“A celebrity is one who works hard all his life to become well-known and then goes through back streets wearing dark glasses so he won’t be recognized.”—Fred Allen (1894 – 1956) U.S. comedian and satirist
The Effects of Dragons, Fire, and Fur at DreamWorks.
CGSociety :: Production Focus 29 April 2010, by Renee Dunlop
Just as the title, ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ implies, DreamWorks had an unruly task to wrangle. From layers of furry clothing to characters with two heads, there was a lot to keep an eye on. By the time the DreamWorks Animation film was in the can, VFX Supervisor Craig Ring might have wished he had two heads (and could breath fire) himself.
PELTING THE CHARACTERS “The biggest challenges were the characters,” said Ring. “Vikings are not simple guys to rig.” The Viking wardrobe and hair styles were imperative to the story but animating layers of furry wardrobe was not for the weak of heart.
“We had a tribe that, (in the book) is called the Hairy Hooligans. That was very much in the character designers’ minds.”
The father character, Stoick, is the perfect example with his layers of pelts. But that is only part of it. Half his face and much of his chest was buried under his facial hair, a huge beard that was “probably one of the most complicated hairstyles we’ve ever done.”
That beard added another consideration, namely how do you show a characters facial expressions when you can’t see the characters face? It was a design question that required research into the world of the unshaven. Perhaps if you looked far enough into the family tree, you would find a connection to the most obvious recent reference, namely Gimli from ‘Lord of the Rings’. By studying that character and others like him, Craig Ring and his team were able to discern how much of the expression transferred to the eyes and the position of the mustache. “A great deal of discussion took place deciding where the right balance was between the beard behavior and the facial animation, and how that affected the various expressions.”
Implementing those emotions meant the reactions were driven by the face rigging underneath coupled with a dynamic system built into the beard. The beard had targets to help the facial animation. Close to the mouth the beard would follow the mouth animation, then would blend in to a dynamic simulation further down that would automatically do collisions with his clothing. “We’ve used a variety of cloth solvers depending on the show. Shrek uses Maya Cloth, but with this show and this clothing, when we did some early investigation on the show we ended up with Syflex. There would always be individual shots that you had to do stuff on top of but that was default out-of-the-box solution.” Though there weren’t a lot of technical breakthroughs concerning the clothing, there were hours upon hours invested in getting the various layers to behave correctly. One layer would be simulated first then the next layer added would react to that simulation. Then there was the fur grown on top of the simulated cloth. Stoick’s cape, for example, had long fur. The underlying cape fabric was a dynamic simulation, then guide hairs would add it’s own set of dynamics to as it reacted to the fabric simulation. On top of that was the beard. To animate both the human character and dragon faces, DreamWorks turned to its own in-house software appropriately named ‘Rig.’ Though Rig works like Maya with many animation tools under the hood, the DreamWorks Rig system, written by Dick Walsh, is based on human facial anatomy with variants so it can be used on something like dragon faces too. Rig didn’t drive the faces with blend shapes. The musculature underneath is fit to the design and uses hundreds of controls to feed the appropriate behaviors, such as those for a smile. “We’ve done most facial blend shape animation and this kind of musculature based rigging, and the later seemed to do a better job for how you got in to the targets. Blend shapes are great once you get to the target but the in-between seemed better when based on what the muscles underneath a real face would do.”
“The supervising animators and the head of character animation will figure out what a good smile or frown will be. Those controls are all available the next level down if you need to go in and tweak something, but you can use higher level controls that will operate the low level controls to animate a lot quicker. We might spend eight to ten weeks rigging a face, and a lot of that time is spent first fitting the system to the character, then concentrating on getting the high level controls to work well so the animators don’t have to animate 200 controls just to get a smile.” As if that wasn’t enough of a hill to climb, add in mid-way, a new version of Rig was introduced. “There were several new features, it was faster, and had an easier workflow, but anytime you introduce something new it presents problems.”
THERE BE DRAGONS That was half of the characters. “The other half were dragons who were… even worse!” Ring was grateful they weren’t furry. “They had at least four times the number of controls a human would have, because they had spines down their backs which all had animation controls, the tail rig was complicated, the tongues, the faces were weirdly shaped but still needed to emote.” The design of a dragon by nature is a challenge due to their having wings, a tail, and often four limbs. The two headed dragon called the Hideous Zippleback had roughly 90 spines running down his back that were rigged. “The big challenge rigging the dragons was the character complexity. They were so many controls and the rigs were so complicated that we had to spend a lot of time trying to optimize, how to turn off parts of the rig, how can we hide things that aren’t being used just then, what can we do to help the animators go faster.”
There were five main species of dragons outside of the Night Fury (Toothless) and the Red Death (the dragon in the lair): the Hideous Zippleback, Deadly Nadder, Terrible Terror, Monstrous Nightmare and the Gronckle.
They were designed to be atypical dragons, something that hadn’t been seen before. DreamWorks wanted that to extend to the fire as well, so each dragon had it’s own personality and it’s own style of fire, so instead of the standard fireball solution, the FX team had to create several unique versions. The Gronckles would chew up rocks and melt them in their stomachs then shoot out lava balls. With the two headed dragon, one head breaths gas and the other ignites it. One dragon has a white hot and spark-filled fire inspired by magnesium powder. Another, the Monstrous Nightmare, was based on napalm and flame throwers.
“We were trying to get away from most live action dragon movies. They have used propane fire because it doesn’t stick to things, it makes cool big fireballs in the air that just disappear. They don’t burn down your set as opposed to burning liquid that sticks to things and burn down your set. Well, we didn’t have that problem! So we decided to have our fire flow and stick like a viscous fluid.” In order to do the crowds, DreamWorks used a number of different surfacing variations, body shapes and facial positions. But in a situation like the lair with it’s stereoscopic fog simulations, sometimes huge crowds would be lost in the mist. The crowd reveal where they are flying in the fog, that scene had thousands of dragons in it. “A lot of times we didn’t realize how big the crowds were because we are used to crowds being on a two-dimensional surface. We were really surprised because it didn’t look like that many, but it was because you have dragons in X, Y, and Z, and its multiplied three times rather than the two times the way a 2D surface is.” The big crowds were slow and difficult to deal with in rendering. However, at least the flying animation of thousands of dragons was simplified; most of the crowd animation used cycles while the dragons were flying.
