Hey there everybody! For volume 3 of RWBY Chibi I had the opportunity to step into the dual role of Lighting AND Compositing, which in past volumes have generally been separated between our two Animation Post teams. Thankfully I've had the talents of Eric Tello and Alan Matthewman to work along with in our streamlined Chibi Post team, letting the three of us help make the show look better than ever along with the rest of the Chibi crew!
With a fuller hand in bringing shots to the finish line, I thought it might be fun to detail the Post process in some of my favorite shots! They'll be auto-resized on this journal, but you should be able to expand the images with a right click, open image in new tab.
For the punchline of Episode 5: Girl's Night Out our Chibi Director Paula Decanini asked (half jokingly, I think) if I could get the girl's fiery handiwork to be a little reminiscent of the opening moments from The Crow. Obviously our color palette is more cartoonishly vibrant, but it did help me get a sense of where to start on the look and flame effects.
To walk it back a bit, we start with our script, this one written by the fantastic Tom Alvarado describing the shot as:
EXT. VALE STREETS - NIGHT
The girls stand outside a nightclub as the building BURNS.
They look at the flames with accomplishment.
Next the animator (in this case, Chibi Lead Animator Ian Kedward) works up a drawn animatic timed to the character dialogue for the entire sequence including our shot in question.
After going over the rough details of timing, staging, and action with the director, Ian will block out the shot and then animate it in full. In this particular instance there isn't a great deal of character animation going on since the comedy beat focus is on the burning building itself. As such Ian going to be more concerned about camera framing and character placement:
With that approved the shots finally move on over to Post for Lighting and Rendering. In many of the outdoor environments we have already set up simple, reusable lights in advance to get a good quick starting point approximating the sun/moon and some ambient light from the atmosphere. Vale has some of that in place for night from previous episodes, but it needs customization and thoughtful use for our shot specifics.
Keeping in mind this shot AND the following (one which is at a reverse angle) I position the moonlight on the girl's backs and give it a cold, cyan/blue tint. That way there will be some light shaping on all the buildings that will also provide a color fill for the fire lights to come. In addition the contrasting blue light on the girls here will help them stand out later and establishes a logical reason to add a nice sharp rim light in the next shot, which will help them against the background there too!
I test all of this together during lighting setup, but now that we're ready to render we'll produce the environment separately from the characters. In many instances this saves render computation time, since the backdrop won't move but the characters will. Generally speaking characters will render much quicker than the larger, more complex background, so saving time here is always a good step!
CHARACTERS AND FILL LIGHT ENHANCEMENTS
Next up I'll add a bit of red/orange fill to the soon to be crispy buildings and the far city backdrop. This helps to pop the intended center of focus from the rest of the frame. In this case I'm doing this in both Post phases since I can set up rough light direction in Lighting and better fine tune the colors in Compositing. The two steps intertwine with one another, and it's not uncommon to need to go back to lighting to make some subtle, needed tweaks now and again.
It's also high time to add the girls back in now that we're Comping! As you can see they're present, but not very prominent at all with just the moon on their backs. We're well past ready to start heating this town up!
I have a series of lights at key areas I'd like to be prominently emanating fire, mostly the front of the building and around the top. The lights all blend with one another but I've actually got them in three separate layers so that they can flicker interdependently to keep things looking random and chaotic. We're still just rendering single frames for these backdrop elements, but in Compositing I'll be able to make those single frames simulate full motion along with the fire effects.
The girls also finally get their fire rim light which really helps them stand out much better without being TOO attention hogging from the building itself! Now that the street is picking up an orange tinted light bounce, their moonlit backs are also contrasting nicely as planned.
Fire time! I started with the rim of the building to get our shape and fire look established. Originally I was just going to have it on the balcony and a bit on the roof but Paula wanted me to go BIG so things spread from there to get some real property damage going! The fire itself is mostly a particle effect I've created within After Effects using a few different techniques to get a cartoon flame moving at an appropriate speed. I also have a few hints of actual flame footage mixed in both for comedic effect and to help sell the look a little further.
THE FINAL IMAGE
Backdraft! Here's the part I was really preparing for; getting the interior ablaze! Using masks for the windows and balcony I work in similar effects to the exterior which will go hand-in-hand with my flickering lights to really get things in sync. Next I add some thick, black smoke behind the blaze, and a subtle smoggy haze on the streets in front of the main building. I also enhance the girl's shadow for a little more contrast and to have it flicker unevenly to simulate the larger fire light source. Lastly we have some subtle cinders floating around the building that will be much more prominent in the shot to follow!
I hope you enjoyed this brief look at the lighting and rendering process for Girl's Night Out! I'll try to do a few more of these as time goes on, since Chibi provides lots of fun new lighting challenges from time to time.