Award-winning macabre animation is a beautiful nightmare

Discover how director Fred Burdy used some unique workarounds and scripts to bring Celtic folklore to life in his new short.

Created in Windmill Lane, Dublin, Fred Burdy's short Tríd an Stoirm (Through the Storm) tells the story of a young woman trying to bring her drowned husband back from the dead. We caught up with Burdy to find out about the influence of Irish myths, and creating the Otherworld and Banshee...

What software did you choose?

I use Softimage as my main package at my work at Windmill Lane. It is great because it's easy to use, but incredibly powerful. Also, ICE is a great tool for generating particles and geometry procedurally. I used it for the sea, which was a customised ICE compound creating a Tessendorf deformation and generating particles from the crests of the waves.

How did Softimage help production?

This project was huge (140 shots), so I built tools inside Softimage for importing characters, creating and naming scene and render layers, and so on. When you have a big project you need consistency. I built a little toolbar for that purpose with buttons to import characters, handle the renders, but also apply the dynamics and cache them. It was a lot of little scripts that really helped to keep the process smooth.

Referencing characters was really helpful, but we had a few issues that made some scenes unstable - animation being lost on some controls - so I wrote a script that fixed that: It imported a rig with the characters' controls only, copying the animation to it, deleting the messy referenced character, imported a blank clean one, and reapplied the animation to it.

he fearsome Banshee character’s ‘clothes’ were created using a hair system with instanced stripes of cloth on the render

Would you say Softimage was vital?

Softimage has great animation tools, built-in IK/FK for every bone you create, and that made rigging the characters easier. One vital feature was the non-destructive aspect of the workflow: you can keep on tweaking the model even after it’s rigged and it handles it perfectly. The shapes adjust all by themselves, and any tweaks you have on top of that keep working nicely as long as the topology doesn't change.

How did you create the stormy sea?

I used ICE inside Softimage to deform a simple grid to create the waves' animation. There is a plug-in that does that very well for Softimage, called aa_Ocean, but I wanted a bit more control. I found a simple version of the deformer on and used it as a base.

After the geometry had been deformed, I used ICE to analyse the polygon density to create a weightmap of the crests, which I used both for shading it in a foamy texture, but also to emit foam particles. I added a bit of a procedural bump to give some nice detail.

ICE was used to generate particles and geometry procedurally. It was used to create the sea and the crests of the waves

Any other touches you can reveal?

I generated particles on contacts between objects (rocks and boat) and the sea itself that created nice splashes. Since I rendered a bunch of passes, I was able to do a bit of relighting in Nuke to fine-tune the look of the sea. But the thing that made it work was definitely the ICE deformation!

Did you learn anything from creating Tríd an Stoirm?

There was a lot of trial and error - different techniques for rigging the characters, different types of controls, several revisions of the master shader... You learn so much on a project like this!

The animation is 100 per cent keyframed, but the characters are not fully detailed and are painted in a unique, very graphic way

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 180.