FROM THE SHADOWS Though his contribution began earlier in the form of visual consulting, one design decision became a major factor towards the end- mainly the depth of the shadows. Roger Deakins, the brilliant cinematographer of a wide range of films and styles from O Brother, Where Art Thou? to No Country for Old Men was brought on board to make suggestions for lighting. “We spent a lot of time looking at his movies, trying to push the film style to his sensibility, letting stuff fall off into complete blacks, have stuff that overexposes and blows out. We looked at live action reference before but it was interesting to sit in the room with the guy that shot all this stuff. He helped remind us that even though you spent months building every leaf in the forest you don’t really want to look at the forest in a dramatic moment.”
Deakins’ particular style kept the lighting style simple, with light emitting from dragon flames or candles which, in night sequences such as the opening scene when the village is under dragon attack, meant much of the screen fell into darkness. The result was a black screen peppered with vague detail and huge, fiery explosions that set the story on it’s path- and got the audiences’ attention!
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”—Dr. Seuss (1904 – 91) U.S. cartoonist and writer
*Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros., Oct. 16) But the visual effects that are usually the most beloved each year are the ones that move us. Framestore, Digital Rain, Iloura and Quantum Creation FX are all part of bringing Spike Jonze’s version of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s tale to the big screen. Judging from the trailer, the combination of digital faces and detailed costumes for Wild Things make this one of the most effective uses of visual effects this year. Did you get chills when you first saw them? Did they make you want to go see the movie? If your answer is yes, like us, then the visual effects are engaging an audience already.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he’s the creator of the movie review site, Rick’s Flicks Picks. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids’ Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network’s Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.
*A Christmas Carol (Buena Vista, Nov. 6) Robert Zemeckis and his ImageMovers (with some help from Gentle Giant Studios and Plowman Craven & Associates) have crafted another performance capture epic. This time Jim Carrey takes on Scrooge of all ages as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future in this stylized version of Charles Dickens’ classic. With each film, Zemeckis fine-tunes the process, so we eagerly await where he takes performance capture this time around.
* Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal, Oct. 23) Based on Darren Shan’s young adult book series, this film has a host of various freaks, creatures and fantastic events provided by Rhythm & Hues Cube Effects and others. Vampires, a bearded woman (played by Selma Hayek, no less), a snake boy, a giant, a skeleton man, and more haunt the corners of this scary movie. For vfx fans, this one looks like some nice eye candy just in time for Halloween.
*Surrogates (Buena Vista, Sept. 25) Industrial Light & Magic, The Moving Picture Co., The Layersmith Digital, Lidar Services, Sandbox F/X and Synthespian Studios are all involved in this sci-fi offering, starring Bruce Willis. The film is set in a future where humans live in isolation while robotic surrogates roam the world in their place. Lots of impressive digital humans and robot work in this thriller. Graphic novels always serve as wonderful source material for some amazing vfx work.
*2012 (Columbia, Oct. 13) Sony Pictures Imageworks, Double Negative, Digital Domain, Gradient Effects, Hydraulx, Scanline VFX, Evil Eye, Pixomondo and many more help Roland Emmerich destroy the world. Based on the conspiracy theory that the end of the world will come when the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, this thriller brings floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, you name the natural disaster and this one’s got it. When it comes to the fall flick with the most visual effects, this one has all the rest beat, for sure.
* The Box (Warner Bros., Nov. 6) Richard Kelly’s horror thriller finds Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple presented with a twisted gift. Inside a box is a button, if they choose to push it they will receive $1 million, but as a result a stranger will die somewhere in the world. Providing vfx for this Twilight Zone-like tale are Pixel Liberation Front, Gradient Effects and Quantum Creation FX. Thomas Tannenberger, who worked on Kelly’s previous film Southland Tales, is returning to work with the director as the visual effects supervisor. The trailer boasts some quick flashes of the gruesome scarring work done for the film’s mysterious Mephistopheles character, played by last year’s Oscar nominee Frank Langella.
* Gamer (Lionsgate, Sept. 4) Furious FX, LookFX and yU+co are among the vfx houses that worked on the sci-fi actioner Gamer. Set in a world where game players can control real humans, Gerard Butler plays the best fighter around who becomes hell bent on stopping the billionaire who pulls the strings, played by Michael C. Hall. Visual effects highlights include the technology of the players controlling the humans, along with lots of explosions and warfare. But, hey, it’s all just a game, right?
* Whiteout (Warner Bros., Sept. 11) Antarctica is a prime location for visual effects work. Kate Beckinsale plays a U.S. marshal investigating the continent’s first murder. Hybride Technologies, Mr. X, Invisible Pictures and Anibrain are among the visual effects houses providing blizzards, storms and additional snowy mayhem. VFX Supervisor Dennis Berardi of Mr. X will have a busy fall film lineup of his own, having supervised the effects on Love Happens and produced the vfx for Amelia.
* The Road (Dimension Films, Oct. 16) Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak post-apocalyptic tale have been waiting for a year. Australian director John Hillcoat’s film version of the story follows a father and son trying to survive in a world where ash rains down from the skies. DIVE, Crazy House Effects and Invisible Pictures all had a part in creating this dreary world where cannibals haunt the countryside. Mark O. Forker, who supervised work on The Lord of Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Peter Pan, knows the demands of creating fantastic worlds.
* The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit Ent., Nov. 20) For the female teen crowd, The Twilight Saga: New Moon is like getting Thanksgiving a week early. Tippett Studio, Frantic Films, Prime Focus and MastersFX were part of the increase in werewolves for this popular franchise. Legendary Phil Tippett and Susan MacLeod (vfx producer on the Oscar-winning Golden Compass) supervised the vampire on lycan action, which of course is for the guys.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time , An Interview With Jerry Bruckheimer,Jake Gyllenhaal &Newell ponder
Hollywood News: How do you assess this summer’s box office battle? Can Prince of Persia win in spite of not being in 3-D?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I hope so. I don’t know if it will win it, but it will certainly be a contender. It’s a terrific film, so we hope for the best.
Jake, you’ve dabbled in action before. How did you enjoy being a full-on action hero?
Jake Gyllenhaal: You were struggling for that, really (laughs). It was great fun. It’s great fun making an action movie, particularly making something so big where you’re in and out of doing great acting with a great director, and then jumping around all over buildings. It’s great fun.
Hollywood News: You consider this your first action role then?
Gyllenhaal: I do, yes. I do.
Hollywood News: How was it preparing for a character that was basically a video game?
Gyllenhaal: It was fun. I’ve never done research playing video games; I’ve never played video games as research before. It’s quite a [change]. Sometimes I’d read books or I’ve hung out with Marines, but playing video games is great fun.
