Commotion at Atomic Imaging

Atomic Imaging created a seven minute trade show video largely produced with Commotion, a new CGI software package that radically drops the price of high-end composing and rotoscoping.

“Commotion has a suite of real-time painting and rotoscoping tools, some of which are unavailable on other high-end compositing systems like Flint and Flame,” said Atomic motion graphics artist Jamie Creskey, who handled 2D and 3D animation, composing, and digital and visual effects for the video, which was produced for Siemens-Furnas Control.

Developed at Industrial Light & Magic and published by Puffin Design, Commotion costs $3,000. Atomic runs it on Mac 9600 equipped with dual 180 MHz. CPUs and loaded with 130 megabytes of RAM. A flame costs about $500,000 including high-end SGI hardware.

Atomic never left the Mac platform in producing the video, whose budget Atomic executive producer Ari Golan pegged at “well under $200,000.” Other software employed were Form Z and Electric Image for 3D modeling and animation, and AfterEffects for some of the blue screen compositing and visual effects.

A parody of recent sci-fi epics “Contact” and “Stargate,” the video transports an electrical engineer into the inner workings of an electrical control panel, which, in turn, becomes a spaceship. The talent is live but the back grounds and even the props are virtual.

“During the shoot we used a live ultimatte key to match the camera angles then composited in post,” said Atomic producer and executive creative director Ari Golan. “We mocked up some of the cockpit in blue foamcore so the action had a tough representation of the space he was in, but the only real prop was his joystick handle.”

Creskey used Commotion’s real-time rotoscope controls to rotate individual points on the splines and follow the actor’s movements with realistic motion blurs.

By comparison, a Flame could have handled the compositing, but lacks the rotoscope controls and wouldn’t allow Creskey to paint on individual fields. Golan estimates the overcoming those limitations would have doubled the compositing portion of the job, which was delivered two months after the script was finished.

The virtual sets and props succeed by not being apparent, but Creskey also used the same collection of Mac software to realize one of the video’s more spectacular effects: “molecularizing” the engineer into the electrical control panel.

He mapped a video image of the actor onto polygons, then exploded them into particles, and then used direction, velocity and turbulence controls to “suck” the particles off-screen. Then Creskey added an additional layer of handpainted visual effects in Commotion.

“I wouldn’t say that Commotion replaces the Flame, it’s just a great tool to have,” said Golan.

At Atomic Imaging, Jeff Bell edited and created the sound effects. John Cramer served as project manager for Unipro, the marketing communications agency which produced Siemens’ trade show program. Overall creative direction came from John Barnett and Ken Jackson at Oak Brook-based Arends, Siemens’ advertising agency.

JANUARY 12, 1998
PG 8

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