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A Face In The Crowd
Even as the cast was giving voice to their roles, the character designers, led by Raman Hui, were hard at work designing and creating the characters themselves

Even as the cast was giving voice to their roles, the character designers, led by Raman Hui, were hard at work designing and creating the characters themselves. The process again began with pencil and paper as the characters evolved through a myriad of miniature drawings called thumbnails, as well as expression studies.

Producer Aron Warner comments, "As the cast was set, the characters were designed to represent the actors playing them-not to look like them, but to reflect the personalities of the performers. One thing we did not want was caricatures of the actors."

Once the look of the character was approved, the character designers could commit to building a scale model in clay. These clay sculptures, created by Konrad Dunton, Cecile Picard and Damon Bard, were of main characters in neutral poses in preparation for them to be digitized.

To digitize a model into the computer, gridlines are drawn onto the model, and a specialized light pen is touched at each intersection on the grid to create a corresponding 3-D model in the computer. Since the gridlines are drawn by hand, only half the model is digitized. Then, inside the computer it is flipped and copied to create a symmetrical model of the character.

The character models are then turned over to the character technical directors (TDs), who put the actual functionality into the character. The TDs build a digital skeleton into each model, which determines the way the joints bend and the exterior "skin" stretches and moves. This becomes the foundation upon which the animators pose and move the characters.

Raman Hui and Rex Grignon, who served as supervising animators on "Antz," also took visual cues from the actors providing the voices. "We shot video of all the performers as they recorded the voices, and the animators used that live-action reference for gestures and movement to help capture the feeling that the actor put into the performance," Hui says.

The TDs are also ultimately responsible for adding the facial expressions of the characters. For "Antz," PDI's Dick Walsh broke new ground with a proprietary software system that takes facial animation to a new level. In the past, facial expressions were accomplished by using morph targets-meaning to pre-build certain expressions and segue between them-or by applying surface muscles that manipulated only the top skin.

PDI's new facial animation system incorporates a sophisticated anatomically based structure, corresponding to the actual bone, muscles, fat and skin of the human face. Supervising character technical director Beth Hofer, who worked with Dick Walsh, explains, "We wanted to build the complete foundation of the face, so you get all the intricate and interrelated movements of each expression. For example, when the mouth is moving, you should see the cheeks and lower eyelids moving as well. By building the entire underlying structure, we achieved this result."

The various combinations of muscles that make the different expressions on the human face were applied in much the same way to create expressions on the faces of the ants. As the facial muscles were activated, they caused the face model to change shape in a way that respects the physical makeup of a real face, i.e., areas that correspond to bone move only slightly, while soft areas like cheeks are more pliable.

There are over 300 separate control elements in the characters' faces, consisting of individu

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