Hollywood News: Can you talk about your preparations? I know it required acrobatics, horse riding, a new accent for you.
Gyllenhaal: You’ve just named them all (laughs). You know, I did all of the normal training that you would do cardiovascular-ly, and then you listen to all of the experts and they teach you how to do it. Every day, horseback riding, parkour training, gymnastics, sword fighting, all of that.
Hollywood News: Jerry, what are your feelings about 3-D?
Bruckheimer: Well, it’s certainly done well at the box office thanks to Avatar, but it’s a new medium. It’s wonderful. It’s new technology that makes the theatergoing experience even more exciting, so it’s terrific, and hopefully you’ll see a lot more movies in 3-D.
Hollywood News: Jake, can you talk about the process of making this movie and honoring the folks who loved the video game upon which it’s based? Or was that important?
Gyllenhaal: Without a doubt. We had that pressure on our shoulders the whole time, but yet at the time time, I think transitioning from making a video game into a movie, I think Mike [Newell] and Jerry from the beginning said we need to make anything the Prince does, and his name is now Dastan, has to be based in some kind of reality. In fact, there were times on set when we would do some sort of stunt that mimicked something from the game, and Jerry would say, well, wait a second, why did he do that? We need to have that be based in the storyline, and everything had to be based emotionally in the storyline, so we’d have to come up with a reason why he flipped upside down over a horse (laughs). And we did.
Hollywood News: Is there a difference in acting for you when you’re doing a small personal role as opposed to something bigger like this?
Gyllenhaal: Well, it’s a very physical role, and I’ve always found myself inhabiting a role starting from the physical level. Whether you’re changing the shape of your body and losing weight, gaining weight, you’re figuring out what the character would look like on a physical level. So for this it was very physical, which I love, which I’d never really done this intensely before. But I don’t think it’s any different at all. When you’re committed, you’re committed, and as soon as I decide to be in a movie or play a part, it’s 120 percent commitment no matter what.
Hollywood News: A lot of video games movies have gotten a bad rap. What will make this one different?
Mike Newell: What we wanted to do was of course based on a storyline and respecting the look and all of that, but we wanted to make it emotionally real. So we did a huge amount of work at the script stage, at the rehearsal stage, all of it, to make it absolutely real. So the fights, for instance, you should have seen what I saw which was Jake rehearsing fights like ballet, but because it’s like ballet, it’s also got to have an emotional reality to it as well, and that was always the big pressure – to take it into an area where a game couldn’t go, while not destroying the game side of it. So emotion.
Hollywood News: How different was this creatively and logistically from Harry Potter?
Newell: It was really different because with Potter I was in halfway through a series that was already a franchise that was a huge success. But here we had all of the basic work to do absolutely from the ground up with no favors done. We had no idea whether we would find favor with an audience or not, so it’s more nervous. You’ve got to work harder, you’ve got to be cleverer and more original, and above all, don’t ever let the thing sag. But Jerry’s the boy for that.
Hollywood News: Jake, did you go all of the way back to the old-school Persia game for your research?
Gyllenhaal: Side-scrolling style? Yes, I played [Jordan]’s video game first when I was a kid so I played the first original when I was I-don’t-know-how-old, and then I only started playing the game really intensely when I was doing research, particularly for stunt research. We would be in the middle of shooting and I would go back to my trailer and I’d be playing a game and I’d see a move and call the stunt guys into the trailer and be like, hey you guys, check out this move – can we try it? And they would be like, alright mate!
Hollywood News: How much do the characters you play become a part of who you are?
Gyllenhaal: In one way or another, every character you is based somewhere or with some understanding of where you are in your life, some understanding of that. But with Prince of Persia, yes, and getting to know David Bell and learning parkour and being as physical as I was, now I wish I was British because I feel like I’m proficient enough at a British accent that there are hopefully those vestiges I do keep. And occasionally, I do throw out a British accent at the dinner table with my family. So yes, they do stay with you, and this one definitely has. I do always carry a sword, and I keep the dagger of time and I’ll use it at this press conference if there are any weird questions (laughs).
Hollywood News: Was it difficult not to stereotype people or locations in Persia as some films maybe have in the past?
Newell: Evidence is in your eyes. I believe not. We went very carefully with Jordan’s prodding, we went very carefully back to 6th century Persia and we looked at the style, we looked at the behavior, we looked at the way the cities were made, and so on and I hope that we were faithful to it and didn’t come in and jump all over it without any kind of sensitivity.
Hollywood News: Jake, talk about getting acclimated to working in an environment where things are added through CGI or other means in after you’re already provided a performance.
Gyllenhaal: Well, I think as an actor everything requires imagination, whether you’re playing with someone across from you who’s playing another part – you have to imagine them as that part anyway. If you’re dealing with something that doesn’t necessarily exist yet, you’re imagining what that is just as you’re imagining somewhere that person in a drama, so to speak, in a smaller film, is who they are. So you’re constantly using your imagination, as we all do when we eventually watch the movie, so to me it doesn’t feel different although I know it’s harder to kind of… sitting where I am, it doesn’t feel different. From the outside, I think it doesn’t probably look different because it’s such a spectacle, but the work is the same, always.
Hollywood News: What was the toughest stunt you were allowed to do?
Gyllenhaal: It always varied. It got a little bit dicey towards the end because everybody saw that I liked doing things that were a little bit dangerous and so we tried our hands at things that were pushing it a little bit. I think in the end there was this fight towards the middle of the movie that we shot at the end with my brother where he has an axe and I’m fighting him with my sword and a shield that I have left, and we really got dangerous with that fight. There were a few times when the axe came so close to my face almost that everyone was like, awwww that was so good! And I’m like [sobbing], oh, it looks so good! So definitely that axe fight was an intense one, and some of the jumps got pretty [tough] when I’d go, it’s okay guys – you don’t have to give me so much. Let it go. And I’d go bam! And my knees would be secretly weeping inside, but besides that, there was a big, 35-foot jump I did that got a little hairy a couple of times, particularly when I was like, let me try it again!
Hollywood News: Jerry, why was Mike the right director for this?
Bruckheimer: Well, Mike, first of all, we try to have films that have humor to them, and you’ve seen in his work that he can do humor. You saw through Donnie Brasco that he can do something very realistic, and then through Harry Potter you can see that he could do fantasy and wonderment, and his films are just excellent. He’s very smart, he understands character, and he spent a lot of time working on the screenplay, and he lured all of these wonderful actors into the movie, which is great.
