From: Daniel G

A lot of this is pretty techy stuff, but it does show this guys attention to realistic detail, which will be great to have on the Rings movies. I can’t wait to see what they cook up. Personally I’m dying to see how they do Treebeard.

This is a good deal of the article, as Rygiel is commented throughout the whole thing. The dog they are referring to in the first half is Oddball, the spotless dalmation. The mag goes on to say…

“The actual spot removal technigue was one-part procedural and one-part by-hand artistry. ‘The first step was to take a shot through a procedural, which would get rid of any stright-on spots,’ explained Rygiel. ‘we utilized combustion by Discreet Logic, which could track indivdual spots, clone a white area next to each one, and fill it in procedurally. As long as the spot was side-on, pointed toward the camera, the process was fairly simple; but as soon as the dog started moving – which meant that the spots were moving and changing perspective – it became more complicated.'”

“Nintey-five percent of the spot removal shots required a second, hand-painting phase. Compositing supervisor Brian Leach was in charge of determining which shots should go through procedural, and which should go diriectly to Sandy Houston’s paint department. ‘The challenge was not so much in the indivual approach for each shot,’ explained Leach, ‘as it was just the sheer number of shots we had to deliver.'”

“‘As a general rule,’ Rygiel noted, ‘they pushed all of the shots through procedural – becuase any shot that procedural could get rid of would help. Then the spots that were not straight-on to camera would be hand-painted out. We’d get spots piling up on the edge of the dog’s body, for exampleforming a kind of black line, just because of the perspective. It took an artist to paint those out and maintain consistency from frame to frame so the hair didn’t chatter like something out of the original Mighty Joe Young. For each spot, we had to find a patch of fur next to it that was the same color, then clone it and track it, making sure all of the hairs moved in the same direction. It had to be perfect.'”

“The dog’s ears, often flopping around wildly throughout a shot, were especially problematic, requiring additional steps beyond procedural and paint. ‘We would rotoscope the ears utilizing Elastic Reality,’ said Rygiel, ‘then warp textures onto them, adding back in shadows, and all the correct lighting. If the ears were moved too much in the frame for Elastic Reality to handle, we’d model and animate 3d CG ears, then track them to plate.'”

“One of the worst spot removal scenes, in terms of level of difficulty, was one in which Oddball rolls around on a copying machine, hoping to pick up some balck ink that will give her a faux spotted coat. ‘The dog they used for that scene was particularly black,’ Rygiel remarked. ‘When when I saw it on the set I thought, ‘the crew back home is going to kill me when they see this dog.’ Not only did it have a lot of black on it, it was rolling around all over the place. In most of the other shots, the dogs would stand there and maybe turn a little bit. But this one was flopping around as if it was on a rotisserie – which meant the spot perspectives were changing all over the place.'”

“In a handful of cases, te spot removals were so difficult, the effects team began to think it would be easier and more effective to replace the live dog – or at least a portion of it, such as it’s head – with a computer animated model. ‘Rather than beat our heads against a wall, trying to remove the spots in those situations,’ Rygiel commented, ‘we thought, ‘Why not just replace the live dog with a CG dog?’ We considered it seriously after we started getting plates back from production that had these really black dogs in them.'”

The article states that Maya was used in creating the CG dog and that they refrenced dog photos for a realistic match. That CG oddball got extreme closeup shots. The model was devised by building in layers ie. bones, muscles, skin, all from photos and x-rays and video footage, so that the CG dog moved and acted like a real dalmation.

Pretty impressive stuff.

Originally appeared in Cinefex magazine – number 84 by editor Jody Duncan for Cinefex.