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What is animation about?

Animation is all about detailing and perfection; it revolves around two major factors- creation and effect. If an animal has to be created in animation, each minute characteristic of the animal like its hair, eyebrows, fur, nails, paws have to be developed precisely. Often as audience, we focus on the primary sensory organs like eyes, ears, nose but overlook the extreme efforts invested in creating secondary characteristics like the ones mentioned above.

Can you tell us what you do?

Detailing or perfection can be best explained by an experienced mind who has helmed the project, therefore, AnimationXpress got in touch with Walt Disney Animation Studios, technical director, Avneet Kaur who has worked on several characters in ZootopiaFrozenWreck-It RalphTangledBig Hero 6 and Bolt and recently came down to India for the ABAI Fest 2016.

So how did Avneet come onto this project?

“I joined Zootopia’s character simulation team when it was in early production and was lucky to have been involved in helping create some of the Xgen technology that we used to drive fur on the animals. I did the setup for simulating cloth and fur on the lead characters Judy Hopps and Finnick. Additionally, I also did cloth hair and muscle simulation setup on the wildebeest, zebra kids, rhino kid and few other characters.”

With so many animals involved, each one unique and different from the other, she exclaims, “The large number of species of animals and the size and scale differences between them was quite challenging for the character assets team as Zootopia had 64 different species of animals that were broken down into thousands of different mammal variants.”

As creating distinct characters was a task, developing the fur and hair of these characters was an additional milestone to overcome. So, how were the characters actually created and what was the detail work required?

“For simulation our team, created more than 300 unique rigs, and typically ran a three layer pass of simulation, starting with muscle, then cloth and then hair. Cloth/Fur interaction on animals added an additional layer of complexity and challenge to everything.

For muscle simulation, the software team created a program named PhysGrid that would add realistic muscle and fat movements below the skin of each character. It gave them all a good weight and shape.

For cloth we used our in house proprietary software ‘Fabric’, and enhanced existing features to accomplish the creation and movement of art-directed costumes with several layers of clothing.

For ‘Hair’, a software called xGen was given a whole new set of tools that helped build in an ambient, natural wind movement on fur into the scenes. A giraffe in the movie walks around with 9 million hairs, while a gerbil has about 480,000.”

She is also the wiz behind the Hollywood animation film, Frozen. She worked on it as its Simulation Technical Director.

It was a challenge, she says: “Working on Frozen was an absolutely wonderful experience. I loved the story idea of this film from the get go, and all the creative and technical challenges that came along with it.”

“I believe this movie raises the bar in every aspect of computer generated (CG) filmmaking – be it environment, character design, animation, effects, look, simulation and lighting, etc.,” she adds.

Frozen is an epic fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is  a captivating and emotionally tugging animated story.

Avneet’s involvement in the film revolved around the simulation work for the lead characters Anna and Hans in addition to other characters like Baby Anna, Hans’s Horse and Duke of Weselton and more.

“The intricate and beautiful designs of hairstyles and clothing for the characters in this film presented thrilling challenges for the simulation team,” said Avneet.

What made the work easier was how “the production crew was constantly researching new ideas and exploring innovative techniques, to bring the creative vision of the characters and wonderful world of this film, to life”.

“It was a lot of hard work, but well worth it. I am very proud of being part of this amazing film,” she added.

She says that, from hand-drawn and cel (celluloid) animation [traditional animation] to the advent of fully computer generated animated features, stop-motion animation, photo realistic shading, motion capture, facial capture, stereoscopic 3D technology, etc., the animation industry has come a long way in the past few decades.

“It is continuing to evolve in domains of creative ideas and advancements in technology,” she added.

Your background? How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career such as advertising?

Born and raised in India, Avneet loved to doodle and draw as a kid. Her passion for art resulted in her pursuing higher studies in architecture at BIT Mesra, Ranchi. “I believe architecture gave me a very well-rounded education, in art and sciences in addition to the fundamentals of design.” She adds “It was while doing my M.S in Visualisation Sciences from Texas A & M University, that I was exposed to the amazing world of creating  animated features. I was completely intrigued by the amalgamation of the art and technology, involved in computer generated film making and wanted to be an integral part of that process”.

Your career path after graduation?

Avneet joined Sony Imageworks after graduating from Texas A and M University in 2003 and worked on “The Polar Express“.

In 2005, she moved to Walt Disney Animation Studios and has since worked on animated features like “Meet The Robinsons“, “Bolt“, “A Christmas Carol“, “Prep and Landing“, “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph“.

A student of architecture, Avneet says her shift to animation was a natural extension.

“I always loved to draw as a kid. My parents encouraged my passion for the arts which resulted in my pursuing higher studies in architecture. I believe that studying architecture gave me a very well-rounded education, in art and sciences … in addition to the fundamentals of design.

“With a desire to advance my expertise, I applied to the Master’s program at Texas A and M University. It was while pursuing the course, I was completely intrigued by the amalgamation of the artistic and technical processes involved in computer generated filmmaking.

“It also played wonderfully with my ever-growing love for films … Animation thus became the area of advanced focus for my graduate studies. A career in the animation field was a desired outcome and seemed like a natural extension of what I loved to do,” she added.