Hollywood News: When you’re making a movie like this, how much attention is paid to the future of it as a franchise?
Bruckheimer: Zero, absolutely zero of making it a franchise. What you try to do is make a really compelling movie with strong characters, great themes, great story, and if the audience embraces it, you get lucky and then you think about making another one. When we made the first Pirates movie, we had no inclination that the audience would accept a film about pirates with Johnny Depp playing like he’s drunk, so you just go with it and if you get lucky and Disney wants to make another one and you people embrace it, we’ll think about another one.
Newell: Not one word did Jerry say to me about it. We were just making one film.
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Alice’s Visual Challenge: Make You Believe ‘World of Insanity’
HOLLYWOOD — Not unlike the March Hare, visual effects guru Ken Ralston hurled everything but the kitchen sink at Alice in Wonderland to conjure a big-screen version of Lewis Carroll’s magical mystery world.
“The whole movie is based on the fact that we’ve got to make you believe this world of insanity,” the four-time Oscar winner says. “Therefore the audience needs to believe Alice’s interactions with the animated characters, the actors, the characters we shot a month after we filmed Alice that we had to blend in later — plus the environment she wanders around in.”
To achieve the required results, Ralston and his team applied a massive injection of CGI to an assortment of Nerf balls, stilts, rubber rabbits, trick bow ties, cardboard frogs and green-leotarded thespians. After setting up shop at Sony Pictures Imageworks across the street from a green-screen soundstage in Los Angeles’ Culver City neighborhood, Ralston spent 22 months with director Tim Burton packaging seven weeks of human performance into a 3-D fantasy land.
Decompressing in a Los Angeles hotel room after a seven-days-a-week race to the finish line, Ralston illustrated his Wonderland approach by deconstructing the tea-party sequence in which Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) meets the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and assorted talking critters. “On the set we had the actual table and the chairs,” Ralston said. “Johnny’s in full makeup. The Cheshire Cat is there, the March Hare is there, the Dormouse are all there as … nothing. We had voice talent wearing green, and we placed them in the exact spot we wanted the characters’ voices to be coming from. During rehearsal, we had a rubber version of March Hare sitting in a chair along with full-scale maquettes of the Cheshire Cat and the other creatures in order to give the actors an idea of the eye lines. Then we’d pull them out and shoot the scene.”
Crispin Glover’s Knave of Hearts character disrupts the tea party by making a grand entrance on a handsome steed. Ralston laughs as he recalls the actual shoot.
“What you’ve really got is Crispin in a green suit, because all we’re using is his head,” Ralston said. “He’s sitting on a green barrel these stunt guys are awkwardly holding up. We took that and changed it into the horse.”
That kind of digital shape-shifting has become second nature for Ralston. A founding member of Industrial Light and Magic, Ralston worked with George Lucas on Star Wars and later pioneered motion-capture technologies for The Polar Express and Beowulf.
Cast members in the PG-rated Alice in Wonderland, which opens Friday, were initially rigged up with motion-capture sensors. But, Ralston says, “as the film progressed, we threw out all the motion-capture stuff. For one thing, it was boring.”
Wonderland’s most striking character effect comes in the form of Helena Bonham Carter’s outsize performance as the swell-headed Red Queen. Ralston essentially cut-and-pasted a large version of Carter’s head on top of her body by filming the actress’ face with a separate camera.
“To blow the Red Queen’s head up larger than normal size, we needed more pixels to get the same-quality resolution,” Ralston said. “We used a 4K Dalsa camera to separately shoot Helena’s head in every scene. That gave us a much bigger negative to work with.”
Then, during post-production, composite artistry tapered the character’s neck and “hour-glassed” the waist.
“What you see on screen is all Helena,” Ralston said. “Putting those shots together was not the least bit simple. We could have started switching her out with CG things, but that wasn’t the point. We want the real performance in there.”
The Last Airbender is Also Being Converted into 3D
Deadline has learned that Paramount Pictures is jumping on the post-conversion 3D scam bandwaggon with M. Night Shyamalan-directed The Last Airbender. I had a feeling this was coming as producer Frank Marshall filed the following tweets earlier this month:
Looking at 3-D test… Looking at 3-D for various projects, I think it’s here to stay, but not right for all movies… So far, feels like it’s better to shoot in 3-D rather than convert….
Looking at other 3-D companies today, maybe even 3-D TV?
After several 3-D tests, I believe you can do a good conversion. Key is don’t treat it as a technical process, but involve the filmmakers.
So it appears that Marshall, Paramount and Shyamalan were able to find a company that could turn a better product that the Clash of the Titans conversion, which yes, was awful. As Flemming notes, Shyamalan is also notoriously “particular about his movies, so he must be sold on the conversion process.” Apparently they are using Stereo D, the company that worked on James Cameron’s Avatar.
I’m still not convinced that 3D conversion is worth it for newer films, but I also have not seen too many releases.Nightmare Before Christmas looks fine, as did the 3D upconversion footage I’ve seen from Beauty and the Beast, but it seems the 3D conversion looks a lot better with objects and animated creations than it does with live action. I was never impressed with the Harry Potter IMAX 3D converted segments. It always looked like cardboard cut-outs. Clash of the Titans was rushed in 6-8 weeks, outsourced, but Paramount feels they have enough time to convert Airbender and still meet the July 2nd release date.
Plans to turn Leavesden into permanent studio approved, Harry Potter visitor attraction opening in 2012
It was a few weeks ago when we reported that plans were underway to turn Leavesden Studios - the huge complex where all eight Harry Potter films have been shot - into a full on studio and keep a permanent Harry Potter area for fans who’d like to see the real sets.
The Watford Observer is reporting this evening that those plans have now been approved and finalized:
Warner Brothers, which has brought world-wide fame to the former aerodrome complex with its Harry Potter franchise, can now begin a programme of redevelopment worth an estimated 100 million pounds – creating hundreds of jobs and providing a boost to the local economy.
The company, which will now purchase the site outright and use it as its European filming base, will build new film stages, production and administration facilities.
It will also open a Harry Potter themed visitor attraction to cater for up to 5,000 visitors a day.
