TO INFINITY AND BEYOND ON ‘LIGHTYEAR’
Written by Becks O'Byrne, Head Of Marketing at Conductor
Perception is no stranger to creating impressively large projects for mega-studios. With the Wakandan tech featured in “Black Panther” and many Marvel Studios’ superhero projects under their belt, the studio’s talented design team recently unlocked a new level of achievement by partnering with Pixar Animation Studios to create the main-on-end titles for “Lightyear,” which follows the legendary ranger Buzz on an intergalactic adventure. Spotlighting the iconic space ranger suit, Perception designed the closing sequence for Pixar’s 2022 release, drawing from unlikely sources of inspiration and being grounded by a deep affinity for the character. The studio delivered multiple versions of the titles, each securely rendered on the Conductor cloud platform in 4K resolution, including stereo versions.
Founded in 2001, Perception helps visionaries turn ideas into reality, specializing in digital design and motion graphics. Pixar found Perception after discovering that the majority of their team’s favorite end title sequences were Perception’s creations, including the Emmy Award-nominated titles for “WandaVision.”
“We’ve done a lot of work for Marvel and handled main-on-ends for some of the studio’s big features, so high profile projects are fully in our wheelhouse. That said, we’ve never had our visual benchmark be Pixar and have our animation sit next to theirs,” said Eric Daly, Perception Director of Production. “I think this was the first time Pixar worked with an external vendor for one of their features, which is an honor, and it was a very collaborative process. Director Angus MacLane had a clear vision for what he wanted but was also open to our input. He has a deep technical understanding of the creation process and that helped us quickly align in review sessions.”
The Perception team began work on the project in November of 2021 and delivered in April 2022, marking a six-month creative journey. Maxon’s Cinema 4D, and Adobe After Effects were the primary creative tools used, with some Foundry’s Nuke for color correction and technical output. Artists also used Insydium’s X-Particles for the laser etching, and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create the decals and textures. Conductor was used to render the final deliverables, including multiple 4K and stereo 3D versions, quickly and securely.
Doug Appleton, Perception Chief Creative Director explained, “Security is always paramount. Everything we do needs to be so secure. Conductor regularly completes security audits and passes all the tests, which is why we’re able to use it on such big studio projects.”
In developing the concept, the Perception team knew that MacLane wanted a big sci-fi epic ending but had creative freedom to brings ideas to the table. After viewing an early version of the film, he was inspired to highlight the new ranger suits and their superior technology.
Appleton noted, “The teaser trailer for Terminator 2, when it shows the T800 skeleton being built, helped shape how we were going to tell this space suit story, and the idea of building the suit in the factory was very interesting to Angus. From there, we expanded the idea and incorporated additional elements, like etching the names into the suit.”
“Pixar cares about every detail and we got a front-row seat to their process,” Daly added. “We received base models from them for the space suit asset, but had to apply our own textures since they use proprietary creative tools. We wanted our work to sit perfectly against the feature and that involved having the right texture. The more textures we added, the greater our render needs became, but we were always confident that we’d be able to hit our deadlines since we use Conductor.”
Although the project was initially slated to be rendered in 2K then upressed to 4K, production opted to move to native 4K renders to better preserve imagery details and creative intent. This meant effectively doubling the expected render load with complex scene elements. Rendering the work internally would have proven impossible, requiring up to three days to complete just a 2D render while simultaneously monopolizing all of Perception’s local machines. The team’s deliverables included 4K and 3D full sequence renders in English and French Canadian, as well as localized versions in twelve additional languages.
“Having Conductor made this project possible,” concluded Daly. “Conductor is set up for and integrated into the software we use. Once you understand how well it works and how much it aids your team, Conductor is a no-brainer. It’s a financial commitment you can plan for, and it makes everyone feel better.”
What’s next on the horizon for Perception? The company’s latest title sequence can be seen in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” for which they also contributed VFX shots of UI and technology.