Neanderthals – Meet Your Ancestors

Helping Special Effects

In this blogpost I will try to tell you about our involvement in BBC's latest release. Over the course of 3 months we rigged, simmulated and wrote pipeline to make sure the production ran fluently from a character perspective. It is very important to us that you understand that we did not make this entire project but just supported an excisting production to go from good to great. We thrive in helping workflow and make sure the clients are being guided in the right direction. While they can freely chose to take or leave our consultency we always bring the options on the table. 

The Introduction To The Project

In BBC's most recent documentary release we follow Ella Al-Shamahi observing the upbringing of Ned The Neanderthal. Tasked with Bringing Ned to life, Andy Serkis started working in his motion capture stage, breathing life a into the characters. The virtual company Imaginarium which is held by Andy Serkis demystified the protagonist and his family's personality.

Jellyfish was the production company for the entire show. They first contacted us in the beginning of  2017 to take care of their rigs. While most people know that Motion Capture can take animation a big step forward, especially in the blocking phase - we still need animation to take the actual motion capture data and clean it up. While the actors performance might be brilliant, some movement gets lost in translation to 3D.

Check out the project on BBC


Cloth Pipeline by Manoanim  

It was important to keep the audience in a realistic world as much time and budget allowed. The hunting sequence being one of the opening shots where we see of the Neanterthals hunting a mammoth was vitally important. We started to make tests and send them to Jellyfish, who quickly saw the potential in this pipeline step.

While adding cloth to your production can be costly affair - we have low overheads because our company is positioned in Denmark but our company head is a previous industry generalist. Our standards are held at London quality while our overheads are lower. Not all productions are lucky enough to be able to do this but under the management of Producer Lucy Ward everything worked out great.


First Pipeline Test

As we were developing a rig script we found that targeting all the controllers was inefficient for our animations. Instead we created locators in our heirachy that could catch the motion capture so our animation team would be working on clean controls. This made it easy to clean up because the “baked keys” (A key on every frame in every shot for every bone/joint) were all assembled on one layer while the clean up animation was on another. This was initially our only task on the show. But we gave a couple of suggestions of improvement.

In this frame we can see how the mocap translated onto the rig, we can also see that while we get a good amount of timing and weight feel in to the shot we are stilling seeing a fair bit of jitter in our motion capture. This is to be expected but also something we need to polish. Building the pipeline for the show was the first step the next was to have Jellyfish Cleaning up the motion capture and then sent the animation back to us. We could then apply that animation and start simulation on our own characters, as to finally send back a finished cache.




Learn The Workflow

While this tutorial only takes you through the actual production workflow you will have to study cloth simulation afterwards to get something as realistic as The Neanderthal production. Since cloth simulation is like animation - about taste and style we decided only to cover the workflow. 

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2 weeks Rigging Course