8 Second 'Proof of Concept' Animation Test

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In 2001, Topix got a 'sister company' named Mr. X. While Topix would continue focussing on animation for TV commercials, Mr. X was set up to create special effects for movies. It was understood from the get-go that there could well be some cross-pollination between the two companies. We could share computer power, knowledge, and maybe even personnel. And sharing of people did indeed happen in December of 2001, when Mr. X got an opportunity to bid on some work for a film to be directed by Levar Burton of 'Star Trek' and 'Reading Rainbow' fame. It was a tale involving Santa's reindeer, and would require a lot of CG animal effects, in the style of 'Babe' and 'Dr. Doolittle'. The problem with this test is that they would only have three weeks to pull it off, whereas other shops in town had been working on theirs for a couple of months. Another, more serious, problem was that Mr. X had no one available to do it. So they came to Topix, and I agreed to see what was possible.

Our task was to create a short sequence of the reindeer playing 'air tag'. How would they fly? How would they tag one another? With no time to overthink things, I went on instinct, thinking back to what I'd done with the Honeycomb Craver a few years earlier. Rather than float through the air, the reindeer would bound between invisible 'ground' points; taking giant leaps rather than just waving their legs back and forth.

We purchased the reindeer model from Viewpoint, and spent some time with a real reindeer just north of Toronto, before plunging right in. Matt Crookshank spent two weeks texturing and rigging the hi-res deer model while Greg Klein and myself created the animation, based on my inital animatic. We also got to work with a couple of talented artists at Mr. X, who created painted backdrops for the final piece, which exceeded everyone's expectations. So much so that Mr. X won not just the air tag sequence, but all of the film's FX work.