For the first time, a 3D animated series is part of the Sesame Street television programme. The programme’s 40th anniversary season debuted today, including computer-generated (CG) segments delivered by SpeakeasyFX and made with Autodesk Softimage software from Autodesk, Inc (ADSK: NASDAQ). The series features a digital version of the favourite Muppet fairy-in-training, Abby Cadabby. Sesame Street is the longest running children’s programme on television.
SpeakeasyFX, an animation studio in New Jersey, worked on 13 9-minute segments of Abby’s Flying Fairy School. These fully CG segments were created to foster preschoolers’ critical thinking and problem solving skills.
“Until now, Sesame Street used exclusively hand-driven Muppets. We went the CG route with Abby’s Flying Fairy School so that we could bring to life all the wonderful physical action our writers envisaged ¾ such as underwater scenes,’ explained Carol-Lynn Parente, executive producer at Sesame Workshop. “As well, the CG format allowed us to produce many online game options for SesameStreet.org, extending the broadcast experience.’
SpeakeasyFX used Autodesk Softimage to model, animate, render and composite Abby’s Flying Fairy School. “Our mandate was to bring movie-quality animation to Sesame Street,’ said Scott Stewart, executive director at SpeakeasyFX.. Of course, we needed to do it quickly, easily and on budget. Softimage was key to achieving these goals, because we were able to do everything we needed to in the software. It was essentially a single software workflow.’
SpeakeasyFX created more than 500 new props and characters for the series. The team’s greatest challenge was the development of digital characters that behaved like real-world Muppets. This required advanced fur and cloth simulations, and complex rigging. Stewart said, “To preserve the creative vision, we decided to build our digital Muppet models as if a hand was manipulating them from inside. This was a breakthrough modification to our workflow and was critically important in helping usfind the right balance between CG and traditional Muppet performances.’
SpeakeasyFX relied on Softimage software’s Interactive Creative Environment (ICE) to quickly generate magic effects. ICE was used to simulate particles, bubbles, a genie in a bottle and even a macaroni twister. Stewart added, “ICE gave us the bandwidth to include a lot of effects and magic,allowing us to deliver a level of quality that exceeded initial expectations.After building our ICE trees and toolsets we were able to easily customise and add effects and magic to shots in an extremely labour-efficient way.’
To view a clip of “Abby’s Flying Fairy School’ visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rKQUtrQsHo.