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PLANET 51

Technical Production Notes
Planet 51 represented a giant step forward for Ilion Animation Studios not only in telling the story of a full feature film, but also in the developing the computer infrastructure to meet the technical challenges it would present. 

The greatest of these challenges was in character animation. "With over 500 unique characters, we had to develop several unique custom tools in order to set them up and animate them in a credible way,” says Gonzalo Rueda, Ilion Director of Technology. "We generated our proprietary, state-of-the-art facial animation system that presents artists with a simplified interface that allows them to manipulate over 200 character controls in a fast and intuitive fashion. As a result, they can transmit emotion not only with the main characters, but the background characters as well.

"Our full-body animation rig is the result of research and tuning,” Rueda continues. "We try to keep the controls as simple as possible while always making sure that the animator has full control over every aspect of a character's behavior. This rig, in the hands of our animators, is a killer combination that gives the Planet 51 characters those realistic movements that make them so believable.”

Creating Planet 51 required not only creativity and commitment, but also innovation. Ilion Animation Studio's Tools department created over 200 new technical developments for the production of Planet 51, ranging from the 'four pillars' of Ilion technology (GLT, Asset Tracker, Asset Manager, and Asset Loader) to large scale developments (such as the Lighting Layers Manager) to comparatively small developments directed towards simplifying or optimizing specific work flows. 

GLT is an in-house file format that stores cameras, geometry, and animation. GLT not only facilitates the transfer of information from one pipeline stage to another, but also allows for artists to work using referenced information, ensuring that everyone is always working with the latest information. (For example, by exporting cameras in the GLT format, Ilion ensures that all artists always work with the latest camera updates.) GLT also keeps file size down (large sets are composed entirely of references, which keeps the files for large scenes manageable and relatively small in size.) Currently, GLT Export/Import is supported for both Autodesk 3dsMax & Autodesk Maya.

The Asset Tracker is an intranet application, and is the main production tool. Assets, such as locations, characters, props, etc. are created, defined, and their current status is monitored and controlled, using the Asset Tracker; if it's not in the Asset Tracker, it doesn't exist. The Asset Tracker also automatically creates pre-defined folder structures and template files for artists to work with and allows the hundreds of Ilion computer animators to work in virtual unison.

The Asset Manager is a program which allows for many users to work on the same set of files at the same time, in an organized and secure fashion. The Asset Manager allows artists to download files to their machine to work on; or upload their own files. When they are done working on a file, they send the file back to the main storage unit, using the Asset Manager, which keeps a history of all changes. A series of automations have also been built in to the Asset Manager, allowing artists to automatically submit renders, or GLT exports, of their files simply by right-clicking on the file in question and selecting the relevant option.

The Asset Loader is a tool designed specifically for 3dstudio max, which allows artists to manage their scenes more efficiently and with fewer errors. By connecting with the Asset Tracker, the Asset Loader knows exactly which assets are associated to a given shot, and so can present an artist with a list of what should be in his/her scene and give them the option to add/remove any given asset.

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