Alias Systems announced today that its Maya® software, and
other custom software technology developed by the company, played a central role
in the creation of numerous key scenes in the film Lord of the Rings(TM): The
Return of the King(TM) — released December 17, 2003. Alias® technology played a
pivotal role in the development of Gollum, Shelob, the Battle of Pelennor Fields
and the Witch King’s death.

"The challenges we faced with The Return of the King were
immense," states Weta Digital chief technology officer, Scott Houston. "We were
looking to do things that had never been done in the history of the motion
picture industry: hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the Battle of Pelennor
Fields scene and the incredibly life-like animations of Shelob and Gollum. Plus,
there was the pure volume of effects shots we had to deliver: 1,500 as opposed
to 500 for the first film." Houston continues, "To meet these challenges we
needed business partners like Alias who really understood our requirements and
were able to deliver solutions. I view Alias as much more than simply a software
vendor. Not only has the company provided us with Maya – the core 3D animation
technology for the trilogy – they have also delivered custom software that has
enabled us to bring Peter Jackson’s vision to life, while meeting our
deadlines." He finishes, "I don’t think The Return of the King would have had
the same level of digital effects without Alias technology."

Academy award-winning Weta Digital relies on Alias software
and Custom Development Center to realize the Lord of the Rings vision: Maya
software utilized as core 3D animation technology for all three Lord of the
Rings films

Alias Systems announced today that its Maya® software, and other custom software
technology developed by the company, played a central role in the creation of
numerous key scenes in the film Lord of the Rings(TM): The Return of the King(TM)
— released December 17, 2003. Alias® technology played a pivotal role in the
development of Gollum, Shelob, the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the Witch
King’s death.

"The challenges we faced with The Return of the King were
immense," states Weta Digital chief technology officer, Scott Houston. "We were
looking to do things that had never been done in the history of the motion
picture industry: hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the Battle of Pelennor
Fields scene and the incredibly life-like animations of Shelob and Gollum. Plus,
there was the pure volume of effects shots we had to deliver: 1,500 as opposed
to 500 for the first film." Houston continues, "To meet these challenges we
needed business partners like Alias who really understood our requirements and
were able to deliver solutions. I view Alias as much more than simply a software
vendor. Not only has the company provided us with Maya – the core 3D animation
technology for the trilogy – they have also delivered custom software that has
enabled us to bring Peter Jackson’s vision to life, while meeting our
deadlines." He finishes, "I don’t think The Return of the King would have had
the same level of digital effects without Alias technology."

Maya’s Role in the Weta Animation Pipeline

Randall William Cook, two-time Oscar award-winner for his work on the first two
movies of the series and animation designer and supervisor at Weta Digital was
involved in the decision to commit to Maya software from the beginning. "Maya
entered the picture very early on," remembers Cook. "I was shown several
selections of software and had the chance to test drive them. Based upon my
experience in animation, I found Maya to be the most comfortable interface and
the technical team could get into the software to customize the code – we chose
Maya and never looked back."

With a software package that could handle any task at hand, Cook built the
considerable team that would achieve the vision placed in front of them.
"Between The Two Towers and The Return of the King we added 50% more digital
artists," comments Cook. "And while many of our artists had experience working
with Maya software, some were traditional 2D cel animators with no knowledge of
3D animation." Cook continues, "In order to facilitate workflow for the
animators, we built an enormous scene management system through Maya, using the
software’s MEL(TM) (Maya Embedded Language) scripting abilities." He adds,
"Using this system the animators had merely to click on a tab in the Maya
interface to bring up crucial scene information from other departments:
including camera information, motion capture data, live action plate files and
sound files."

When it came to animating characters the team took this Maya-based animation
pipeline a step further. Jason Schleifer, senior animator and creature technical
director at Weta Digital and his team set up a procedural puppet system in Maya
whereby characters could be animated via a set of simple controls and sliders.
For the complex, highly emotive Gollum a set of 135 controls was put in place
for his face alone. "This allowed us to really push Gollum as a character,"
explains Schleifer. "You really see this come through in the movie during the
scene where Gollum is lying on the ground sleeping. Although he’s asleep and
hardly moving, you can see an internal struggle taking place as you look at his
face. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to animate a character that is
not moving." Schleifer finishes, "Yet in this scene you get a sense of the
intensity of Gollum’s anguish."

The Witch King’s Demise

Anticipated to be one of the most exciting scenes of all the trilogies, the
demise of the Witch King puts MEL to the test. Schleifer animated the Witch King
character using Maya’s animation curve tools and MEL. "Peter (Jackson) wanted
the character to look something like a submarine imploding," says Schleifer.
"One challenge was animating the character’s hand, so that it was moving
upwards, but with a very ‘jittery’ feel. Using MEL, I built a tool that allowed
me to combine two animation curves, one with lots of high frequency data (for
the jittery-ness) and one with primary animation information." Next Schleifer
put a user interface around his new Maya tool and handed it off to his other
team members. "Our whole Maya-based animation pipeline is built on the premise
that animators should not have to think about the technical side of things. We
want them to think about their craft and the performance of the character."

The Alias Custom Development Center

One of Alias’ key support options for large film and game facilities is its
Custom Development Center, based in Toronto, ON and Santa Barbara, CA. The
center is comprised of senior Maya software developers, who combined, have more
than 40 years of experience with the company, and consult on large projects:
developing custom software to extend Maya’s usual functionality to meet the
unique demands of a particular project. For Lord of the Rings: The Return of the
King that meant producing custom animation code, custom cloth simulation code
and giving general R&D support. "We needed to work with organizations that were
emotionally attached to this project and that wanted to be part of the whole
Lord of the Rings experience – especially when we had to make quick changes at
anytime of the day or night," enthuses Houston. "Thankfully the team at Alias
delivered on that need."

Beyond the Rings

Weta Digital began using Alias’ Maya software in 1999, as they were starting
work on the numerous effects shots required for Lord of the Rings: The
Fellowship of the Ring(TM). Just four years later Weta has completed three
immensely successful Lord of the Rings films, two of which have won Academy
Awards® for "Best Visual Effects."

Life beyond the rings looks just as exciting for the team in New Zealand with
new projects already underway. "We pushed Maya to its limits and beyond to
deliver Peter Jackson’s vision and with the help of Alias and the custom
development team it’s not going to stop there," says Houston. "Our next project
is bigger in scale still: and suitably enough, it’s King Kong. More than ever
we’re going to have to rely on Alias."