Making of “A is for Al….”: The Computer Room / by Rok Andic

The idea

The second set in the film is the computer room. The idea was that the computers were extremely old tech with lots of blinking lights. When I was a kid I watched a lot of sci-fi movies and all of them had these giant machines with lots of blinking lights. There were only a handful of controls but lots of blinking lights. They were simple sets but looked so elaborate with all those buttons and lights in it. I started designing computers with that idea in mind.

Approach

The idea sounded fun enough but to build it required some planning. A single computer required different elements or building blocks: buttons, lights, gauges, switches, cables… and a few variations of each one. Also, each element had to have its own control to allow it to switch on/off, light on/off or simply change gauge level. To build every single button separately with control was simply too much work and would take forever. I used procedural approach in Houdini to create larger groups from smaller pieces and control them through a simple set of controls. To have a grid of light buttons, they would be procedurally build from a grid plane and the attributes were added to each element in order to know its color and light properties. This allowed to populate computers with smaller elements in a reasonable amount of time and still have all the elements animatable.

Bicycle

To keep things more old school I decided to put in a power generator in the form of a bicycle which the main character has to use. The shape had to be a little too small for him so I changed it a few times until it was right. This was done by posing the character in position and see how everything fit together. Then I changed the size of the front wheel, seat position… Going back and forth until it all fit together.

The bike was also a fun rigging exercise. I wanted it to be soft instead of rigid so it would bounce when the character would jump on it. To achieve this I used a series of deformers in Houdini (bend, lattice, transform...) so that each element (seat, handles…) could be controlled separately.

Texturing & Rendering

Most of the elements were textured in Substance Painter. Some materials were first built in Substance Designer and used as a base in Painter. For some smaller elements like buttons I built procedural shaders in Houdini. As in the study room set I tried to reuse as much as possible, especially for smaller elements since we can see and feel how they look but we cannot really see any finer details on them.