[INTERVIEW] HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: Nicolas “Casquette” Aithadi – VFX Supervisor – The Moving Picture Company
After a few years in the videogame (FINAL FANTASY X, TOMB RAIDER 5) and french movies (Vidocq, Asterix Mission Cleopatra) Nicolas Aithadi took on the Londonian Adventure and joined The Moving Picture Company and worked on such projects as TROY, ALEXANDER, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. He is now working on the next installment of the HARRY POTTER franchise
What got you where you are? I started as an illustrator, when I was younger. I was working for newspaper like Force Ouvriere Hebdo etc… I jumped to the digital when I met people who offered me to work for Science et Vie Micro, a french Magazine dedicated to Computers. I started to create their Interactive CDs that they were giving away with the magazine. From there I worked my way towards commercials then later on film work. In 2002, The Moving Picture Company contacted me and offered me a job as a TD. I accepted gladly and I work there ever since. My first job was lead Animator on THE MEDAILLON, then sequence supervisor on TROY, CG sup on ALEXANDER and finally arrived to my goal. VFX Supervisor on the last X-MEN.
How did you become VFX Supervisor on Harry Potter? MPC has always been part of the Potter series since the beginning, it was just a matter of time for me to get involve. My first experience was on “THE GOBLET OF FIRE” as a CG Sup. I like the kind of effects we have to create for these films. It’s always different and often very challenging. There is no time to get bored. After Roland Emmerich’s 10 000 BC, I was offered the opportunity to work of “THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. As I always wanted to get back to the Potter world I took the job.
Almost every studios in London worked on The Half Blood Prince, which sequence MPC was in charge of? For this Potter we were primarily in charge of the two Quidditch sequences as well as other various effects across the film.
Can you tell us a bit more about it? Other effects included an ice skating snowman, floating burning Newspaper, shot of the Hogwart Express. including a camera traveling from inside the train going outside a window and getting back in two carriage away, a shot that took something like six months to finalise. Another massive shot was the apparating; The idea was that Harry and Dumbledore use Magic to travel and their bodies are deformed and stretched and fuse with one another. We had to build a Digital double of Harry and Dumbledore that could work very close to camera and to find a technique to melt and fuse the bodies. We were pressed with time so we decided to make this shot the Old School way and to model pretty much everything. It was like making stop motion animation with CG. The shot was modeled every five frames.
Did you use a lot of digital doubles for the Quidditch sequences? Pretty much all the shots of both sequences have some kind of digital doubles. The idea was that from the moment a character will move we would switch to a digi-double. The Shot where Ginny is doing a barrel roll for instance was entirely digital, from the environment to the characters. We’ve done a big job on the shading and facial animation to be able to create the best digi-doubles possible. We used what we called videogrammetry. We had an actor sitting on a chair with four camera pointed at him/her two in front, one aiming low, the other one aiming high and one on each side. The actors had tracking markers on their faces and we had a very flat lighting setup. Once we’ve shot those element we used the four plates to created animated UV textures that were perfectly synched to the facial tracking point that we were using to animate the CG faces. The lighting being so flat we were able to light and shade them like traditional textures.
Did you use miniatures? Not for the Quidditch sequences, except for the school in the distance, but even then we re-projected it on CG models for better control.
What’s a typical day on Harry Potter? My days become very quickly the same routine. In the morning we have a production meeting where my VFX Producer, CG Supervisor, 2D Supervisor and myself meet and discuss things to be achieved during the day, after that pretty much for the rest of the day I do what we call dailies, which are reviews of the work that the various departments have done the previous day or week depending on the department. The purpose of these reviews and of my job is to ensure that we are on track in term of deadline and budget and artistically. What were the challenges on this particular Potter? As I said before, the challenge was the digital double work for the Quidditch sequences. Not only the facial animation and rendering had to be improved we had to deal with CG hair and CG cloth of extremely high resolution. In addition to that we had to create full CG environments. It was intense. 100% of the shots have some kind of CG in them and maybe 90% are entirely CG. What we wanted to achieve was to make the Quidditch sequence more dynamics than it ever been and for that the solution was to free up the camera.
What was the size of your team? A little under a hundred, maybe 80 or 90 artists.
How many shots MPC worked on? We were in charge of about 250 shots. Not a massive number in comparison to what MPC handles on a regular basis, but they were complicated shots.
What were the main technical changes since the last Potter? We worked on the characters a lot, developing skin shaders and facial animation tools. We developed FX animation as well with massive work on Fire and water. MPC is always developing proprietary tools, we have our Fur system called Furtility, which was started on BC and improved on PRINCE CASPIEN, which we used for the Quidditch player’s hair. We have a amazing rigid body dynamics tool called PAPI and our rendering Pipeline Tickle.
How long lasted the project? It usually takes a year of work for a Potter. Big part of that is shooting and prep. Other challenges on this show? As I said earlier, Ginny’s barrel roll gave us some grief. We work on this shot for about six months to create the most realistic character possible. Working out all the details from the eyes to the hair. For a while she looked good, but she didn’t quite looked like herself. We ended up making it, but it was a battle. The other very complex shots was the train shot. It was a 3000 frames shot and it was complex not in term of technical challenges but more in term of number of elements to put together, about 50 motion control plate had to be combined together with a CG train interior, CG train exterior and CG environment.
What was your best memory on the show? My best memory? I have a lot, if I must choose one, I will say, it was that day when I was shown the first shot of the match sequence (images below) I asked Guillaume Rocheron, my CG Sup at the time, when exactly we would replace the actor by the CG version and he told me that it was already the case. I looked again and it was the CG double on screen and I didn’t notice. It was a good sign. It was when we realised that we would make it. The client didn’t notice either. Why did you leave Paris to go to London? It was after September, 11. There wasn’t much work in Paris and when there was it wasn’t very challenging, I always wanted to work in London and get involved in the big Hollywood projects. But mainly, because they called me (Laughs).
Did you get offers from Paris since you’re in London? No, not one. They don’t like me anymore. (Laughs).
Which are the four movies that inspired you to work in this industry? SEVEN SAMURAIS always been my favorite film of all time, when I was a kid we were watching loads of old french or american classics. It would be difficult to chose specific movies. I like films in general. From the SEVEN SAMURAIS to FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF going through BACK TO THE FUTURE…
Thank you for your time. It was nice answering your questions. Thanks.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians; The Lightning Thief
Christopher Columbus has directed ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians; The Lightning Thief’ for Twentieth Century Fox. MPC Vancouver provided a range of visual effects and post production work for 160 shots across 9 sequences for the movie. Their main areas of work involved creating Greek Gods and simulating a firey inferno. The team also replaced numerous legs for Grover the faun and Chiron the Centaur. MPC VFX Supervisor Guillaume Rocheron explains; Percy has been an interesting and challenging project; particularly in terms of the scope and variety of creatures and effects we have created.
