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‘Legend of Enyo’ is an animated television adventure series for children aged 8 to 12, centred on a tribe living in a prehistoric world that is slowly dying, and their struggle to survive as they travel to reach a safe haven in a Hidden Valley.

Developed and produced at Flying Bark Productions in Sydney from a feature film concept originating at a company in Denmark, a full series of 26 24-minute episodes was completed and aired during 2009 and 2010 in Australia on Channel 7 and in northern Europe. The production team, composed mainly of freelance artists, at Flying Bark that created the distinctive characters, assets and environments has since broken up, but we met and spoke to three members, still very enthusiastic and ready to share information about how this unusual project was made.

Research at Mungo
Producer Avrill Stark explained that Flying Bark suggested transferring the film idea into a series, and divided it into separate stories. The team produced artwork for the look and further developed it into a dramatic, epic style production, and German broadcaster ZDF also checked the story for validity and potential. Major story themes are topical, including the environment, spirituality and human relationships. The main character Enyo is a young boy striving to become a skilled hunter who discovers that he is in fact a shaman destined to lead his tribe, the Doodjies, on their long, often dangerous journey.

Art Director on the project was Piero Sgro, who worked on look development for the sparse, arid landscapes of Enyo's world. "Early in production, a small team made up of myself, the director and the key lighter took a short research trip out to Lake Mungo National Park in central NSW for reference," said Piero. "While the Doodjie environment had to be quite distinct from anything humans could relate to, we here in Australia are very fortunate to have country like the area around Mungo that closely resembles the world we were envisioning. The desolate, alien looking land forms range from wide and sweeping to tall and brittle, visually fitting perfectly with the story's conditions."

Environments were a combination of 2D and 3D elements blended together. After the Art Department painted skies and distant landscapes in Photoshop, set elements for each environment were modelled and textured using Zbrush, Hedus UVLayout, Photoshop and Maya. Most of the texturing was based on photographic reference, stylized yet lifelike. As well as Lake Mungo, a key reference location was the Gobi Desert of China and Mongolia.

Alien Environments
"Generally, the blocking stages were created using Maya. After receiving colour concept artwork from me or a layout design from the Art Department, the modeller would first complete the basic geometry and correct scale, which the director and I would view in progress stages. Typically, we'd place cameras around the sets and look at the location through the eyes of a Doodjie. If we had prepared storyboards, the modeller would try to match sets for the key shots to the boards as closely as possible. Depending on the artist, ZBrush might be used for a more organic final structure."

Enyo's deteriorating world is only able to support a tenuous existence for the Doodjie tribe, explaining why they are trying to find the Hidden Valley where life is as it was many years ago, lush and plentiful. "Because the majority of the series is set in dry, bleak landscapes, we had to keep the vegetation, needed to provide people with food, to a minimum as a story point," Piero explained. "However, we introduced at least one new plant form per episode to show that the tribe was actually covering large distances across different lands. There is more than meets the eye to some of these plants, some of which, unlike plants on our Earth, are capable of eating animals the size of large horses. The skies were kept fairly earth-like, to keep the story from becoming too unrealistic, though you'll observe extra moons now and then."

Shedding Light
The environments and backgrounds in the project – skies and clouds, trees, buildings and furnishings - have a photoreal quality. Lights of all kinds are among the standout features of the images, including sunlight and shadow, the moonlight, firelight, reflections in eyes and water. Piero comes from long experience in 2D environment design and colour styling, and was keen to use theatrical, sometimes abstract lighting. "I feel a lot of 3D production reference realistic lighting too often, which at times lacks mood and drama. This may have challenged our experienced 3D lighter, but he handled it well. Again, I'd present a colour sketch concept with lighting, roughly indicating how I thought the shot or location would work. As we developed the Doodjie world and it gradually became familiar to the artists, the lighters were able to light locations on their own without concepts.

Lighting TD Tim Kenyon worked with a team of lighters and compositors working out of Global Digital Creations in China. "It's easy in CGI animation to try to push the technical boundaries of the medium and forget that the goal is telling a story. Though we aimed to create lifelike, natural lighting, this never interfered with setting the best mood for a scene. During early discussions with the Series Creator, Director and Art Director we decided that the atmosphere should evolve and grow starker as the series progressed."

