Inside Animusic's Astonishing Computer Music Videos
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MIDI and Sample Synth Tools

The multi-necked string instrument on Animusic 2's "Resonant Chamber" is a gem. The harmonic string vibrations and intonations are absolutely stunning in their accuracy. Sound sources in "Gyro Drums" and "Resonant Chamber" include Larry Seyer's Acoustic Drum and Acoustic Bass libraries, the Vienna Concert Guitar library, Post Organ Toolkit, and various TASCAM GigaStudio sample discs.

"'Gyro Drums' was actually my first adventure with GigaStudio, and 'Resonant Chamber' was entirely done with GigaStudio," Lytle reveals. "As far as soft synths are concerned, I probably have way too many! I got obsessive with collecting them to the point that I couldn't even keep track of them anymore. The ones I use most heavily, though, are Spectrasonics' Trilogy and Atmosphere; Novation's V-Station, which is pretty cool; and Native Instruments' Battery 2, which, with the exception of the song 'Gyro Drums,' is the main percussion tool for everything else we've done so far. Animusic 2 was 100 percent soft synths."

Lytle has also been a big fan of Propellerhead's Reason since Version 1.0. He says he'll likely get more into Reason as his company develops Animusic 3 in 2006, and he plans to drive Reason from Animusic|studio.

Guitar-Lute

Spidery robot fingers fret and pluck the strings in "Resonant Chamber." (Click here to play a 4.2MB QuickTime movie excerpt.)

Render unto Crognale

Parallel to Lytle's music composition, instrument rigging, and animation-parameter setup is the work of digital artist David Crognale. The latter spent most of his time during the production of Animusic and Animusic 2 modeling instrument details and tweaking lights, shaders, and texture maps. Every subtle scratch and dent on a drum head, stage floor, and cymbal face is created within Dave's realm.

"The things that differentiate us from most other animation studios such as Pixar is that our animation is driven by music rather than a story, and that most of the animation here is generated procedurally" rather than through keyframing, Lytle says.

Dave Crognale

David Crognale works on "Resonant Chamber." In the background is "Fiber Bundles."

All the gorgeous graphics of Animusic and Animusic 2 were modeled and rendered in 3ds Max, a program Lytle and Crognale started using with Version 1.0. Crognale also uses Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, Fractal Painter, and a host of others.

"The rest is Animusic|studio, which is really the hub between the graphics and music worlds," says Lytle. "Dave drives Max, and I drive Animusic|studio. I build the skeletons and do the engineering parts of all the complex mechanisms and how they work together and Dave fleshes it all out. If you look at my screen, everything is spheres and cubes," Lytle laughs. "You'd probably recognize which animation it was, but there's no detail, just all these white plastic primitives and wireframe. Meanwhile, Dave is in Max, without any concern about any of the structure or mechanics or hierarchy of the objects, and he focuses entirely on the aesthetics of how to make it look beautiful. As I update the music and animation, the Max objects come to life."

Two animations from the Animusic 2 DVD feature the lush backgrounding of renowned digital matte painter Eric Chauvin, whose BlackPool Studios created digital backgrounds for Star Wars: Episode V and Contact, and for the TV shows Alias, Babylon 5, and Lost.

"We had just decided we needed to find someone to do backgrounds for us when, out of the blue, Eric called," Lytle remarks. "It was one of those synchronicity things—'Hey, do you guys need any help with your backgrounds?' 'Uh, yeah, we do.' He's very, very good. My son and I were watching Star Wars: Episode V the other day and there was Eric's name in the credits."

Chauvin's background work shines behind the "Pogo Sticks" and "Heavy Light" animations on Animusic 2—but not too much. "This is CG, after all, and we're not trying to look too photorealistic," Lytle explains. "If you don't have the same degree of realism and surrealism between your animated models and backgrounds, it will look incongruous and fake."

Cathedral Pictures

"Cathedral Pictures" recreates Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition on a pulsating organ and insectoid chimes. (Click here to play a 4.2MB QuickTime movie excerpt.)

For "Pogo Sticks," Chauvin took a series of digital photographs to cover a 360° section of real sky, then flew those files into Photoshop to blend the seams into one expansive, giant background. There he added painterly effects to match the look of the Animusic scenes.

Lytle notes, "To blend Eric's sky with Dave's modeled 'Pogo Sticks' world, Dave used a lens-flare plugin in After Effects." He made the flare track the position of the virtual sun, which positioned the apparent light source in the animation—behind the third stage in this case. That psychological cue "really helped blend the digital background with the rendered models," Lytle says.

Animusic's two DVDs are available through the company's website for $19.95 each. In addition to the main movies, each disc contains numerous behind-the-scenes features, such as multiple viewing angles and close-ups on the otherworldly instruments.

Animusic DVDs

If Animusic does decide to release its proprietary music animation software, perhaps the next DVD in the series could be yours.

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