We present an exclusive interview with Mo Davoudian, President and Creative Director of Brain Zoo Studios, the company that worked on the animated film, which was released a few weeks ago in the U.S., Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, directed by Eric Radomsky and Leo Riley.
How did began the collaboration between Brain Zoo Studios and Marvel for the creation of Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United?
We had worked with Marvel in the past and have a wonderful working relationship with them. They are collaborative and trusting and appreciated how we work and the quality of our animation. It is a natural fit.
What were the main technologies that you used during the processing?
Maya, Mudbox, ZBrush, After Effects and Mental Ray.
Have you received any special instructions from Marvel?
One important orientation was the look of the film. Marvel did not want photorealistic animation but rather something stylized for younger audiences, children. They wanted a unique style. Together with the Marvel team, artists at Brain Zoo studios spent an extensive amount of time dedicated to look development. A key challenge was to emulate the comic book look that is synonymous with Marvel and respect the style of the source material. Brain Zoo Studios and Marvel Animation together developed a technique to allow for more robust animation and visual effects enhancing the film’s action-packed sequences without diverging from the “2.5D” style.
What were the main difficulties you faced?
There is a lot of action in “Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United”, which increases the volume of shots and effects, which consequently increases the volume that needs to be rendered. Animators are always looking for ways to reduce rendering time to leave more time for creative exploration. Having been in the business for almost 2 decades we have integrated a lot of best practices notably from the gaming world, nonetheless, during this project we had a “wow” moment as it became evident just how quickly we are able to get things done. Over the years we have been taking the benefits of different animation methodologies and they all came together on this project to create a really smooth work flow. Time is one of the most valuable assets to clients and being able to push our pipeline further and provide speed, efficiency and quality was key.
There was also the challenge during look development to respect a comic book, cartoony look and still do justice to the current design trends of characters. There is a unique cross over between western style and anime.
Could you explain in detail how you develop your work? How many people worked on the project and how long did it take?
First we work on the visual design and references. Then we produce paintings and lighting studies. Next we do the storyboards and animatics. The next phase of the process is to build the assets and do a rough layout of the story. We add texture, shade and rig the characters. Shots are prepared while the final models are being completed. We can then take the rigged characters and animate them. Each model is placed in a hero shot that will be used to set the quality and style of the end product. Once the hero shots are approved, we make necessary adjustments and finalize the project. The time and number of people it takes depend on many factors such as complexity of the shots, effects required, number of characters to animate, realism required, etc.
The work on this animated film will lead to other future collaborations with Marvel, perhaps on live action films?
We are currently working on a second feature film with Marvel, though we can’t say what the content is. Stay tuned.
What are your feelings for having collaborated with Marvel, a company that for years has dominated the entertainment market both in comics and in the movie and animation?
Working with Marvel on “Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United” has been one of the greatest experiences so far working with a client. They are wonderful, trusting collaborators because they are able to recognize the strengths that each party brings to the table.
What are your next projects?
We are also continuing to develop our award-winning short film “Pepe & Lucas” with the goal of making it into a series for children. Our “Pepe & Lucas” iBook for iPad is currently available on iTunes, offering the full short film for children and parents to enjoy. We are also developing the book further for other formats.
We have a second in-house short film in development. The register is very different from “Pepe & Lucas”, taking me back to my roots. It’s a boys’ actions sci-fi fantasy .
Finally, Brain Zoo always looks for ways to stay ahead of the curve. For example, one technical area of development is how to produce the same quality of action sequences with fewer layers, relying more on camera angles and eliminating the pre-rendering step. If the image is beautiful, the audience cannot tell how many layers were involved. We can get the same results with less overhead and better efficiency.