XSIbase Interview


September 20th, 2005
By Raffael Dickreuter

The Director of Pinocchio 3000 talks about the challenges of directing a CG movie as well as his contributions to Titanic, The Fifth Element, Terminator 2-3D and Tightrope.

Tell us how you got in CG and what kind of education you have 
I started doing computer graphics in 1983, as a graphic design student at the University of Quebec, in Montreal. At the time, we had access to a proprietary vector-based system that could calculate and draw simple 3D objects (with hidden line removal!), but could not handle interpenetration. The technology was still primitive, but I was hooked. After completing my bachelor's degree, I started working for the Canadian national television (CBC), doing TV graphics and animations. 

Besides being a director and animation director do you still like it to do shots yourself compared to just overseeing the creative processes? 
Yes, I have always kept a hands on approach to animation and CG in general. What better way to gain respect from your teammates than to express leadership through the quality of your own work? 

What were your contributions to movies such as Titanic, Apollo 13, Fifth Element And Terminator 2 3D? 
While working at Digital Domain, I had the opportunity to contribute to these memorable movies doing animation and animation supervision. At the time we were using SOFTIMAGE|3D, which helped us create the photorealistic crowds in Titanic, the stylish reconstruction of Leeloo in Fifth Element, and the liquid metal creature in T2-3D. 

Tell us about about the project Tightrope and your contribution. 
Tightrope started out as an internal project at Digital Domain in 1998, after the company announced its intention to produce short animated films and welcomed any story ideas or pitches from its employees. I wrote a fable about two tightrope walkers who meet on their rope, then designed and modeled the characters. With these assets built and the scope of the work well laid out, I soon benefited from the help of my teammates in the character animation department. They offered their invaluable contribution in animating shots, and after 6 months, the 5 minute film was completed. 

Besides being animation director you also directed various movies. What is the most challenigng part when directing a movie? 
The most challenging part about directing an animated film for me is the one that deals with everything that is not of a CG nature: script development, voice actor directing, working with the score composer, etc. A director must provide the whole creative vision for the film he is helming, and this means he needs to develop affinities with a wide variety of mediums. Most importantly, this means he must aknowledge his own shortcomings, and surround himself with talented individuals who will complement him. 

How did you get involved int this project and what were the biggest challenges of the movie? 
I was initially approached by the producers of Pinocchio 3000 in 1999, who had seen my short film Tightrope at the Imagina festival in Monte Carlo, where it premiered. At the time, they had a first draft of the script and some rather rough character designs. But I was charmed by the idea of transposing the classic myth of Pinocchio in the future, where the protagonist would be a metal robot rather than a wooden marionnette. The film was in development for several years, while the financing was put together through a co-production between Canada, France and Spain. Finally, in 2003, we got the greenlight and went in production. We then only had 12 months and a modest budget to deliver the film. France was responsible for the script writing, character designs and visual development, Spain was in charge of set modeling and postproduction, while Montreal-based animation studio Cinegroupe had the lion's share of all character modeling and rigging, animation, lighting and effects. It wasn't an easy task to assemble a crew, engineer a technical pipeline, while having to create a film in record time and with limited resources. 

How was XSI used on the production of this movie? 
All the preproduction tests had been done with SOFTIMAGE|3D, including a 2-minutes trailer. While the production start date kept being pushed, the first version of XSI was eventually released and we were faced with the dilemma to either proceed with SOFTIMAGE|3D as had been the plan all along, or make a leap of faith and go with a more powerful software, but one that hadn't truly proved itself in a production environment yet. In hind sight, we clearly made the right choice by going with XSI, which ended up being stable enough to handle all our 3D needs. 

Which features of XSI do you find very useful? 
What I have always liked about this software is the beauty of the interface, and its strength in so many different areas. The flexibility of the modeling, rigging and animation tools combined with the powerful mental ray rendering, enable artists to take a project from concept to final product within one single package.

Which areas should be improved? 
Although the particle simulation tools have greatly improved, I believe there is room for further development before they can be used to create sophisticated natural phenomenons. And I still miss the metaballs! 

You started at a time when CG was not yet available to the masses. How did you experience these times compared to now? 
In the early eighties, the technology was certainly primitive compared to the one we know now, but those were the humble beginnings of a revolutionary art form. Considering that softwares and hardware cost in the hundreds of thousands for one single seat back then, I felt privileged to have access to that technology. 

Which changes did happen over the years that were not easily to predict back then for you, which ones were? 
Early on, many thought that computer graphics were just a trend that wouldn't last more than a couple of years, while I have always been a firm believer that we were witnessing the birth of a major medium, as important historically as photography. Turns out that the prediction was right. What I could never have predicted though, were the leaps and bounds in the areas of character and creature animation, as well as photorealistic rendering. What I consider was a major milestones were the compelling animation and effects in Jurassic Park, a glimpse of things to come that was truly influencial in my career. 

Whats coming next in the career of Daniel Robichaud? 
I am currently working on a 2-minute trailer for a 3D animated feature film that I wrote, entitled "Frog Legs".