Sunday, January 12th, 2020 Posted by Jim Thacker

The 10 best VFX and animation breakdowns of 2019

Discover the best technical breakdown videos from 2019, from movie and broadcast effects to animation, motion graphics and personal R&D work, as determined by over CG Channel 120,000 Facebook followers.

Each day, we scour YouTube and Vimeo for the best, boldest and most beautiful breakdown videos to showcase online, created by anyone from the world’s largest VFX and animation studios to individual artists.

And each January, we take the ones that get the most reaction – views, likes and shares – from over 120,000 followers of the CG Channel Facebook feed, to compile our list of the best breakdowns of the previous year.

This year’s list includes some amazing work from right across the CG industry, divided up by sector: from movie and broadcast visual effects to motion graphics and personal R&D projects.

Most of the categories are unchanged from our 2018 run-down, but there were also some great breakdowns of music videos and games art this year, so we’ve reinstated those categories from previous years’ lists.

It goes without saying that all the CG on display is excellent, but bear in mind that this isn’t a list of the biggest or best movies or TV shows of 2019: it’s a run-down of the best breakdowns. Editing, presentation, and the quality of the making-of material on display all count for a lot here, too.

For a daily selection of CG shorts, cinematics, demo reels and R&D tests, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. But to discover the 10 best VFX and animation breakdowns of 2019, read on…

Best Movie Breakdown (VFX)

Click the image above to watch the breakdown video on Vimeo

Title: Bottleship’s work on Shanghai Fortress
Studio: Bottleship VFX

It was a great year for Chinese blockbusters, with both sci-fi epic The Wandering Earth (see breakdown videos here and here) and Russian-Chinese fantasy Viy 2 (see a breakdown here) featuring in our shortlist.

Ultimately, Bottleship VFX’s breakdown of Shanghai Fortress won out, with its epic city destruction sequence getting more response than even DNEG’s breakdown of its Oscar-winning VFX on First Man.

Tech notes: Bottleship VFX used 3ds Max plugins thinkingParticles for destruction sims and Fume FX for smoke; and Houdini for water. Rendering was done in V-Ray and compositing in Nuke.

Watch Bottleship VFX founder Hristo Velev discuss the simulation work in Shanghai Fortress

Best Movie Breakdown (Animation)

Title: Making of TKWWBK
Studio: Glassworks

Although Disney’s Frozen 2 and Pixar’s Toy Story 4 dominated the box office, it was a more unusual movie animation project that produced our most-viewed breakdown.

Glassworks’ beautiful title sequence for underrated Arthurian fantasy movie The Kid Who Would Be King draws inspiration from 1970s childrens’ books, blending 2D and non-photorealistic 3D to great effect.

Tech notes: 3D characters were rendered with toon outlines and split into CMYK channels in Photoshop to mimic halftone printing. Glassworks used a range of 3D tools, including Cinema 4D, Houdini and Maya.

Read more about Glassworks’ rendering workflow on TKWWBK on 3D artist Gergely Wootsch’s blog

Best Broadcast Breakdown

Title: The Man in the High Castle Season 3 Visual Effects Breakdowns – Barnstorm VFX
Studio: Barnstorm VFX

Although Game of Thrones made the shortlist for the fourth year running, it was Amazon’s Philip K. Dick-inspired alternate history series The Man in the High Castle that generated our top TV breakdown.

Barnstorm VFX’s Emmy-nominated effects included warships steaming under the Golden Gate Bridge, digital crowds filling the streets of Manhattan, and – most spectacularly – the destruction of the Statue of Liberty.

Tech notes: In the Statue of Liberty shots, the statue, water, boats and planes are fully CG. Barnstorm VFX adopted Blender as its primary 3D tool for previous series, using the software again for Season 3.

Read more about Barnstorm VFX’s work on The Man in the High Castle on Animation World Network

Best Commercial Breakdown

Title: BMW Legend – Making of
Studio: MPC

Strictly speaking, our most-watched ad breakdown of 2019 was Thai studio Yggdrazil Group’s making-of for this utterly bonkers commercial for Chia Tai fertilizer, but the video itself had been released earlier.

Of the breakdowns posted this year, MPC took top spot for its VES Award-nominated ad for the BMW X7, showing the car facing storybook hazards from floods to giant construction worker ‘Roy the Destroyer’.

Tech notes: MPC used Leica scanners during tech scouting to previs Roy based on the real-world location. 3D work was done in Houdini and Maya, and rendered in Arnold. The spot was composited in Nuke.

