Reel FX Creates CG Animation For Radio City Rockettes Feature

Reel FX reveals details of its stereoscopic CG animation for Humbugged: Rockettes to the Rescue — a unique scene within the 2011 Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring the world-famous Radio City Rockettes —The Rockettes Magical Journey which opens Friday, November 11th, 2011. 

Reel FX delivered a total of seven and a half minutes of stereoscopic CG content which will be featured on a massive 3D LED wall on-stage during the show. Reel FX Producer Greg Lyons, Digital Supervisor Glo Minaya and Senior VFX Supervisor Augusto Schillaci worked closely with Director and Choreographer of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Linda Haberman, and senior vice president, production, Madison Square Garden Entertainment Larry Sedwick from the pre-production and conceptual stages to the final dress rehearsals. The goal was to achieve a level of seamless integration between the stereoscopic imagery and live-action performers and to give audiences a new experience. Tickets are currently on sale for the annual holiday production, which runs through Monday, January 2nd, 2012 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

In the scene Humbugged: Rockettes to the Rescue, the Radio City Rockettes free all the Christmas toys held captive in the magical kingdom’s castle by the evil Humbug King, and defeat his fantastical cronies with blasts of goodhearted holiday cheer.  The piece simulates a video game in which the Rockettes perform as if they are part of the CG world, interacting with stereoscopic visual effects and larger-than-life animated characters on an expansive, floating 3D LED wall measuring 53 feet wide by 27 feet tall. Practical effects on stage also combine with matching digital effects timed simultaneously — continuing to blur the line between screen and stage.  The piece redefines what live-action integration means, by immersing live performance within a stereoscopic space. MSGE has coined the term “3DLive” to describe the new, hyper-integrated approach.

“As a leader in live entertainment, we are focused on delivering our Christmas Spectacular audiences with content that has never been presented before in a theatrical setting and utilizing advanced technology features available in today’s market, while still honoring those traditions that keep our audience returning each year,” said Larry Sedwick, senior vice president production, MSG Entertainment.  “In working with Reel FX to develop the 3DLive scene, we were able to use stereoscopic imagery as a tool to blend the live action of the Rockettes with a stereoscopic animated world and make it feel as one.”

The project was more than a year in the marking, starting with a script in pre-production, as MSG Entertainment looked to Reel FX to help develop the look and story for the CG component of “Humbugged.”  Reel FX Senior VFX Supervisor and “Humbugged’s” working Art Director, Augusto Schillaci, oversaw the crew who worked closely with Haberman to bring her video game vision to fruition. “We developed a unique overall look I refer to as stylistic realism, where assets maintain a critical-level of detail while still maintaining a whimsical sensibility.  We felt it really complemented the spirit of the show and the holiday season,” explains Schillaci.

The stereoscopic component drove much of the story and shot composition.  Layout and Stereoscopic Supervisor Troy Griffin and Haberman plotted out the storyline for the high-kicking heroines, developing a working animatic within a single week.  “Shots were carefully chosen in previs, based on how effectively they would work in stereo for the audience, for the dancers and choreography, and for the game itself,” explains Griffin.

Using a LIDAR scan of the interior of Radio City Music Hall, Griffin translated the values of the scan into Autodesk Maya to determine the precise position of each dancer onstage as well as to pinpoint key seats in the theater for evaluation of the stereo elements.  In doing so, he was able to establish the exact placement of the zero parallax to achieve the desired stereo effect.  Based on Griffin’s calculations, Haberman adjusted parts of the Rockettes’ choreography to accommodate the specific parameters determined for certain shots.  The process was a fluid progression of give-and-take between the demands of the live show and to take full advantage of the scope of stereo.

Digital Supervisor Glo Minaya describes the stereoscopic progression of the piece: “During every stage of production–from layout to final delivery–we evaluated and refined the stereoscopic properties of each asset and every visual effect, not just the camera. This was key to successfully executing the 3DLive immersive experience.”

The 3DLive approach to “Humbugged” presented unique technical developments to work within.  Massive CG environments, including a forest, castle and a gingerbread village, required an incredible amount of detail to achieve the look of “stylized realism” and to build great depth into the scene.  To produce the fine detail on the numerous trees, the team developed an entirely new proprietary “fur” system for the project, using it to generate pine tree needles which could interact with onscreen stimuli like snow and other assets.  Another scene was completely comprised of ice, including a giant CG Ice Monster character.  Since many of the environments were created in Houdini and most characters were established in Maya, inter-software shot lighting required finessing to ensure assets matched their environments seamlessly.

Producer Greg Lyons summarizes the overall experience, “From our studio’s interdepartmental collaborations, to the creative partnership between MSGE, Linda Haberman and Reel FX, ‘Humbugged’ is a testament to teamwork, cooperation and artistic synergy across the board.  Reel FX is proud to be a part of such an iconic American tradition.”

Reel FX VP of Business Development Chuck Peil adds, “We can’t wait for audiences to experience this groundbreaking 3DLive event. Our objective was to deliver a seamlessly integrated mix of visual technology and story with the incredible Radio City Rockettes as the centerpiece. We are confident that guests will feel as passionate about the unique immersive visual approach as we do.”