It’s the 21st century, but the gods of Mount Olympus and assorted monsters have walked out of the pages of high school student Percy Jackson’s Greek mythology texts and into his life. And they’re not happy: Zeus’ lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Even more troubling is the sudden disappearance of Percy’s mother. As Percy finds himself caught between angry and battling gods, he and his friends embark on a cross-country adventure to catch the true lightning thief, save Percy’s mom, and unravel a mystery more powerful than the gods themselves.
MPC’s work was focused around 5 key creatures with the most challenging being Hades, a giant 12 foot tall fire demon, once the concept work was translated into a computer model, facial movement and expression became paramount.
Guillaume explains; For Hades’ facial performance capture, our teams used the ‘Mova CONTOUR Reality Capture’ system and integrated the data taken into MPC’s in-house motion blending tools and motion clips manager to allow the artists to mix and tweak different dialog and expression takes according to the requirements of the shots. It was important to stay as true as possible to the performance Chris Columbus captured on set but remain able to tweak it afterwards if Chris felt some adjustment necessary once transferred onto our 12 foot character.
Hades was joined by the Minotaur, a huge furry and athletic beast that Percy fights, and the Hellhounds, who are half dog; half hyena, both used MPC’s dynamic in-house fur solution, ‘Furtility’ over anatomically correct muscle and skin simulations. As with Hades, their development started in the asset department translating the original concept artwork into 3D sculpts the director could approve before putting models into the production pipeline. MPC then modeled, textured and rigged the creatures using custom muscle and skin deformation solutions. The second development phase was to create photo real fire simulation for Hades and the giant fire inferno with hundreds of CG fire-like creatures called the Lost Souls. Guillaume explains; Hades was very challenging as fire was a major component of the character and had to be both extremely detailled and very controllable according to his performance. Our FX team pushed the fire simulations to a much higher resolution than we’ve done previously to ensure details were contributing to the motion and not only added as a post-process. The simulations were computed at a voxel size of under 1mm and then plugged into MPC’s rendering system to generate accurate illumination onto the character. The team used the same methodology to create the Lost Souls, producing super natural fire, shaped and timed specifically for every shot. Other work included leg replacement for Grover the faun and Chiron the centaur and shake compositing to create the force field effects, not to mention the compositing together all 160 shots.
The first Monsters, Inc. film was genius. It’s probably third in my list of favorite Pixar movies, behind Toy Story and Up. But it’s been nine years since the original was released, and most people had started wondering why there was no sequel on the way. But there is. Monsters, Inc. 2 has long been rumored, but nothing official had been revealed. Until now, with Disney chairman Rich Ross announcing the sequel is now being developed, and is due to be released November 16, 2012. That scheduled release date means that Pixar has likely been working on the film for a while now, as these productions take years of planning and meticulous work. Other details are thin on the ground, with no director having been announced, or whether the original cast will return. I fully expect Billy Crystal and John Goodman to to sign up though, and it’d be a disaster if either of them didn’t. I loved the first film, and I can’t wait for this one to drop. Yes, I should grow up, but so what.
AE TUTORIAL(Procedural Carpaint by Anselm von Seherr – Thoß, Germany)
Step 1: This tutorial works with simple tricks! Nesting Compositions into each other and setting Mattes (called knock out layers) with alpha and falloff passes we rendered.We start with a new Composition and drag the Ambient Occlusion rendering into it. An additional added Brightness&Contrast can be used to eventually adjust the layer to have more or less AO going on.
Step 2: Our base coat layer, believe it or not, consists of two color solids! I add Hue/Saturation to both of them and adjust the colors to my desire by shifting the color, saturation and lightness. Having 2 different color solids creates the chamelion look later ;). I use the Carpaint Falloff rendering to blend them nicely into each other. An additional Brightness &Contrast can be used to modify the hardness of the Falloff.
Step 3: Since the color Solids are still full screen we need to use a matte to cut out the car body. Drag the whole Base Color composition into a new composition and use the Carpaint Mask rendering as Luma Matte. The Carpaint Mask is actually a B/W rendering with a white self-illuminated material applied to the car body. The rest of the scene has a black self-illuminated material applied. The result is a nice mask.
Step 4: Time for the nice reflecting clear coat. Actually it is rendered as a full reflecting mirror. Drag the Carpaint Mirror rendering into a new composition and use the Carpaint Mask rendering again as Luma Matte. We will use the Carpaint Falloff rendering later to blend it with the rest of the layers. An additional Brightness &Contrast can be used to modify the Falloff then.
Step 5: Specular metallic layer. Drag the Specular render layer (a simple noise map on the car body) into a new composition and use the Specular Falloff to knock out a nice alpha that will blend the metallic paint and will reveal the base coat underneath to gain the nice metallic specular paint effect. U can use a Brightness&Contrast and/or a Hue/Saturation to adjust or color the specular layer. I tinted it a little red e.g. :-)
Step 6: Details. I rendered the non carpaint details like lamps and tires into one single layer. That can be split up into more of cause. Drag the Detail rendering into a new composition and use the Detail mask to knock out the alpha. This masked was generated the same way the Carpaint Mask was done. Black and white Self-illuminated materials applied to objects. White to what you wanna keep, black what you wanna knock out.
Step 7: Glass. I rendered the glass as a full reflective mirror just like the clear coat and a fresnel falloff for the alpha so it behaves like real glass. Drag the Glass Mirror into a new composition and use the Glass Falloff as mask. I wanted to make the wind shield less transparent because the car doesn´t have any interior. I added a black solid color that covers only the wind shield underneath the glass and used the glass mirror as alpha mask to knock out the windows only.
Step 8: A simple Ground Shadow layer I rendered using a Matte/Shadow material on the ground to provide an alpha channel to the shadow. I set the whole car to “Cast Shadow” but to “Invisible to Camera” and “Invisible to Reflections” at the same time modifying the object properties (right click on a selected object). So the car casts a nice shadow with out being visible at all. Just drag that layer into a new composition. No masking this time. :-)
Step 9: This is where the magic happens! All the above was just preparation :-) Now we will put it all together. We work from back to front. Start with a new composition and set the background to a color /gradient u like best. Drag the ground shadow composition into the new composition. Drag the Detail composition in next. The details have an alpha so they should fit well. Time for the base color composition. Add the specle comp on top. The falloff in this comp will reveal it where light hits. I added the Ambient Occlusion composition next just because it looked cool here :-) NOTE that I set the Layer Mode to Multiply to have a nice overlay/add look going on. Add the clear coat comp on top. NOTE that I used the carpaint falloff as luma matte. Now add the glass composition. The FX Adjustment Layer is optional. In my case I added glow and lense flare FX. Remember that you can get back into the sub-compositions at any time to make adjustments. The Brightness&Contrast adjusts the hardness of the falloffs, the Hue/Saturation adjusts the color, lightness and saturation of the solid color layers etc. By changing the opacity of certain layers or their layer blend mode (e.g “Overlay” or “Multiply”) you can adjust the amount of specular/metallic or heaviness of the clear coat e.g.