Read more about MPC’s VFX for BMW ‘Legend’ on the studio’s website

Best Game Cinematic Breakdown

Title: Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming – Breakdown
Studio: Realtime

Yoozoo Games’ browser-based strategy title Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming generated our two most popular cinematics breakdowns this year, including this one of the Dragonstone and Winterfell castles.

For Realtime, the most challenging aspect of the 135-second full CG trailer was recreating the characters from the original TV series accurately – a feat accomplished entirely without 3D scans of the actors.

Tech notes: The characters were sculpted in ZBrush based on photo references and textured in Mari. Environment modelling was done in 3ds Max, texturing in Substance Painter and rendering in V-Ray.

Read more about Realtime’s pipeline on the GoT: Winter is Coming cinematic on Chaos Group’s blog

Best Music Video Breakdown

Title: Making of for Ed Sheeran’s music video ‘Cross Me’
Studio: MPC

MPC’s promo for Ed Sheeran’s ‘Cross Me’ makes motion-capture both the medium and the message, as a mocap-suited dancer morphs into a 3D avatar of Sheeran, recreated from his Madame Tussaud’s waxwork.

The gleefully freewheeling video experiments with both tech – iPhones were used for markerless facial capture – and visual styles, dissolving the characters into semi-abstract clusters of lines and shapes.

Tech notes: MPC used a range of tools, including Cinema 4D, Houdini, Maya, Unreal Engine, X-Particles and ZBrush. Houdini’s Vellum solver created a cloth-like tearing transition between the characters.

Read more about MPC’s pipeline on ‘Cross Me’ in an interview with Greyscalegorilla

Best Game Art Breakdown

Title: Spider-Man PS4 Keyframe Animation Reel
Artist: Chris Lalli

Wired’s game of the year for 2018, and the second-best-selling PlayStation 4 title of all time, Marvel’s Spider-Man is that rarest of things: a genuinely great game based on a superhero comic franchise.

Insomniac Games senior animator Chris Lalli’s breakdown takes the characters from previs to final animation, including cinematics and combat moves for Doc Ock, Mr Negative – and, of course, Spider-Man himself.

Tech notes: The action is completely hand-keyed – there is no mocap involved – with Lalli handling both character and camera animation. All of the work shown is either a Maya Playblast, or running in-engine.

Read more about Insomniac Games’ character rigging and animation workflow on Rigging Dojo

Best Motion Graphics

See the breakdown material for the film on Behance

Title: R I G H T – A Reverse Film
Artist: SOMEI

R I G H T, Somei Sun’s mind-twisting brand film for Vivo’s reversible, twin-screened NEX smartphone, sets itself an unusual creative challenge: to make sense when watched either backwards or forwards.

The resulting full CG animation makes full use of time reversal, depicting the protagonist in two alternate futures: as a masked salaryman drone, and realising his childhood ambition to become an astronaut.

Tech notes: The film uses a classic motion design pipeline: Cinema 4D and OctaneRender, plus Adobe’s Creative Cloud tools and Mixamo stock animation, with Marvelous Designer for clothing.

Read more about the making of R I G H T in SOMEI’s Behance gallery

Best Technical Reel (Studio)

Title: WeFX Studio Tiger Showreel
Studio: WeFX Studio

Taiwan’s WeFX Studio has created photorealistic big cats for a range of projects, from feature films to Korean fantasy TV series Hotel del Luna – and even an ad for condoms.

Its technical reel shows off one such creature, created as a digital double of a real female tiger for a Chinese movie, elegantly breaking down the CG cat’s character rig and render passes.

Tech notes: The tiger was sculpted in ZBrush and retopologised, rigged and animated in Maya, using Ziva VFX for muscle simulation. ZBrush’s FiberMesh was used to generate hair curves, and Yeti for final hair work.

Read more about WeFX’s creature pipeline on InCG Media
(Read an English version of the story via Google Translate)

Best Technical Reel (Individual)

Title: breakdown
Artist: Mike Poretti

VFX artist Mike Poretti’s resume includes spells at Mr. X, Pixomondo and Intelligent Creatures, but he features in this year’s run-down for one of his personal projects: Elektra.

The photorealistic human character is a long-term development project, but this early breakdown of the muscle system proved so compelling that it becomes the first work in progress to top our list.

Tech notes: Poretti used Ziva VFX, Ziva Dynamics’ Maya soft tissue simulation plugin, to simulate the character’s muscles, fascia and subcutaneous fat. Rendering was done in Redshift.

Trace the evolution of Mike Poretti’s Elektra character in a thread on the Ziva VFX forum
(Includes newer demo videos)

Know of a gem we missed? Post a link in the comments. For more videos like this, follow us on Facebook.