As we celebrate the season with our 50% OFF SALE for all AtmosFX physical products, we were reminded of this article about the creation of Figgy the Elf from the ‘Santa's Workshop’ digital decoration. It is a deep look at how an AtmosFX character comes to be, from original illustration to a fully rendered character. And given that ‘Santa's Workshop’ is one of the DVDs or SD cards available at half price, we thought there'd never be a better time to re-publish this post. Enjoy!
Santa’s Workshop was a long time in the making – and is undoubtedly AtmosFX’s most dynamic digital decoration yet. According to Pete Williams, co-founder of AtmosFX and resident creative genius, “Santa’s Workshop contains the most character animation we’ve ever churned out to date.”
In this case, character animation refers to the many elves that appear onscreen together. The action of every character affects every other onscreen character they interact with, not to mention every object. Santa’s helpers are a busy lot – which means a lot of choreography.
From the AtmosFX Vault: This article on the creation of Figgy the Elf from ‘Santa's Workshop’ was first published in November 2016.
One of busiest elves is the recurring character named Figgy, who is, uh, a slight underperformer. His character runs throughout the digital decoration, and his misadventures alone cause a significant amount of choreography for everyone, and everything, onscreen. Not to mention the jiggling sleigh bells on Figgy’s belt, or his long floppy hat. Mercifully, the animators applied physics simulation here, so they didn’t have to animate each element manually. Each element behaved as it might in a real-world environment with gravity.
As Santa’s Workshop came together, Figgy evolved several times. Originally, the animators envisioned Figgy as a rotund elf with a big appetite. Later, they decided to make him tall and lanky, to better distinguish him from other elves. They wanted to make him stand out and accentuate his goofy personality.
“Everything was elongated on Figgy to make him appear floppier,” says Williams with a laugh. “Everyone knows floppy equals dopey.”
Figgy, just like every other character in the digital decoration, went through several rounds of designs, various sketches before honing-in on a final look. Multiple artists on staff contributed different ideas on not just Figgy, but every character in Santa’s Workshop.
Then, the long process of building the character in 3D begins. Again, using Figgy as an example, once the production team has a final drawing, he has to be modeled in the computer. That can take anywhere between 4-6 days. Then the character model is textured, applying colors and final details, like eyebrows, stitching on clothing, and so on. That takes 2-3 days. Then comes rigging the model with bones, joints, and control objects so that it can be animated like a virtual puppet. That, too, takes 2-3 days.
And remember, this is just Figgy. The same detail goes into all the characters in Santa’s Workshop. And only then – when the characters are fully developed, detailed and rigged – does the hard work of animating each scene truly begin.