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Pixomondo Creates Large Scale Underwater Scenes for Journey 2 Using Thinkbox Software’s Deadline, Frost and Krakatoa

International visual effects company Pixomondo has created VFX for over 30 feature films as well as numerous television series, commercials, and mixed media projects. With 12 facilities on three continents, the company boasts a true 24/7 workflow and their offices across the globe often collaborate on jobs. Frequently sharing work between studios, the company has a flexible tool pipeline that evolves based on project and artist needs. 

Recently, Pixomondo created 81 fantastical VFX shots for the 3D family tale Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, released in theaters February 2012. Five of Pixomondo’s facilities, including Los Angeles and Burbank, contributed to the project. Much of Pixomondo’s work involved creating sweeping underwater shots of full CG environments filled with explosions, underwater cliffs cleaving, clouds of silt dispersing in the water and lava oozing out of cracks. To achieve these effects and ensure a smooth workflow, Pixomondo employed a number of Thinkbox Software’s tools including the Deadline render management solution, Frost for generating particle meshes and Krakatoa for dust simulations. 

Deadline has been Pixomondo’s standard for render management since the company implemented the solution worldwide in April 2011. Currently, the company has 500 seats of Deadline. The complicated full CG environments in Journey 2 required extensive render times and Deadline was aptly suited to the task. 

“With Deadline, we didn’t have to waste resources render wrangling,” explained Pixomondo VFX Supervisor Michael Wortmann, who is based in Berlin. “When we finished for the day, the LA office could plug in to our workstations and remotely monitor our jobs. Deadline has been very reliable for us. The customization options are nice and it is easily implemented. Thinkbox’s customer service is great, they work with us to accommodate our changing needs.” 

Much of the particle simulation and rendering for Journey 2 were done in Berlin. With 50-70 render nodes, most of their farm was continually in use on this render intensive project. 

“In the beginning, extreme render times were needed. We were able to bring those times down with Vray in Deadline but we were still working on a massive scale,” said Wortmann. “The scene with the Nautilus submarine – which has a width of 25 meters  – is a three-minute-long sequence with all sorts of destruction going on, long trenches to pass through, rocks falling, along with schools of fish and jellyfish and such. On top of rendering all that activity, the film was shot was in full stereo so everything had to be rendered twice. Deadline’s performance was fantastic, even when we had a lot of jobs queued up.” 

“At Pixomondo, we rely on Thinkbox Deadline for our render management needs across all facilities and this was no exception on Journey 2,” added Los Angeles-based Pixomondo CG Supervisor Andrew Roberts. “Our ability to monitor render progress on these demanding scenes, check RAM usage and CPU activity helped us differentiate between data load time vs render time and thus organize cache data more efficiently. We were simultaneously in production on Hugo and Red Tails along with Journey 2, and Deadline made it very easy to share render resources amongst multiple shows, departments (comp, cgfx, lighting) and cater to software specific needs (3ds Max, Hairfarm, Krakatoa, Maya). Our setup allowed us to distribute renders across the world taking advantage of all Pixomondo’s render resources from Berlin to Burbank.” 

At Pixomondo Los Angeles, CG Supervisor Rob Ward relied heavily on Thinkbox’s toolset for shots toward the end of the film in which Luis Guzman greets his adoring fans on a crowded dock with the CG Nautilus and ocean in the background. 

“Boyd [Journey 2 VFX supervisor] sent us some incredibly detailed LIDAR of the surrounding village as well as the dock as a super dense point cloud,” Ward said. “When we tried to process this data, the resulting mesh was not clean enough even for tracking usage. One of our technical artists brought up the idea of using Frost to mesh these point clouds and within a couple hours had a very nicely meshed set piece ready for tracking artists to use.” 

 © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Los Angeles artists received a similarly dense point cloud of sections of the Nautilus that were physically built as set pieces including the interiors and the rear deck that Sean and Hank stand on to fight a giant eel. 

"Again, Frost worked quite nicely," said Ward. "We loaded in a section of XYZ formatted data, set a threshold and out popped a mesh the modelers could use for scale and detail reference." 

Since much of the work Pixomondo did on Journey 2 is set underwater, the artists had to create thousands of air bubbles and they relied heavily on Frost to make these bubbles. A major shot in the film features the Nautilus sub torpedoing a large rock that is blocking its way. 

"For this shot, we had to create a realistic torpedo trail and the actual underwater explosion," explained Wortmann. "We didn’t want to do just a volumetric simulation but instead wanted the explosion to be filled with air bubbles that would burst but were filled with dirt and silt. We ended up doing the particle simulation first in Fume, then had it refract through Frost. I didn’t think this would be possible but it came out great. We had to do this particle simulation in Frost for giant sphere with a 20-meter diameter and had to mimic all the air being compressed underwater. We had the Fume simulation inside and could render the bubble like glass in Frost to see how it would look before making it final." 

A mix of Frost and Fume was also used to create the ‘alka seltzer’ effect when giant rocks hit the water leaving a trail through the water.  Additionally, Pixomondo used Frost for an up close shot of the torpedo coming out of the torpedo hatch and the bubbles that come off the propellers. 

"It’s pretty unbelievable what we were able to pull out of Frost," Wortmann said. "Even with high particle counts, we were never let down. The quality of the geometry is excellent and rendering any shape with fancy effects is possible. I’m really impressed with how stable Frost is. We played around a lot with the explosion and really tested its limits but it always performed beautifully." 

© 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

Another challenge Frost helped Pixomondo tackle on Journey 2 was the creation of large quantities of sea life. Pixomondo technical artist Sungwook Su worked out a very dense fish swarm system using particle flow for motion and Frost to turn thousands of fish into a mesh that could be both worked with easily in scene, and rendered without splitting out into an uncomfortable number of layers. The simplified shot layout, rendering and compositing were used on a number of jellyfish swarm shots. Foreground jellyfish were rendered individually in Maya with Vray and the background swarms, which contained hundreds of complex sections of geometry, were handled with Frost in 3ds Max. 

Thinkbox’s Krakatoa was also used on select shots, most significantly to create the torpedo propeller effect and underwater bubbles. 

"Krakatoa is very powerful and can do stuff no other program can do. When it made sense to bring it in, it always worked and we were able to add any additional elements to shots as needed," concluded Wortmann. 

About Thinkbox Software

Thinkbox Software provides creative solutions for visual artists in entertainment, engineering and design. Developer of high-volume particle renderer Krakatoa and render farm management software Deadline, the team of Thinkbox Software solves difficult production problems with intuitive, well-designed solutions and remarkable support. We create tools that help artists manage their jobs and empower them to create worlds and imagine new realities. Thinkbox was founded in 2010 by Chris Bond, founder of Frantic Films. 

About Pixomondo

Pixomondo is an international visual effects company boasting 24-hour production capabilities, sharing projects across a global network of 11 facilities in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Berlin, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Beijing, London, Munich, Burbank, Toronto and Hamburg. Founded by CEO Thilo Kuther in 2001, Pixomondo has created visual effects for more than 30 feature films including Journey 2: The Mysterious IslandRed TailsHugoSucker Punch, Super 8Fast Five, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and 2012. The company is currently in production on upcoming features including Snow White and the Huntsman and The Amazing Spiderman, and TV series including Game of Thrones, Terra Nova, Hawaii 5-O and Grimm. In addition to visual effects, Pixomondo delivers the full range of creative, production and post services required to produce design-driven storytelling for commercials. More information on Pixomondo can be found here: