Cindy's Waterfront

 Towering over the entrance of Cindy's Waterfront Cafe in Monterey California is a massive video pylon consisting of 6 giant HD screens.  Slow motion waves, beautiful sunsets, and schools of sardines are some of the imagery you will see flowing in perfect synchronization across all six screens.

   Cinematographer Chuck Saltsman shot the footage at a staggering 5K resolution at up to 100 frames per second on a RED Epic camera.  By turning the Epic on it's side Chuck was able to obtain maximum vertical resolution.  The RED files were brought to Sabertooth and color graded in the DaVinci Resolve suite.  After grading the RED files were brought into Adobe After FX where they were formatted, assembled and sliced into 6 HD video streams.  The streams were then made loop-able and encoded into high-bitrate mp4 files that are played back by industrial strength Brightsign hardware.  Brightsign enables remote management of the playback files so different video streams can be played depending on the time of day, month or mood desired at the cafe.

  Below are some images of Chuck shooting waves along the Monterey coastline with the Red Epic.  You can see the camera turned on it's side - a little trick to enable maximum vertical resolution that will eventually be sliced up and played back on a tower of 6 HD screens.

  In the images below you can see just how many pixels a 5K image contains.  The image on the left is the full 5K frame (adjusted slightly in After FX so it maps perfectly onto 6 1920x1080 screens).  On the right you can see the total area that one HD screen (turned on it's side) occupies in the massive 5K frame.

  The video below is a 1920x1080 mp4 made from that slice in the right image above.  Each slice was spit out as a separate mp4 file.  Each of the 6 mp4 files were then played back in perfect synchronization using Brightsign playback hardware.  HD screens were chosen that had minimal bezels in order to achieve the best possible effect of a seamless image.

  Below are four shots (out of several dozen acquired) scaled down and laid out in After FX.  Keep in mind that each one of the shots is a 5K RED file at 100fps.  When played back at 29.97fps you get the slow motion effect.  The waves on the far left were further slowed down with pixel flow technology from The Foundry.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Tiny Drifters Exhibit

  The Tiny Drifters exhibit at the Aquarium showcases the myriad of plankton species adrift in our oceans.  Sabertooth was in charge of creating the 'river' of tiny creatures that flowed across the exhibits walls, projected from multiple HD projectors installed in the ceiling.  The 'magnifying' lens gives the visitors a close up look at the detailed creatures adrift in the water.

  Another aspect of the exhibit is an interactive 3D touchscreen.  You can see it on the photo below (the large circular glass screen on the left).  The specially made massive circular touchscreen interfaced with an interactive Unity program created by Lindsay Digital.  The plankton models used in the animated 'river' were available for visiting children to touch, move and spin around while displaying scientific information on the organism.  In today's touch-centric world of phones and tablets the ability to interact with exhibits is an expectation from visitors.

  The plankton 'river' that's being projected across the long wall presented a number of challenges.  First of all the individual critters had to flow across the space in a believable fashion.  Secondly, the animation has to loop.  We initially started off using a fluid simulation in Maya to produce the particle flow.  Detailed design drawings were used to approximate the actual dimensions on the exhibit so the plankton could 'flow around' all the tanks and screens in the wall.  We put collision objects in the fluid simulation where the physical touchscreen, tanks, and 'magnify' screens were, matched up to the actual dimensions of the exhibit.  The fluid simulation effect worked quite well, but we weren't able to make a flawless looping animation out of it.  What we ended up doing is using a lattice deformer in Maya to move particles across the wall and around the structures, matching the fluid simulation as close as possible.

  The points from the lattice animation were brought into MODO from Maya as an Alembic file.  In MODO the points were used as a replicator source for dozens of individually animated image sequences...each sequence with a slightly different creature tumbling around in a seamless loop.  Additional 'hero' critters were animated streaking here and there (some of the zooplankton can move at astonishing speeds for their size).

  For the magnification window numerous 'hero' plankton models were rendered in high resolution flowing and tumbling across the circular 'porthole'.  All of these hero critter were then brought into After FX and composited into the plankton 'river'.

  Ian Williamson of Whateverdigital was tasked with syncing all of the projectors used to play the plankton stream across the vast exhibit space.  The final effect was startlingly beautiful.  Thousands of tiny, glowing, tumbling, creatures flowing across the vast darkened exhibit walls.


Monterey Bay Aquarium Jellyfish Exhibit

  The 'Jellyfish Dome' exhibit was an ambitious project whose goal was to put visitors 'inside' a jellyfish swarm while simultaneously educating them on what jellyfish blooms are and why they happen.  A spherical half-dome with a diameter of about 10 feet was build in the exhibit space with a high resolution projected mounted at the top.  The projector had a lens that was able to project the video at a 180 degree angle, filling the half-dome with video.

  The critical aspect of the project was to pre-warp the projected video file in such a way that when it was projected at the extreme 180 angle it would 'unwarp' into a perfectly undistorted projection.  Using a custom plug-in for Adobe After FX Sabertooth had to calibrate the warping algorithms to work flawlessly with the projector's lens.  It was an extremely time consuming process, even with exact measurements.  The images below show Sabertooth's Greg Leuenberger slaving over the warping software on a Mac Pro while the Aquarium's Director of Interpretive Media Eric Nordone looks on.

 The 3D animation depicts a bloom of moon jellies forming in the open sea.  Moon jellies are plankton eaters and a bloom of millions of individuals can dramatically upset an ecosystem by eating all the plankton in the area.

  Once a 'hero' moon jelly was approved by the aquarium, Sabertooth replicated it into a giant swarm using The Foundry's MODO.  The replicated jellies were given randomized scale and rotation values to give them some individual variation.  The animation was timed out with the voice over track provided and ultimately rendered on a renderfarm.  The thousands of jellyfish combined with the high-resolution of the file (greater than 2K in each dimension) equated to a lot of render time.  The jelly's surface texture (lots of subsurface scattering and blurry refractive and reflective features) added to the long render times.  Once all the 3D files were ready they were brought into Adobe After FX for audio, color correction and pre-warping.

  Below you can see the original square aspect ratio animation that came from the 3D render.  The warped, wide-aspect animation to the left is the 'pre-warped' file that was played out of the projector.  The extreme projector lens 'un-warped' them image back to the correct dimensions when it was projected onto the half-dome.