Painterly Inspiration
Tim drew inspiration from cinematographers Conrad C Hall, Robert Elswit and Tom Stern. "Some inspiration also comes from the light and colour techniques of painters from Rembrandt to contemporary Australian artists such as Phillip Wolfhagen. For one episode we even chose a painting by surrealist Salvador Dali as reference. Each time I started working on a new episode, I would meet with the Director and Art Director to discuss the tone and mood we wanted to create, and what references to draw from for that episode. Although we always progressed and evolved the style, I always ensured the lighting concepts still fit within the show's original framework.
During development, the team created looks for the primary times of day - mid-day, sunrise/sunset, twilight and night. Tim said, "Most of the show takes place in very open environments under full sunlight so it was important to get the look of these key times correct, both technically and as a stylistic point. Once the look was established, character and location light rigs were created and locked off to maintain continuity throughout the show."

These rigs could be adjusted to suit the scene. A character's light rig could produce either very harsh midday lighting or adjusted to a softer diffused early morning light. During the series the characters encounter new locations and scenarios requiring a customized approach. For each new situation, key lighting concepts were created and translated into rigs and rendering setups. In several episodes, lighting styles for the times of day were almost completely replaced to suit the story.

Render Strategy
"We were lighting and rendering using Mental Ray for Maya then compositing in Nuke. The setups used a mixture of Image Based Lighting and custom-made reusable light rigs. They needed to be flexible to keep the amount of time spent adjusting each shot down to a minimum. We also used Nuke to make final adjustments to the lighting in comp."

Most shots would have between five and 15 render passes, and character passes were rendered separately from the environment to be able to light them independently and gain additional control over the grading of both. Occlusion passes gave subtle shadow details on the characters and character/environment interactions. For example, when a character touches a wall in diffused lighting, the occlusion pass would create a slight darkness where the character's hand came in contact with the wall. They also used a normals pass for additional rim and fill light tweaks in compositing. The depth pass produced fog and depth haze, and a mask for creating depth of field in the composite.

The wide forest shots were a processing challenge. The team broke up foreground, midground and backgrounds for easier rendering and treated textures and model complexity as separate resolution requirements per shot. Elise explained, "We worked in LOD builds, considering each asset's design and its common use while in preproduction. It also allowed complete control over every asset placement so the director had full flexibility on the look of each shot."

Subtle Style
While at first glance, 'Legend of Enyo' may seem to have a realistic look and feel, early on the decision was made to stylise the assets and backgrounds in a way that was subtle but strong enough to have its own identity. Because a large percentage of the Art Department came from a traditional 2D animated background like Piero - most were former Disney artists - this was a welcome approach. Most of the effects concept design was done by 2D FX artists, producing colour sketches, 2D animations or rough animations in After Effects or Flash, passed to the 3D artists to translate. They generally avoided magical fantasy colours for the effects, keeping them earthy and desaturated.

Among Modelling & Technical Director Elise Deglau's responsiblilities were special effects, many of which involved character interactions. "We were using Maya fluids for special shots where characters wade through water, for example, and often treated the foggy episodes with depth layers in the edit. Explosions and fire would have been tricks with lighting, rendered as a Maya effect and edited in," she said.

2D/3D Blending
Piero said, "Like the lighters, some of the texture artists also found stylising the textures a challenge. But once they understood how to blend a 2D creative idea with a 3D texture, they ran with it. I wanted to see the occasional brush stroke in the textures, whether it was on a rock or on a skin tone. Texture artists frequently carry texture libraries around with them but as the style and look of this production was very specific, we tried to control the texture library as much as possible for consistency.

"Many textures were based on photos that Piero, other artists on the team and I took," said Tim. "Although photos were used as a starting point, the final textures were a blend of photographic and painted elements. The shaders for these textures were generated in Mental Ray utilising multiple layering of maps to achieve the desired look. Normals based bump and displacement maps were used, and a blend of raytraced reflections and reflection maps."

