Warp Speed – Video game engine slashes animation rendering time

What if it were possible to cut rendering time down to, well, nothing? It may not be a pipe dream after all.
April 1, 2010

What if it were possible to cut rendering time down to, well, nothing? It may not be a pipe dream after all. Manchester, UK-based TT Animation, as it turns out, has found a way to slash what would normally take 14 minutes to animate down to a mere six seconds using video game technology.

It all started when creative director Chris Dicker left parentco TT Games to work on developing TV series. He teamed up with Jocelyn Stevenson, co-creator of Fraggle Rock and former chief creative officer at HIT Entertainment, and the pair began fleshing out the idea for a kid-targeted, mixed-media news show that eventually became What’s Your News?. The series is hosted by Grant the Ant and Antony the Anteater, featuring news and interviews about what matters most to preschoolers – stories about things like a child playing the piano with both hands for the first time, or another losing a sock, for example.

Dicker returned to TT in 2007 and brought Stevenson with him. They entered into conversations with TT Games founder John Burton and created subsidiary TT Animation, eventually deciding to take a stab at rendering WYN? through the company’s proprietary game engine, testing it against a commercial rendering software.

So TT’s game engine, which has been humming along and producing fun and quirky game hits over the years, was put to the ultimate test. It took some time for the programmers to get up to speed in using it to create something other than video games, but when the ball got rolling, the team couldn’t believe how much of a time (and cost) saver it turned out to be. A single frame containing millions of strands of Antony’s fur that would have taken longer than 10 minutes to render, quite literally took seconds using the game engine.

The partnership between a video game company and a production company is an interesting one, as Dicker notes. It’s about sharing resources as opposed to sharing IP. ‘It’s literally about sharing technology, which is more important to us,’ he says. ‘It frees us up to let our imaginations run wild.’

WYN? debuted on Nick Jr. UK in January 2009, and the series caught the attention of Canadian pubcaster CBC, which now airs a localized version featuring between 60% and 75% new content, thanks to a co-venture with Toronto’s Lenz Entertainment. (Lenz retains the worldwide distribution rights, and discussions for a second season with CBC are underway.)

Of course, the natural question remains whether TT Games will eventually create a game based on the series. Aside from forthcoming website plans, WYN? North American producer Lawrence Mirkin says that’s a definite possibility down the road.

In the meantime, Dicker says he and Stevenson have two other kid-targeted series in the works that will also be utilizing TTG’s game engine. And given the technological advances made since the conception of WYN? two years ago, the engine’s capabilities are now much more robust.

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