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mardi 8 septembre 2020

Let's talk about innovation with...


Christophe Petit, from 

Interview of july 13, 2020, conducted by rOmain Thouy

36th article in a series of interviews conducted on the management of innovation in the field of creative industries (video games, animated films) of the Occitanie region.

Christophe Petit
Christophe Petit is rig supervisor and founder of The Beast Makers. This studio is specialized in high-end creature rig solutions for feature films and television. It provides creative and responsive solutions in creating rigs and plugins which fit perfectly productions needs.

Education: animation and programming

  • His 1st film: Pinocchio (Steeve Baron. 1996)
  • His 1st big success: Canal + Ours (the most awarded advertisement in the world in 2012) for Mikros Images
Canal + - L'ours
  • His last big success: Astérix et le domaine des Dieux pour Mikros Images (2012)
Astérix et le domaine des dieux

"Why did I want to work in this industry? Because I have had a flash on 3D when I was little. I remember it was in Switzerland. There was an Amiga 2000 that was spinning on its screen a juggler animation with small spheres in Ray Tracing on a checkered floor, with the sky reflected in them. I remember spending many hours watching this animation and saying to myself, “This is what I want to do!” Here, look, I found back the video:"

Amiga Juggler © 1986 by Eric Graham
"Initially, I am an animator. I took a double courses: animation (CFT Gobelins) and programming. The two have aggregated to allow me to rig [rigging is a synthesis of 3D images that endows an object to be animated with a moving skeleton that will deform its surface mesh]. The fact that I am familiar with animation allows me to offer to animators something that is always very close to what they expect. I can be responsive and even guess what they want, and more than that. The tools we create are there to facilitate animation."

"I worked for a long time in studios located in Paris, as a rig and animation supervisor. With Céline Chotard, we have had the chance to work directly with Doug Chiang (who was an artistic director of Star Wars). I have had the opportunity to often push the limits of what I had done the previous times, which allowed me to always go further.

"After moving to Montpellier and working for 3 years at Dwarf Animation Studio, also as a supervisor, I set up my own structure (it was in 2017). The Beast Makers offers A-to-Z character support, from modeling to animation. Our team is made up of very, very good artists: 
  • Céline Chotard (Avengers Infinity War, Venom, Artemis Fowl, Moi Moche et Méchant) is in charge of animation supervision,
  • Rémi Gamiette (Ant Man, Assassin’s Creed, Hercules), is in charge of sculpting, texturing and animation,
  • Tristan Cordeboeuf (Green Lantern, Ziva Dynamics Specialist) is in charge of rigging with me and takes care of modeling, rigging and muscle simulation."

"We do a lot of work on advertisements, video game cutscenes, and cartoons. Like in 2018, with the feature film Vic le viking, where we worked on over a hundred characters. 

It was for Studio 100, and we collaborated with Virtuos Sparx * in Vietnam, who did the body rig on the characters while we integrated the Facial rigs. We took over and pushed much further the 20 main characters on the body and the facial. We also collaborated this year directly with Ziva Dynamics for a project that will make some noise!"

"At The Beast Makers, we have an ambitious R&D project that includes animated textures. Initially, it was the Millimages studio that had contacted us for season 2 of Pirata and Capitano. They were very interested in this idea of animated textures. In 3 weeks, to meet their needs, we released a prototype of TBM2D, version 0.2 which went straight into production. In 2015-2016, the starting prototype of TBM2D was plated 3D geometry. The rendering was a bit of a pain to use because in close-ups you had to match the geometry with the one below. Heavy exports were required for not much, when it just needed a texture. This is where the idea for the animated texture came from. We did it in April 2019 and we figured it might be of interest to a lot of other studios. We added functionalities to it and then presented it to RADI RAF. We have just finalized the version presented to RADI which is now version 1.1.0. As I said earlier, this project is part of a larger project at The Beast Makers."

"The American studio Psyop, based in Los Angeles, uses our TBM2D Plugin! They just produced a movie for Supercell: Brawl Stars Animation: Piper's Sugar & Spice! - YouTube. It's really great what they managed to do with it!

Hello Christophe, first of all, how do you define innovation in your field?

Hello rOmain. What comes to my mind, is the definition that comes up most often in the funding requests that we have had the opportunity to submit: to create something that does not exist or to modify something that exists to add something to it that it doesn't have. It can be something new too, but it is not fundamental research.

From an idea, by assembling several pieces of knowledge, if we manage to create something that did not exist, then, it's an innovaton.

How do you carry this innovation?

We're always questionning and redesigning what we do, whether it's to improve it, make it more productive, or add new features or components to it. It’s the experience and the passion that drive this: when we do something, we are never really 100% satisfied. This is what happens, I think, in any creative process: an artist always has a hard time stopping. So even if it's technical, it's the same process as for creation!

I drive the studio's innovation strategy. I do a lot of product design. We have some very ambitious R&D projects going on that will hopefully see the light of day not too long.

