Meet the New Stereoscopic Animales

Mexico moves to the 3-D realm with Brijes.

Over the past year, an historic first for Mexican cinema has been in production at Ithrax Productions in Mexico City. Scheduled for release early in 2010 and distributed by Santo Domingo Animation (SDA), Brijes 3D is the first stereoscopic animated feature to be produced in Mexico. It is the second animated feature film directed by Benito Fernandez whose initial effort, Sabel, is also distributed by SDA.

Sabel was finished after 12 years of production,’ notes Fernandez. ‘Many people have said that it is the best animation they have seen in Mexico. At first, we thought about making the last 10 minutes of Sabel in 3-D. But we weren’t sure if Sabel was cut out for the process or not. So we decided to do our second movie, Brijes, in 3-D.’

Brijes 3D is co-produced by Charbel Harp, president of SDA, and Ricardo Gonz’lez Duprat, who also developed the story that was then scripted by Luis Antonio Avalos. ‘It was Charbel’s idea to make Brijes in 3-D,’ states Duprat. ‘The movie was inspired by my favorite animated films and comic books as well as the handcrafted wooden animals called ‘alebrijes’ that are made in the city of Oaxaca.’ Based on indigenous tales from the Oaxaca area of Mexico, Brijes 3D tells the story of legendary animal totems which connect with children as they mature on their journey to adulthood.

In August 2008, I began working as a 3-D producer on the project in Mexico City. I had been contacted by Marius Henry Hoyo, vfx supervisor on the feature, after Lenny Lipton, chief technology officer at RealD in Beverly Hills, had recommended my services as a stereoscopic consultant. RealD is the company that provides the stereoscopic 3-D projection technology for digital cinema theaters.

Brijes 3D uses classic cel animation along with a few CGI elements and a number of miniatures composited into the line art. On my first visit to SDA and Ithrax in August, Marius Hoyo and I set up a stereoscopic workflow to produce separate left and right eye views of the cel animation art. Working with digital effects artists David Castro Ram’rez and Osvaldo Vazquez Guido, procedures for pixel-based horizontal shifts of cel art were created to produce the second eye version of the animation for 3-D. In this way, positive and negative parallax values, to place art back in the space behind, as well as in front of, the motion picture screen were generated. Benito’s brother Diego Fernandez prepared the cell art for the stereoscopic ‘finishing’ stage.

Counting pixels and shifting them left or right to produce the second eye view of the cel animation for 3-D is an accurate way to measure stereoscopic depth as it is projected on the motion picture screen. ‘The regular system for production at Ithrax was hand drawn animation that we scanned, colored and animated with Italian software called Toons,’ observes Hoyo. ‘From Toons we render our finished frames. And most of our post-production has been done in Adobe After Effects and Premiere.’

Some hybrid techniques were developed in AE for proper placement of layers for 3-D. ‘I think our 3-D techniques could be made to work with many compositing software programs,’ notes Hoyo. ‘But After Effects has most of the tools that we need.’

The red/blue anaglyph utility in AE has been used for stereoscopic previewing of the material. ‘The plug-in is quite useful if you know how to use it,’ adds Hoyo. ‘We can even move layers, send things forward or backward, in real time and have a really good feeling of how it’s going to look in 3-D.’

To test the magnification, the Ithrax team uses two DLP projectors with linear polarizers and an eight-foot silver screen. ‘We use side-by-side video of left and right views and a Matrox Dual head to split the video signal to the two projectors,’ says Hoyo. ‘They’re SVGA projectors so we have 1024 x 768 giving us 2048 with the two side-by-side videos. Right now I’m using Final Cut’s Pro Res to run the video and it gives us quite a good quality and runs smoothly on a MacBook.’

A February 2009 press screening of Brijes 3D at the Cinepolis RealD theater in Mexico City created a lot of buzz for the project. How does Brijes look in 3-D? ‘What I’ve seen so far looks amazing,’ says Duprat. ‘Characters and colors pop up out of the screen.’

As a 3-D director, Benito Fernandez is conscious of his role in Mexican animation history. He says, ‘It’s really an honor to develop the first level of stereoscopic 3-D animation in Mexico.’

For more on Brijes 3D, visit www.brijesthemovie.com.