go into here, is... So we have our general AO. Invert, tweak the levels, my old friend colorama, a little bit of curve to give it a pop, little bit of glow, and then finally, our depth of field. Swing back over to our overall builds, last little touches here and there, we have our UI system, and then finally, the color correction and you have your shot. So even though I had to split it all up, I had more layers than I was planning on originally from my comp build, it really wasn't that big of a deal for me just to bring everything back together again and get everyone to dance nicely together. Now that's one iteration of using the sketch and toon system to kind of give you these nice, kind of, highlight and, kind of, more graphic edges to everything. Then on the other side of it, we had to actually do a build where we were doing actual, real, sketchy, kind of tooney scell shade. And don't worry, it'll start drawing in a second. And you can see that we're getting this nice kind of cell shade-like, analog feel as we were trying to kind of create this draftsman table, and showing the iterations and kind of the advancement of the car through each one of the designs. And the really kind of interesting thing that, for me, stood out in this build was the idea that I was going to be using the exact same tool over and over and over and over again, because we didn't have the timeframe to actually, literally, bring in an artist to be going through and drawing all of this. So I had to, actually, really try to kind of create a variation in style and approach to the actual car's concept art using the exact same ingredients each time. And I cannot stress enough the idea that what they've built with the toon shade system in here is so wildly flexible that you can honestly get totally, totally lost just, in a good way, in being able to kind of find all these really, like, fine-tuned, nuance builds for the sketch and toon shader. Being able to kind of create this line and sync system and, you know, being able to do the overshoots, and I could spend the rest of the hour today just going through and showing you every single in and out of the toon shade system, but it is such a powerful, powerful feature when you're trying to kind of create that nice, patina-ed, nuanced kind of look. It doesn't give you that classic, cartoony, cell shade approach. Again, the idea of being able to try to optimize your setups here, I was being able to get my builds going by being able to split out my general paint approach, which was using, actually, the art shader. And if you haven't played around with that, your ability to like hop online, go download some kind of grungy texture, toss that inside of the art shader--and I'll show you one right now... I'm tossing that in the luminens, because I don't care about lighting, because it's illustrated. We have a texture that's basically dropped inside of the art shader and then I'm doing a color shift to it. But basically, this is just a very simple jpeg of just kind of a Garrosh kind of look, and that just gets projected over there and it give you this nice, kind of, illustrated feel for the whole piece. Renders incredibly fast, because we're not asking it to do a whole heck of a lot. So now I have kind of my general kind of, illustrated look, I can bring that in. I can start getting my comp builds going, I can bring in different paint effects, textures and different layers to kind of have the paint-on effect working for itself, and then I send off my line pass, which... I would click render right here but it takes a minute to go through and do. So I can show you guys this one instead. We don't need to save that. Don't worry about that. So this is actually the active build that we actually used for that whole scene. And as I dive in here, one of the really cool, cool things with this is, for me specifically, I'm not a huge animator. I'm not a guy who's going to sit there and key frame the whole thing six ways to Sunday. I really like procedural builds. If I can tell the system to go do something, and then I can walk off to another computer all together and let it just kind of cook on it, money. Money, money, money, money. I'm so happy to be doing that, because then I can be worrying about other builds, other setups. One of the great things with the toon-shade system is, and let me swing back over to that real quickly, is when I go to right here, animate, I can give it all of these animation commands of saying how I want it to draw, how I want it to actually come up on screen, do I want it to be doing all the strokes at once, do I want it to be a sequential build? And then the stroke order, I can say long or short. There's all these different permutations that you can really sit there and fine tune the way in which you want this thing to kind of appear in front of you. So for our usage here, I'll hop into the draw-on and you can see I just asked it to draw it for me. I didn't want to worry about it, and I gave it a couple simple commands and it gave me back that. Brilliant. This is a great base for me to be able to work from that I can then go through and really kind of take all of my different water color shaders and everything else, and start getting it all really built out and feeling more analog. Toss on, you know, a little bit of a posture-ized time and now we're getting that nice kind of sketch and tooney, shady, kind of feel. So yeah. So that basically kind of brings me to the close of all this. I want to thank you guys so much for taking the time and hanging out with me for a few minutes. If you want to get any more information about any of these projects or more, you can always find us at GTMVFX, that's the main company website. Facebook at GTMVFX, and Twitter @GTMVFX. If you want to yell at me and give me all kinds of notes about what I could do better in the future, you can always find me at Instagram is b_parvini and Twitter is @bparvini, and you can tell me exactly why you're better than me at this exact kind of style of work. Thank you guys, I really appreciate it.
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