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The 3D secrets behind Channel 4's online-dating tortoise

UK broadcaster Channel 4's recent season of programmes on modern dating needed an ident that conveyed the complexities of finding love in the 21st century. Using the character of Arthur the tortoise, MPC (opens in new tab) was commissioned to bring him to life and enable the audience to connect and sympathise with him, through his facial expressions and the emotions he portrays.

"MPC's main task was to replace the puppet head and bring Arthur the Galápagos tortoise to life through his expressions. Furthermore we replaced the legs and enhanced textures of the original puppet in some of the shots," explains CG supervisor Fabian Frank.

MPC's main task was to bring Arthur the Galápagos tortoise to life through his expressions

"It took about five weeks from shoot to final delivery, with a core team of two 3D artists, two 2D artists and two matte painters. A few more artists were involved during the initial build and concept stage.

"To generate an exact recreation of the puppet head in 3D was the biggest technical challenge. We scanned the puppet head, retopologised it and re-projected the details using ZBrush.

"It was quite impressive to see the puppet coming to life as soon as we applied the facial expressions and animations. We had to carry out a number of tests and study footage to get it right. Eventually we used an advanced facial rig in Maya to achieve the look we wanted.

It was impressive to see the puppet come to life as we applied the facial expressions

"By using the vector displacement feature in mental ray, we were able to keep the poly count of the 3D model in our animation scenes very low, while still getting all the fine surface details in the final render.

"The most interesting and challenging part of the ident was the disco scene. This had massive light changes and lens flares, so we had to extract the light information from the HDRI and recreate an animated environment of the whole scene in 3D."

The MPC team used a Maya facial rig to achieve the expressions they wanted

The MPC team used a Maya facial rig to achieve the expressions they wanted

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