• station_model by Josh Brock


So our Lighting Team is ridiculous…..

I think its about time to show off some of the amazing work our lighting team has been doing.  Andrew Dehner, Mohamed Sinbawy,  Adi Prabhu, Billy Jang, and Ding Wei, you guys are absolutely unbelievable. As with most films, lighting has a extremely important role to play in our story. Our antagonists actively change the color and lighting of the environment as they move through it. We laid out specific color theory and story goals in our color script, which has been the guiding document for the lighting team.

However, taking concepts outlined in 2D paintings and executing them in 3D,  consistently across 53 shots is a MASSIVE undertaking. The number of technical hurdles Andrew and his team have overcome is mind boggling.  Thank you so much guys, for constantly pushing through, and making this film better. I think the work speaks for itself =) Also on display in this shot: amazing animation by Leslie Bristow, and of course, the fantastic matte painting by Agnes Asplud.

All our lighting and shading is done in Pixar’s RenderMan 4.


Matte Paintings!

One of the biggest challenges in making a CG animated film is fleshing out your world and making it believable.  Since you have to make everything that goes on screen, its a huge amount of work to make the world feel complete. For Hephaestus, believability and immersion are extremely important to us.  We want the audience to be sucked into our world, and really care about our characters.  Agnes Asplund has developed the INCREDIBLE matte paintings for the film, and added SO much to our world with them.  You ROCK Agnes! The matte paintings complete our set, and our world, making it feel like a place you could step into.

Here is an example of two versions of the sky, one from the start of the film, and one from the middle. The matte paintings are PSD files that are broken up onto separate layers allowing us to project them on geometry and create 3D depth within the paintings. We are also able to color control each element of the painting, which lets us change the atmosphere and mood from shot to shot.

VFX: Smoke Tests

Our film contains a great deal of  visual FX work: Lazers, Lazer impacts, smoke, dust, missile trails and explosions! Its pretty awesome =)

Thankfully, we have a totally rocking FX team to make it all happen. Our Lighting and FX supervisor, Andrew Dehner has been working with both teams to fully integrate our FX and hit the story goals outlined in our color script. Phil Mayer, Sam Klock and Murat Gonul are our houdini wizards, and have been doing an amazing job tackling all the technical hurdles we have encountered.  Here are some early smoke tests we’ve been working on. We’ll have the latest renders up soon!



Missile Trail Test (click me)

Smoke Cloud Test (click me)

We use Houdini for all of our effects work. We export a geo cache of animation  from Maya to use for collisions and the Houdini effects are then combined with the animation in compositing.  The movement between Houdini and Maya has cause a few technical difficulties, such as matching the motion blur between Houdini’s rendering engine and Renderman, since they use different parameters. But as usual, Andrew Dehner has bulldozed through all obstacles =)

Heph Rig


Right from the start, we knew that the Heph rig was the single most important asset to the film. So much of the story relies on Heph’s performance, so the facial rig needed to be extremely powerful and easy to use. That is no simple task. It is very easy to either end up with a rig that is overly complicated, or one that is too simple and cannot provide the subtle acting performance necessary.  However, we got really lucky, and Stephen Camardella provided us with an incredible facial set up, that is intuitive and easy to use, but allows for a wide range of expression. It’s easily the most fun rig I’ve ever had to work with.  Tom Banker and Noah Alzayer also put in a CRAZY amount of work polishing up our deformations, and really taking the rig to a professional level.

Heph’s facial rig uses “on-face” controls which are attached to ribbon splines that run around his brow, cheeks and mouth. These controls drive corrective blend shapes based on their position.   The on-face controls are also surface constrained to a set of invisible spheres, which approximate the curvature of the face. This makes it easy to keep the character on model and means the animator only needs to worry about movement in two axes.

Heph’s body rig also allows for a very fluid and organic movement. This was a major concern when designing him, as the range of motion on a robotic character is often limited by the design of his joints. Heph’s shoulders are designed to glide over the surface of his body, as if magnetically connected, allowing for a huge range of motion and expression.


Heph Textures

Alex Alvarado has done an amazing job on the textures for both Kaylee and Heph.  They look absolutely incredible. Both were a challenge, but Heph was particularly difficult in terms of art direction because we have to reflect so much of his character back story in his textures.  It’s a huge storytelling opportunity, and we went through a lot of iterations to get it just right. His facial textures were also difficult, since they not quite flesh and blood, but a synthetic material.   The video below shows a work in progress version. For the final (above) we made changes to his decal designs, as well as adding details such as crayon drawings by Kaylee on his back.

And…. We’re back!


Hey everyone!! You’ve probably been wondering where we’ve been for the last 6 months! Lost in the wilderness? Abducted by aliens? Sleeping?

None of the above! We’ve been working our butts off trying to make this film a reality! Our crew has grown to a whopping 54 artists, and directing the team has been a full time job, on top of trying to graduate with my MFA.  However, we’ve got a lot of great stuff to show for our efforts, so stick around and check out the work of our amazing team.

AMU Rig Complete!

So, as a Director and especially as a Character Designer, there are a couple things you worry about.  You have this initial idea for a character, and you worry if you can do that vague concept justice, and really transfer it to paper. Then as that design passes through modeling, texturing, and rigging,  you hope and pray that the character, the soul of that design makes it through to the final product. There are just so many places where it can go wrong, where miscommunication can happen, and the corners get rounded down.  It is a very difficult thing to take a rough sketch and translate that accuratly to a 3D character, and it takes an awesome team to do it.

Good thing we have an awesome team.

Liz Paradis’ model, and Jorge Cereijo’s jaw dropping rig, have taken the AMUs from vague idea, to polished final product. Fantastic work guys!!!!!! They have all the agility, flexibility, and personality that I tried to capture in my initial sketches. Thank you guys for all your hard work, you knocked it out of the park.


Modeling Progress!

Hello fellow blogsmen! My name is Jordan Hess, I’m the modeling supervisor for Hephaestus. I’ve been authorized to post all the amazing work my team has been producing over the past two and a half weeks. The modeling crew has been pushing full steam ahead and working overtime to bring you your set, and I am incredibly proud of them. All work below is in process, but huge shout-outs to Josh Brock, Danesh Taraporevala, Jeff Horal, John Merle Bijitch.

– Josh Brock

– Danesh Taraporevala

– John Merle Bijitch

– Jordan Hess

Animatic_v32 Up on Vimeo


Hey everyone!  I know its been a while since we’ve updated, but trust me when I say its not through laziness. We just have so much to do! Live is busy busy busy in the hfilm camp. But we’re making great progress and everything is looking fantastic!

To protect the film for festival submissions, the vimeo page is password protected at the moment.


More updates soon!

More Boards!

Hey Crew!

Now that the boards are done, I’m deep into After Effects and Premiere, plowing through the animatic. Hopefully it should be a smooth process, since almost everything was worked out in the boards.  Getting the timing, pacing, and camera moves in will be the challenge, especially since we have about a billion camera moves. But for now, check out some more boards from the end of the film.  Spoilers ahead!  =)

– Alex