DOUBLE NEGATIVE VISUAL EFFECTS: MARK ARDINGTON

Today we had a special opportunity to attend a special lecture with a speaker Mark Ardington. I have been extremely elated as this was the first time I have seen an actual oscar award winner in the lecture hall.

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Mark Williams Ardington is a British visual effects artist. he received the 2015 Academy Award for his work on the film Ex Machina in the category for Best Visual Effects. He shared the award with three other visual effects artists

Mark Ardington graduated from Bournemouth University and was an Animation and rigging specialist with 19 years of experience working in film, TV series and commercials. He is currently a creature Tech Director at Double Negative.

As he talks about the Ex Machina, he received a rigging brief via LinkIn, which was wonderful for networking. In it contains the director’s notes and specifications., which was to:

  1. Seamlessly match Alicia Vikanders performance & movement
  2. Retain original plate as possible
  3. Inner mechanics should be base on current cutting edge tech and not be distracting
  4. Must work towards the aesthetics of camera lens & lights (Particularly how light catch on machine’s inner parts, focusing on the femininity of the machine)

Since Mark Ardington doesn’t participate in the actual shoot productions, hence there are many technicalities that his team had to iron out with the production team.

Things Ava do in the script:

  • Standing, walking, sat at table drawing, lying in bed, getting dressed/undressed, fight (arm gets broken off)
  • No motion capture or green screen – not interfere film making process.
  • No animation team to fineness the tracking result
  • No supercool effects

His team had to use the Rae track in its purest form, which everything the body trackers did do ended in the screen. The second rotoscoping work had to be highly accurate.

The director chose to film the sequence in ANEM. Upon further consideration of the challenges of the production, there was a relatively small crew for this production, with a limited number of shot sculpt days. All rig updates need to be non-destructive, lots of glass, reflections and refractions in the environment to accommodate.

after the initial sequence shots came to him, his team had to replace limbs and trunk, head & neck using joining-rings to track.  With the issues encountered on shorts, torso, wrist & ankle join-rings, The project was so complex that the brief sort of evolved during the effects production.

The costume fitting variance of Ava was based humanoid rig built using Pinocchio, in-house rigging system with two levels of detail. it was an initial basic rig. the range of motion animation was tested on the initial rig on some onset photo still references. it had multiple body suits and they had to use four versions, after which the model was updated using the on set photo booth body capture system.

extra rigging modules added, and the secondary layer of rigging was added to enable fine tune sculpt ability on join rings. The Body track workflow:

  • Initial 2ndtrack with 3d equaliser
  • Lock good channels & resolve
  • Tweak dneg photo fit in maya
  • -single frame line art & costume fit
  • project locators onto model
  • apply solve
  • refine bumps in curve
  • 2nd ‘slide-stop’ in nuke

This was the result of multiple departments’ contribution which ended up him receiving the oscar award, largely because no one screw up too much.

the result of everyone’s effort was that these sequences there was a mix of soft and hard surfaces, White cuffs & metal bones structure remain solid, character’s muscles could extend and flex without hiccups, Tendons & cables jibble, Stomach internals have tiny mech movements (gyroscopes spinning, kidneys pumping, etc). Intestines could bend and flex. All areas of

All areas of Ava’s internals are fully scalable and can be tweaked independently if needed with fine tuning tracks and tweaker controls so as to have a fully flexible head and neck rig,  as well as independent control over both surface mechanics. other improvements include:

  • soft lenses
  • shallow depth of field
  • large distortions
  • grainy plates
  • some low lighting shots
  • tracks needed to be ultra tights….

Translates have a variable precision ‘multiplier, so their value can be factored down for very precise hand-tracking. and then there was the crazy IK (inverse kinetics), FK technique, which caters to off the wall rigging solutions such as knee jitter encountered when tracking walk cycles using IK.

Through this project, Mark Ardington shared the lessons he had learnt, which was that flexibility was a key demand for Ava’s rigging solution. Broad controls, with fine tuner controls and sculpting the character were all part of the contribution.

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