In 2006 we went to Toronto coffee shops looking for writers and asked them what they were working on. Harry Potter stories, you may remember, came to life in an Edinburgh café.
The little-known creators gazed up from their laptops or pages of longhand and told us about the novels, poems and blogs in progress. The Star ran excerpts. What has happened to these aspiring artists and their work?
A whole lot: five published books, one Governor General’s literary award, twin babies and ingenious plans for derelict inner-city properties. Most don’t work in cafés any more.
Scripting in After Effects : Creating a Concussion Effect
1. Open After Effects
2. Import your concussed/ faint footage in to a new composition
3. Duplicate the footage (ctrl + d / cmd + d)
4. Change top layer footage’s transparency (t key) to about 40%
5. We want the top layer footage to move on the x axis to create the effect. To do this we are going to use an expression, Alt + click on the positions (p key) stopwatch and insert the following: w = wiggle(3,200); [w, value] 6. Add a motion tile effect to the top footage (search for it in the ‘effects and presets’ panel) and increase ‘output width’ to repeat edges that are revealed
Frantic Films VFX Takes On 'Dragonball: Evolution'
Award-winning VFX studio Frantic Films VFX, a division of Prime Focus Group, has contributed 334 shots to the forthcoming feature film “Dragonball: Evolution” from Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by James Wong, the movie releases in the U.S. nationwide on April 10, 2009 and stars Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, and Chow Yun-Fat in the live-action film adaptation of the popular Japanese manga comic book series.
"Dragonball: Evolution" is based on the popular Japanese manga created by Akira Toriyama, whose work spawned best selling graphic novels, video games and a phenomenally successful television series. The live action adventure centers on a team of warriors, each of whom possesses special abilities. Together, they protect Earth from a force bent on dominating the Universe and controlling the mystical objects from which the film takes its name.
Frantic’s Vancouver and Winnipeg facilities handled the bulk of the VFX shots, with VFX Supervisors Chad Wiebe and Mike Shand overseeing the work from Vancouver and Winnipeg, respectively. Ken Nakada, one of the industry’s leading matte painters, oversaw about 30 matte painting shots from Frantic’s Hollywood studio, while additional rotoscoping and paint work was completed at sister company Prime Focus in Mumbai. Prime Focus Group company Machine FX in London also contributed plate treatment to about 35 shots. Frantic and its partner studios worked directly with the film’s VFX Supervisor Ariel Velasco-Shaw and VFX Producer Janet Muswell Hamilton.
"Because the movie is based on a very popular animé series-and because fans tend to scrutinize comic book adaptations much more than regular films-Mike Shand and I acknowledged that this was sacred material," shared Chad Wiebe, co-VFX supervisor, Frantic Films VFX.
Added Mike Shand, co-VFX supervisor, Frantic Films, “This meant we had to be extremely careful and thoughtful in the crafting of the visual effects, particularly regarding the look and development of the energy effects used by Goku and Picollo.”
In addition to assisting with overall look development for the film and color treating plates throughout the movie, Frantic handled two primary scenes in the movie: an extremely technically challenging lava lake sequence in which Goku battles an army of virtually indestructible demon warriors called the Fulum Assassins, and a climactic fight sequence between Goku and his enemy, the evil Lord Piccolo.
For the lava lake sequence, Frantic provided on-set VFX supervision in Durango, Mexico. Artists at Frantic’s Vancouver facility designed a digital environment, including mountainscapes and a molten lava lake complete with lava falls and crust, rocks and debris swirling about, that all had to interact fully with Goku and the Fulum Assassins.
Frantic created full digital versions of these Fulum Assassins that had to match up seamlessly with shots of the actors in costume. During one dailies review, the Frantic team actually had to remind the producers which characters were real and which were digital replacements. Additional work done by Frantic on this scene included extensive sky replacement and the scripting of custom tools for Frantic’s in-house fluid simulation toolset Flood to generate the photo-real lava.
Frantic Films VFX’s Technical Director and Science Advisor Marcus Steeds oversaw the development of new architecture for the Flood fluid simulator, which gave full scripting access to the TDs. It also gave Frantic an integrated pipeline for voxel and particle-based simulations using an enhanced meshing technology. Frantic also made a custom direct-to-renderer mesh loader. The new architecture, scripting access and tools gave the studio’s artists an integrated simulation pipeline workflow that was more efficient and allowed it to tackle bigger problems with more speed.
For the climactic fight scene, Frantic’s artists in Winnipeg did complete set extension of the film’s practical set of a stone temple that forms out of the ground, and also did full sky replacement as well as creating the “energy ball” effects generated by Goku and Piccolo during the battle.
"I’m very proud of the work that we completed for ‘Dragonball Evolution,’" commented Michael Fink, CEO, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor, Frantic Films. "The sheer number of shots we completed in such a short timeframe is pretty phenomenal. It’s a true testament to the collaborative workflow we have between our global network of facilities-Frantic Films VFX in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Los Angeles, and our parent company Prime Focus Group in Mumbai and sister shop Machine FX in London."
AE CS5 is jet-packed with new features and workflow improvements that may seem a bit techy and possibly boring when compared to my feature request which was a 3D jet-pack generator but it seems to have been overlooked. What IS great about many of the new features is that they simplify some of the dirty work in after effects, like rotoscoping so that you CAN be more creative.
The Mocha integration is one of my favorite new features that allows Mocha-tracked masked to be imported to AE with refinement control. Mocha is a great planar tracking tool (included) for tracking moving elements for compositing. This feature may sound “boring” but you can do things like facial de-aging for blemish removals with perfectly tracked masks, and maybe even create an obscuration masks for adding jet-packs to0!
