Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden, is a well received opera featuring world's first Stereo Scopic 3D projection used in an opera. In co-operation with Hectic-Electric I created 2,5 minutes of 3D rendered slow motion water splashes that are featured in a magical, surrealistic environment called Sunken Garden.
Breakdown, grab your anaglypgh glasses because the 2nd part is in Anaglyph Stereoscopic 3D (Red&Green)
The main challenge of this project was not so much the water it self. I developed a node in Houdini that allowed me to easily retime particle simulations. This means that for a slow motion shot I could simulate the event as if it would occur when shooting in real-life and then re-time it as if it were shot at 1000fps and played back at 25fps. Without the cost of simulating every single frame.
The real challenge was in the time given for the project and the vast amount of material that had to be produced. In the end we had to deliver 2,5 min of water splashes (3750 frames). Due to the time limitation we mapped it out so that we would re-use some pieces bringing it down to 2500 frames (1,66 minutes). For flexibility this was rendered in two layers, which had to be rendered twice due to the stereo effect (separate render for each eye) at 2K, being 10000 frames in total.
The limiting timeframe divided by the number of machines in my renderfarm dictated that each 2K frame had to render within 1 min to make the deadline. Since the visual illusion of water mostly consists out of reflections and refractions we had to include them. These are 'free' in reality but very time consuming in the computer world. If you're unfamiliar with this type of rendering, its just plain crazy to do it within one minute a frame. I would schedule 15min a frame rendertime to get a reasonable result. How ever, we didn't have that luxury.
The way to go to pull it off is to cut on changes that can be made in de process, it basically has to happen in one iteration. Next is visual quality, when you can't have all the bells and whistles due to time constrains you have to cut down to the point where people will still buy it as water, with a minimum of elements. Its important for a director to be aware of this, to get the best out of it.
I did manage to get a reasonable result within the limited time given by heavily tuning down the number of bounces a light ray was allowed to travel, normally this results in bad looking water, since water is equal to refraction, but the renderer used the color value of the HDRI when it would hit the bounce limit. Luckily we got away with it. Its a very fine line, but with the limiting time frame in mind I think we got a great result.
One of the things that's easy to overlook when coming from a commercials background is that when the run time goes up, so does the data. Up to a point where you start to generate 100's of gigabytes of data, which not only take a,long time to render, but also to handle. Delivering renders suddenly takes 2,5 hours, just to copy from one to another server. Quickly re-render and uploading it is by leaps and bounds out of the question.
I believe that success is measured by the sum of the end result and how you got there. In maths they understand this to, the process tells the full story. Imagine a healthy friend in his mid 20's who tells you he managed to get to the top of 'that' hill, being the result of his journey. You might say: 'good for you :-)', how ever it makes a big difference if he clime up a cliff without a rope to get there or he wend for a stroll along the convenient road ;-)
The Sunken Garden premiered in London’s Barbican Theatre, in June 2013 it had a sold-out run at the Holland Festival, the Toronto Luminato Festival in June 2014 and Opera de Lyon in Spring 2015.