Among the tasks I did for this movie this is probably my favorite because I was able to solved it in a very simple, efficient and relatively (for nowadays standards) unusual way.
The VFX Supervisor ask us to create something subtle to let the audience know how powerful Excalibur was. We came up with the idea of the seaweed ‘coming to life’, reacting to the proximity of the sword.
Generally the tool to use for this kind of job is Houdini but due to studio/pipeline circumstances Houdini wasn’t an option, so I decided to use Maya and… Paint Effects! instead.
Paint Effects is a technology created by Duncan Brinsmead which was included in Maya around 2003. It was a groundbreaking innovation at that time but, for different reasons, in production has been used very little. However I think it is still a very capable technology and I use it sometimes.
For this project I created a custom ‘Seaweed brush’ and I drew some strokes with it over a 3d lidar scan of the rock.
From there, there is a plethora of parameters available to animate the strokes but you can also control them with curves which is basically what I did in this case.
I did the same approach for all the seaweed shots in the movie (10 or so). The final result has a kinda ‘Harryhausen look‘ which I liked very much… and the VFX Supervisor too 😉
Another unusual tool was used to render the seaweed: Mental Ray (it was well integrated with Paint Effects but already obsolete when we did these shots). I haven’t used it again since this project and today (!) I’ve learnt I won’t use it anymore: Nvidia has announced they are discontinuing the product.
To be honest, I won’t miss it… 🙂