The new Roto Brush tool also looks promising. From someone that just finished 2 weeks of serious FX work, I look forward to trying out the new tool, and if it works half as good as it looks, it should be a real time saver. Many of the shots I worked on involved enhancing explosions or adding elements but before the fun stuff, I had to do wire-removal or remove or mask-out foreground elements, which generally took the majority of the time.
Getting FreeForm for … free, is also a pretty sweet. This plug-in allows you to warp layers in 3D with some intuitive controls. It’s a bit on the slow side for more complex warps but having the ability to warp layers is very useful.
I can also tell you that the interface seems quite snappy compared to previous versions as well, gotta like that.
3rd Party Plug-in Concerns:
A major part of the After Effects popularity is the sweet plug-ins that give us magical new features like Particular and perhaps Optical Flares
Bottom line: 32-bit plug-ins will NOT work in AE CS5 without an update but, most developers have already promised support for 64-bit with free or low cost upgrade. For the record, Video Copilot is offering free upgrades for our plug-ins: Twitch and Optical Flares as well as our free plug-ins Sure Target 2 and VC Reflect.
Don’t forget, 64 bit processing is a feature and having plug-ins that work natively is a real benefit.
“Attempt easy tasks as if they were difficult, and difficult as if they were easy: in the one case that confidence may not fall asleep, in the other that it may not be dismayed.”—Baltasar Gracián (1601 – 58) Spanish writer and priest
But most people don’t use it to its best advantage. Do you just plug in a keyword or two and hope for the best? That may be the quickest way to search, but with more than 3 billion pages in Google’s index, it’s still a struggle to pare results to a manageable number.
But Google is an remarkably powerful tool that can ease and enhance your Internet exploration. Google’s search options go beyond simple keywords, the Web, and even its own programmers. Let’s look at some of Google’s lesser-known options.
Syntax Search Tricks
Using a special syntax is a way to tell Google that you want to restrict your searches to certain elements or characteristics of Web pages. Google has a fairly complete list of its syntax elements at
. Here are some advanced operators that can help narrow down your search results.
Intitle: at the beginning of a query word or phrase (intitle:”Three Blind Mice”) restricts your search results to just the titles of Web pages.
Intext: does the opposite of intitle:, searching only the body text, ignoring titles, links, and so forth. Intext: is perfect when what you’re searching for might commonly appear in URLs. If you’re looking for the term HTML, for example, and you don’t want to get results such as
Link: lets you see which pages are linking to your Web page or to another page you’re interested in. For example, try typing in
Try using site: (which restricts results to top-level domains) with intitle: to find certain types of pages. For example, get scholarly pages about Mark Twain by searching for intitle:”Mark Twain”site:edu. Experiment with mixing various elements; you’ll develop several strategies for finding the stuff you want more effectively. The site: command is very helpful as an alternative to the mediocre search engines built into many sites.
Swiss Army Google
Google has a number of services that can help you accomplish tasks you may never have thought to use Google for. For example, the new calculator feature
lets you do both math and a variety of conversions from the search box. For extra fun, try the query “Answer to life the universe and everything.”
Let Google help you figure out whether you’ve got the right spelling—and the right word—for your search. Enter a misspelled word or phrase into the query box (try “thre blund mise”) and Google may suggest a proper spelling. This doesn’t always succeed; it works best when the word you’re searching for can be found in a dictionary. Once you search for a properly spelled word, look at the results page, which repeats your query. (If you’re searching for “three blind mice,” underneath the search window will appear a statement such as Searched the web for “three blind mice.”) You’ll discover that you can click on each word in your search phrase and get a definition from a dictionary.
Suppose you want to contact someone and don’t have his phone number handy. Google can help you with that, too. Just enter a name, city, and state. (The city is optional, but you must enter a state.) If a phone number matches the listing, you’ll see it at the top of the search results along with a map link to the address. If you’d rather restrict your results, use rphonebook: for residential listings or bphonebook: for business listings. If you’d rather use a search form for business phone listings, try Yellow Search
monitors your search terms and e-mails you information about new additions to Google’s Web index. (Google Alert is not affiliated with Google; it uses Google’s Web services API to perform its searches.) If you’re more interested in news stories than general Web content, check out the beta version of Google News Alerts
This service (which is affiliated with Google) will monitor up to 50 news queries per e-mail address and send you information about news stories that match your query. (Hint: Use the intitle: and source: syntax elements with Google News to limit the number of alerts you get.)
Google on the telephone? Yup. This service is brought to you by the folks at Google Labs
In 2002, Google released the Google API (application programming interface), a way for programmers to access Google’s search engine results without violating the Google Terms of Service. A lot of people have created useful (and occasionally not-so-useful but interesting) applications not available from Google itself, such as Google Alert. For many applications, you’ll need an API key, which is available free from CODE www.google.com/apis
. See the figures for two more examples, and visit
Thanks to its many different search properties, Google goes far beyond a regular search engine. Give the tricks in this article a try. You’ll be amazed at how many different ways Google can improve your Internet searching.
Online Extra: More Google Tips
Here are a few more clever ways to tweak your Google searches.
Search Within a Timeframe
Daterange: (start date–end date). You can restrict your searches to pages that were indexed within a certain time period. Daterange: searches by when Google indexed a page, not when the page itself was created. This operator can help you ensure that results will have fresh content (by using recent dates), or you can use it to avoid a topic’s current-news blizzard and concentrate only on older results. Daterange: is actually more useful if you go elsewhere to take advantage of it, because daterange: requires Julian dates, not standard Gregorian dates. You can find converters on the Web (such as
. If one special syntax element is good, two must be better, right? Sometimes. Though some operators can’t be mixed (you can’t use the link: operator with anything else) many can be, quickly narrowing your results to a less overwhelming number.
More Google API Applications
Staggernation.com offers three tools based on the Google API. The Google API Web Search by Host (GAWSH) lists the Web hosts of the results for a given query
When you click on the triangle next to each host, you get a list of results for that host. The Google API Relation Browsing Outliner (GARBO) is a little more complicated: You enter a URL and choose whether you want pages that related to the URL or linked to the URL
Click on the triangle next to an URL to get a list of pages linked or related to that particular URL. CapeMail is an e-mail search application that allows you to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the text of your query in the subject line and get the first ten results for that query back. Maybe it’s not something you’d do every day, but if your cell phone does e-mail and doesn’t do Web browsing, this is a very handy address to know.
“Whether it’s choosing a career or deciding what charity to get involved with, the choice should come from your heart. Ultimately, you are the one who has to get up every morning and enjoy what you are doing, so make sure it matters to you.”—