NVIDIA Helps Bring Short to Life

We meet the two slacker stars of animator/director Tim Heath’s short film Plush Life as they drive to work one morning. Lundo is furry and looks a little like a Muppet. Flint has plastic eyes and wears velveteen with a flame embroidered on his belly. Journey’s ‘Wheel in the Sky’ plays on the radio.

‘The short is an introduction to the two characters and the world they live in,’ says Heath, who expects to continue the story as part of his work as artist in residence in NVIDIA’s digital film group. ‘I think people will be able to relate to the humor.’

Heath animated the film in Autodesk’s Maya and took advantage of NVIDIA’s Gelato 2.2, which releases at SIGGRAPH, for rendering. NVIDIA’s Mango plug-in for Maya supports Maya hair, and Gelato 2.2 now includes new shaders for velvet and for Joe Alter’s ‘Shave and a Haircut.’

‘Creating an internal production environment with Tim as a resident artist helps us make sure we’re moving in the right direction,’ says Dominick Spina, senior product manager at NVIDIA’s professional solutions and digital film group. ‘When Tim was working on these plush characters, we could tweak the shaders to speed the process. It’s great for the product.’

For Heath, after a career spent at Square, Electronic Arts and Industrial Light & Magic, the move to NVIDIA provided a chance to create personal work rather than small parts of large projects.

‘It took four years to complete my first short film,’ he says, ‘because I worked on it at home after work.’ But that film helped him get this job.

‘A friend I had worked with at Square saw the job posting,’ he says. ‘I was coming off Pirates 2 at ILM and thought it was exactly what I wanted to do. The people at NVIDIA liked the film enough to hire me.’

Heath created storyboards and pitched the idea for Plush Life to the digital film group in September and started production in late October. A friend who works at nearby Tippett Studio introduced him to the voice actors.

He animated the characters flat shaded, using playblasts in Maya to see the fur, and then rendered them in Gelato using deep shadows. ‘There are over 1.2 million hairs on Lundo,’ he says. PipelineFX Qube distributed the rendering job, Heath edited it with Adobe Premiere and composited the film using Nuke, now available from The Foundry.

NVIDIA plans to enter Plush Life in various film festivals, but SIGGRAPH attendees can get an early look when the film debuts during the Gelato users group.