Psyop Part 2

December 23, 2015

Cricket Wireless Holiday Sweaters

Cricket Wireless Holiday Sweaters | Psyop used Fabric Engine 2 to create a knitting tool to deliver the realistic knit effects.

What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo? A woolly jumper, according to the classic kids’ joke. It wasn’t quite that simple for the team at Psyop who were commissioned by advertising agency Argonaut to make a 30-second holiday spot for Cricket Wireless featuring several woolly jumpers. We spoke with Psyop Software Engineer Jonah Friedman, CG Lead/Supervisor Kyle Cassidy and Producer Stephanie Gocke to find out how Fabric Engine enabled them to digitally knit a bunch of realistic – albeit comic – sweaters in time for the holiday season.

Challenge: Believable woolen knit

The brief was pretty clear says Gocke: “The client, Argonaut, wanted to go with the gag of huge holiday sweaters – the quintessential holiday sweater with graphics – with the character all bundled up in many layers, taking one sweater off at a time.”

Each sweater features a key message but at the beginning of the project, it wasn’t clear how many messages – and therefore sweaters – would be required. On top of that, the team had about 10 weeks to produce the whole spot – and really only 4 weeks for the effects-heavy part of it. “That posed a challenge because we had to figure out how to achieve this and to a certain extent, we were entering unchartered territory,” says Gocke.

Keen to over-deliver, Psyop Co-Founders and Creative Directors Kylie Matulick and Todd Mueller wanted to achieve a realistic, knitted look and remembered the work Friedman had done on previous projects featuring smaller knitted items such as scarves and socks. Friedman says: “As far as getting believable woolen knit goes, we learned from previous experience that there’s a world of difference between making something out of fibers and making it out of polygons with displacement normal maps etc. Because of this, we wanted to try out the idea of making entire sweaters from fibers and see where that went.”

Solution: 50 million hair segments in 20 seconds

Using Fabric’s KL language and Canvas, the visual programming system in Fabric Engine 2, Friedman set about building a knitting – or entwining – tool while the rest of the team was in preparation mode. “Was I under pressure to build the tool? Yes – and I had to predict how long it was going to take,” he says. “The good thing is we already had a lot of the underpinnings for it in the form of my hair system [also created in Fabric Engine] so that helped a lot. We’d also already made a similar tool in ICE, albeit on a much smaller scale, that allowed us to know what to expect.”

FabricPsyopEntwinerLayer1

Entwiner

FabricPsyopPolygonMeshPreview

Polygon Mesh Preview

FabricPsyopFrizzNormals

Frizz Normals

Each sweater is made entirely of fibers, he stresses. The system creates a knit pattern, starting with just one fiber per yarn, then it wraps strands around other strands to create ply yarn. “At the end, each yarn is made out of about 30 or 40 fibers and all of the frizz is organically coming out of the hair. Where you can see through it, it’s the result of the differences in density of the geometry being generated. So what you end up with is something that’s way more believable and has a lot better properties as far as rendering goes,” says Friedman.

FabricPsyopHolidaySweater1

“What you end up with is something that’s way more believable and has a lot better properties as far as rendering goes,” Jonah Friedman, Psyop

“Each of the sweaters has about 50 million hair segments or so, once everything is generated,” he adds. “Fabric generated the complete geometry for that in about 20 seconds – or about 30 seconds if there was motion blur. That amount of density of hair in this kind of set up is not something we’d have attempted in ICE so it’s a little difficult to make exact performance comparisons – we scaled this to a level that we simply wouldn’t have tried otherwise.”

It’s also difficult for Friedman to be precise about how long it took to build the tool because there are several components to it that he was building anyway, such as an Arnold procedural for converting hair geometry, but he says “it was perhaps 3 weeks before people could start using it and another 2 weeks before it was really good.”

The main user of the tool was Cassidy. From his point of view, with little experience of proceduralism – he’s a Maya guy – he found the tool remarkably easy to use. It took him took two to three days with Friedman working alongside him “to get comfortable with using Canvas” and after about a week and a half he was “pretty much self sufficient”. “It’s important to note the geometry of the sweaters themselves was the simplest part – once you have the geometry properly laid out to work with the Entwiner tool, these things are almost instantaneously set up – it’s just connecting things within Canvas to these actual pieces of geometry and the Entwiner takes care of the rest,” he says. “I like to say ‘Jonah built the bus, I just got to drive it’!”

Conclusion: Insanity and random accidents

The client loved the results – appreciating the realism and attention to detail, to the point where the weave inside the sweaters differs from the outside, exactly as it would in real life. “I think, when you do this kind of thing, when you commit to an extreme – and almost unreasonable – level of honesty in terms of how you’re making this thing, you end up finding these happy accidents like where the yarn is transparent and the light is coming through it, and things like that – it’s just stuff that happened as part of the process. That, I feel, is the major advantage of using Fabric Engine,” says Friedman. Not only that, he says “it’s fun to do things in a really unreasonable way and get results that totally justify what would have seemed insane at the start.”

FabricPsyopHolidaySweater2

“It’s fun to do things in a really unreasonable way and get results that totally justify what would have seemed insane at the start,” Jonah Friedman, Psyop

Cassidy admits he only had a broad understanding of Fabric’s capabilities at the beginning but has a very different perspective now that he’s seen it in action. “It really opens up my mind to the possibilities of where this whole avenue is going,” he says. “I’m really excited to see where Fabric is going to take this industry, and Psyop as well. There are so many applicable uses for it, your imagination can just run wild.”

Cricket Wireless Holiday Sweaters is currently airing in the US and can be seen here: Cricket Wireless “Sweaters”