Arthur Christmas is Aardman’s latest CG film. It’s a four-year production to answer the question of one night: how does Santa deliver all those gifts on Christmas Eve? The answer is a dedicated staff of CG artists, a host of elves, and a masssive FedEx-style delivery system contained in a city-sized sleigh called the S-1.
The North Pole operation is comprised of Mission Control, the S-1 sleigh and its docking bay, plus smaller spaces such as the Clauses’ living space. Production designer Evgeni Tomov provided concept designs, headed the art department and “worked with every department except animation and camera… I’m responsible for everything visual; the look, the design, the style, feel for the movie and the colour palette.”
Digital set designer Till Nowak handled much of the concept modelling. The art department usually consists of traditional artists who paint and draw, either on paper or digitally. However, for Arthur Christmas, Nowak convinced director Sarah Smith to work out the concepts directly in 3ds Max.
“I handed over my designs the same way the 2D artists did, as model sheets,” Nowak explains. The set of pages acted as a style guide, which precisely described the design from all angles.
Mission Control was designed in a similar fashion as the S-1 ship, based on concept sketches created by Tomov before passing over to Nowak’s concept modelling. Some problems with the drawings were discovered, triggering some changes “specifically in scale because we discovered that some things did not look quite the same as the drawing once they were built in 3D,” explained Tomov. “This is exactly why we were using this, in my opinion, necessary stage in the design process.”
Building Mission Control also presented Nowak with a staggering number of assets. “I had to deal with 15,000 elves sitting on 15,000 chairs in front of 15,000 computer consoles on a huge structure of thousands of ice blocks – all in one frame.”
For his concept design renders he used “instances of V-Ray proxies to handle the extreme amount of polygons. I could make a design change on any detail of one of the consoles, resave the V-Ray proxy and render it a minute later in a frame showing the change on thousands of consoles at the same time, even though scene files were often larger than 500MB.”
Arthur Christmas is in UK Cinemas now. Watch the official trailer on the Arthur Christmas site.
Aardman Animations interview taken from the Arthur Christmas feature, written by Renee Dunlop and published in issue 35 of 3D Artist magazine. Available to buy now from all good newsagents, supermarkets and online at the Imagine Publishing store.
Images Arthur Christmas images © Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Imageworks, Arthur Christmas feature image (above) © Imagine Publishing