alex hessler

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I got to wear a lot of hats for Harry Potter 5. At first I was responsible for the feathers on Dumbledoor’s pet phoenix, Fawkes. I also took over shader writing on the show for the Centaurs and ended up running a bunch of shots as well.

Fawkes was a big challenge and a very interesting project. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Fawkes was a combination of cg and animatronic. Because of this, the cg character was designed to match the animatronic. Unfortunately, the anamatronic was a large turkey shaped robot, filled with motors and servos. So the cg Fawkes for the Chamber of Secrets wasn’t an elegant creature. She was chubby. For the Order of the Phoenix, cgi was confidently accepted as a superior technique to anamtronics, and we no longer had to worry about matching any live action elements. I started from scratch from the original water color concept art, but was aware of not going too far from the Chamber of Secrets bird. We had to maintain some continuity after all. I helped develop a feather system in houdini and did all of the grooming, shader writing, and lighting. I also acted as a bit of a sequence lead, and directed the modeler and rigger to make the skin of the bird compatible with my feathers. The big challenge of Fawkes was juggling my time between developing and debugging the feather groom, and making artistic changes for review. It really was two jobs in one. In the end, it was one of the most rewarding projects of my career. Rarely do we get to feel complete ownership over an effect.

Halfway through production, we were awarded Kreature and the lead shader writer on the show moved to look developing this character. I took over the Centaurs and re-wrote all of their shaders to be more pipelined for lighting. The original shader setup ran all of the ray occlusion and blurred environment reflection at render time. This made lighting impossibly slow. I broke all of these stages out into point cloud bakes and also developed an AOV build for the compositors. It was a lot of work, but it brought me up to speed with modern renderman ptc baking and the dos and don’ts of building beauty out of AOV’s.

Comments are closed.