Overall, in the studio, R&D represents 50% of our activity, but we can go up to more than 80%. Last year we were at 80%, for example. We went to committee at the CNC to get financial help, and we are trying to balance R&D and production more. But the two feed off each other. We cannot live only from R&D activity.

We complete innovation funding applications to regularly employ developers to work on specific topics.

How do you go about innovating?

We do not have a particular approach. It all starts with a vision that is shared with the whole team, anytime. There are no dedicated, regular and established meetings. It can happen every day. Usually we talk about the idea quickly first. Since we use Discord in the company, we put all our ideas and references on it because it is immediately shared, even if everyone is not physically present in the same office. The same goes for the testing periods which are announced via Discord and which we try to do often, depending on the activity of the studio. We have a lot of research subjects that have arrived recently (often these needs come from production) but we also need to ensure our services.

These subjects can come from our needs in administrative productivity as well as from our productivity in our services of animated characters.

In order to drive R&D, I have to juggle between the activities of each and the availability of the teams in relation to current services. It's complicated and it's often me who stick to it, so I'm a little less involved in the production. I interact a lot with my colleagues during these phases, on the results of the tests and trials and where I want to go.

Come on, Christophe, can you tell me a little more?

We make a lot of prototypes. We make sure to comment on them and we keep them on our Github, with all the corresponding development branches. On the big R&D project, for example, we will probably use a prototype for our own production needs: it is not yet ready for industrialisation because it does not yet have a user interface.

This was also the case for the Maya plugin that we presented at RADI RAF conference. The developer had done a wonderful job in just 3 weeks.

For our future R&D projects, we are in contact with the Toulouse Computer Science Research Institute (IRIT). We will work on specific Implicit Skinning tools that they have developed and are starting to deploy.

SIGGRAPH 2013 - Implicit Skinning: Real-Time Skin Deformation with Contact Modeling
Authors: Rodolphe Vaillant(1,2), Loïc Barthe(1), Gaël Guennebaud(3), Marie-Paule Cani(4), Damien Rhomer(5), Brian yvill(6), Olivier Gourmel(1) and Mathias Paulin(1)
(1)IRIT - Université de Toulouse, (2)University of Victoria, (3)Inria Bordeaux, (4)LJK - Grenoble Universités - Inria, (5)CPE Lyon - Inria

These tools are used for skinning [a process of meshing which associates each bone of the skeleton with a portion of the skin of the object to be animated] and for deformation of characters. On our side, we are also developing deformation systems, so it is really very interesting to discuss these identical issues with them: we are working on concepts that go in the same direction. The research lab appreciates having user feedback and it helps us in return with resources. This partnership follows the publication of a thesis in 2012 or 2013 on "implicit skinning" which made me want to get in touch with the laboratory where the research had been carried out. I remember asking them at the time if they were considering porting this technique into Autodesk Maya animation software.

How do you stimulate innovation at The Beast Makers?

There is no need to take any special actions for this. We rather set deadlines to move these topics forward, and we have boards (Kanban Board, cf: Trello) to follow them. It's quite natural, when someone finds something interesting, to post it on the Discord and then plan on the R&D board. This generates exchanges from that moment on and maintains the innovation dynamic. Anyone can make proposals: I take care of sorting and managing the proposals (deduplication, vision, history (already tested or not), etc.). This was the case recently where I forgot that I had tested something in the past. But it was good to come back to it.

I also give 3D teaching courses in schools: ArtFx and previously Mopa and ENI in Avignon, EMCI in Angoulême, as well as at Cft Gobelins in Paris. I like to chat with my students because they generally have a fairly fresh outlook and less disturbed or polluted than ours, by too much knowledge. Their way of seeing things helps to unlock problems. I have seen students offering me solutions to exercises, containing ways of doing things that I had never seen before! I found it very interesting to encourage them to take the concept a step further to see if their methods really worked or not.

I am interested in all the conferences related to R&D in image. I follow twitter accounts (Chad Vernon, Daniel Martinez Lara, Hans Godard Iker from Los Mossos…), we have the same way of working in Facial rig, and I like to see what they do. I participated in the RADI RAF conference, and I would like to do it again. I also had to make presentations on the Occitanie stand at MIFA during the International Animation Festival in Annecy and at SIGGRAPH where I have not been yet.

Otherwise, I read a lot of scientific publications: all my research is based on scientific papers. When I have an idea, I immediately try to find related people or articles. I like to mix topics (math, physics, etc.). When I read papers, I see what it can be like, how we could use it. Even if the language used between a graphic designer and a researcher is different, it is possible to meet interesting people. There are researchers who do graphic research, with an artistic sense.

Do you have a scoop, on your near future?

We have big projects in development and we will need to inflate our teams very soon!

And the version 2.0 of TBM2D, which is emerging for 2021, will offer very interesting features!

Follow us on, and on our instagram account.

Thank you Christophe, we wish you lots of good things for the future!


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