Rocks and More Rocks
Piero said, "I also encouraged the artists to be creative with texture choices, perhaps using an aquatic coral-like texture for wood or a marine skin pattern for plants. After all, this is not planet earth. Most exterior textures had to look weathered by the harsh conditions, but within the dark underworld locations, you will find some of the vibrant colours of the dry world come to life."
Also, despite appearances, their rock texture library wasn't actually that big. Piero preferred form and lighting to determine a change in mood and location, rather than having too many basic texture variants, such as rocks and ground surfacing. However, while many textures could be reused in multiple episodes, several episode-specific textures were made for locations only encountered once or twice. Elise said, "We had default rocks and feature rocks. Each episode needed its own feel as the characters arrived somewhere new. The default rocks would also have to be treated, perhaps just a hue change, to fit into new sets. We swapped out variations and painted the same texture type to fit a new rock shape." The library also contained low and high resolution versions of many textures for close-ups.

Texture Tiles
Producing a high quality 3D series of 26 episodes, travelling through unfamiliar territory, on a modest TV budget required the team to be clever at convincing the audience that every episode played out within a completely new, very large set. Each episode contained several hexagonal sub-sets about 100 metres wide, that could be stitched together on any side, and work as a seamless part of a master set.

"I developed a handful of what I call 'texture tiles' from which, say, a four sided rock pattern can be repeated on all sides endlessly. We only needed a handful of these tiles to cover a long and vast ground surface. We had a few variants on these tiles, such as cracked up dried earth, or mossy ground which would work well for a darker swampy area. The same rule applied to rocks and walls. These tiles could wrap around various shapes with very little touching up.
"The less complicated the texture library is, the less complicated the prop and element library would be. Dressing the large sets came together smoothly, with most dressing elements sitting nicely together."

Tribal Looks
The characters had to resemble human beings enough for viewers to identify with them, but still look exotic and interesting enough to be recognisable as a different 'race' and hold the audience's attention. "We researched tribes from around the world as reference, but generally found they were all too distinctive and colourful in their dress and decoration. Our brief from the original concept creative was to give the tribe a muted colour palette, blending in with the harsh dry land. We also tried to portray all Doodjie people as equals in design and costume, most wearing very similar armour and dressings. However, a lot of effort was put into the three young lead characters' faces and expressions, giving each a unique look but, at the same time, keeping the differences subtle.
During look development, certain design elements helped the team establish the Doodjie tribe as a nature culture. Physically, they wanted the characters' looks to be almost human, especially in behaviour and personality, but also have some obvious alien features. Piero said, "This tribe has worked hard to stay alive, and this fact should show mentally and physically. They are land travellers living under harsh conditions. They have overstated hands and feet and strong bodies, but are undernourished. They often need to hide and blend into their dangerous surroundings. They also respect the land, only take what they need and travel as light as they can. Like other tribal people, their personal traits are important to their identity."

This story includes some evil villains, led by Quag Naga, a power hungry tribesman who disappeared for many years into the wilderness and has now returned to wipe out the tribe and make his own way to the Hidden Valley with his henchmen. "Although Quag and his men are the same race as the Doodjies, we made their skin colour paler to show that they had been living and hiding dark, cold places avoiding the sun, to give them a creepier, menacing look."
These marauders also wore more bone and leather dressings, harder than the dressings of the Doodjies, which were softer in look. Other outsiders the Doodjies meet on their journey are not too dissimilar in tone to themselves. As the young shaman, Enyo's own colour is mysteriously different to everyone else's, and an integral part of his lost past and his journey forward.

Rig Economy
Elise explained that various characters could be based on the main characters, with a simple texture change and perhaps a new mask or armour, and use the same rig, but others with size and proportion changes would need a unique rig as well. The animation department started with Anzovin software for Maya on the body rig and then added in custom controls, all built in Maya, where needed for more complexity. Most of the characters could use the same base rig from show to show. Some creatures had separate rigs to animate tentacles and other special body parts in close up shots.

"We had our own facial rig built in Maya. Much thought went into the eye textures and natural skin wrinkles to suit the character type," said Elise. "Some parts of the eyes were made separately to give animators as much control as possible to express emotions. Accounting for the dangling clothing added considerably to the complexity. Quag Naga and Shamani were among the most complex with their overlapping armour and clothing, which always has to be calculated during animation and moved out of the way."

Words: Adriene Hurst
Images: Courtesy of Flying Bark Productions
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