Kesif – Disney Imaginations 2014 Finalist Animation

Technologies: Maya,  MEL, Mental Ray, After Effects

This was the animation I worked on for our team’s project for the 2014 Imaginations Design Competition for Walt Disney Imagineering. Our project ended up being selected as one of the 6 finalists out of 231 total entries. My other teammates were John Nappo, Sade Oba and Gabrielle Patterson. You can view the HD animation on Vimeo, so I highly recommend that you view it there.

Note: This project was conceived by the University of Pennsylvania Team Keşif and created for the 2014 Walt Disney Imagineering’s Imaginations Design Competition. This project is the sole property of Walt Disney Imagineering and all rights to use these ideas are exclusive to Walt Disney Imagineering. The competition is a way for students and recent graduates to showcase their talents and for Walt Disney Imagineering to identify new talent.

A little background about the project
This year’s competition’s prompt was to: “Transform a city for the enjoyment of its citizens and visitors by making use of existing infrastructure.” After discussing different options for location, we settled on Istanbul, Turkey because of its unique layout and rich culture and history. We centered our experience around the Bosphorus Bridge, which is a bridge situated on the Bosphorus Strait that connects Europe and Asia. We thought that it was a great central location that symbolized the “east meets west” culture that is evident in Istanbul. In addition, the fact that there is a vibrant ferry boat traffic on the water made the bridge an even better location for our experience.
Keşif, meaning “discovery” in Turkish, aims to depict the subtle aspects of Istanbul life and culture by using the Bosphorus as a platform. Each week, we show a “snapshot” of Istanbul life under the Bosphorus Bridge, something subtle that makes Istanbul distinctly Istanbul, but perhaps goes unnoticed by citizens. We do this through a dynamic, kinetic sphere display right under the bridge. This might give you an idea of what a kinetic sphere display looks like in real life. We were inspired by that concept and decided to scale it up to fit under the whole bridge. We also wanted the experience to come to you, so we came up with the idea of platforms that move across the surface of the water to reach the ferries. On top of that, guests are also able to take home a reminder of their experience on the water — a token that has the week’s snapshot on it. What makes the token so magical is that the snapshot on the token comes to life through an augmented reality mobile app that we have created for our experience.
I can go into a lot more detail about this project, but I’m planning to do that in a separate blog post so that I can focus on the technical aspects for this page.

The Animation
This 1 minute animation took an incredibly long time, but I’m very happy with what we created. Pretty much everything was modeled by us: some of the more mechanical objects like the Luxo lamp, pencils and the monitor were modeled by Sade and John in Solidworks, the classroom and bedroom environments were modeled by Gabrielle, and I modeled the outdoor Istanbul scene. Everything was put together and animated in Maya.
I had done a little bit of animation before with the Yoda model, but this project was on a whole other scale. I rigged and animated the little kid and her mom, along with the teacher in the classroom scene. I had never animated the camera before so I learned all about that too. But perhaps the biggest and most exciting technical challenge I faced was the kinetic sphere system. I needed a way to create a fluid animation using a lot of spheres (there are approximately 14,331 spheres below the bridge in that video.) I won’t explain all of the steps I took to accomplish it, because I want to write about the whole process in a blog post. But to summarize, what I did was to:
  1. Create the animation I needed (two dervishes spinning towards each other)
  2. Render it from the top using a depth pass
  3. Use the depth pass renders to displace a plane made of 14,331 points
  4. Write a MEL script that creates a sphere at each vertex (it also happened to be my first time with MEL, but it was easy to pick up for my purposes)
  5. Write another MEL script that moves each sphere to its respective vertex on the plane each frame. The way I did this was through the expression editor, because I found out that expressions in Maya are run on every frame. This step is crucial because if I had left it at Step 4, the spheres would never change position and stay fixed at their Frame 1 positions.

If you can’t tell already, I’m really happy with the way this system turned out, because when I was first thinking of how to solve this challenge I had no idea how. It took a lot of trial and error, but eventually it all worked out.  After I rendered out all of the scenes, I put everything together in After Effects.