Sun, 30 Mar 2003

`Janus, Prajurit Terakhir': A pioneer feature-length 3D animation

Fitri Wulandari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Dozens of Bina Nusantara students became the lucky few to have the opportunity to take a peek at the movie Janus, Prajurit Terakhir (Janus, The Last Warrior).

Although the movie thriller lasted less than a minute, it drew a cheering welcome from the students who participated in a seminar on animation held at the university where the thriller was shown.

Hands were raised as students scrambled to ask questions to Janus director Chandra Endroputro.

"How did you put the live action and the third animation together? What software did you use?" asked one female student.

Janus, Prajurit Terakhir is a family movie produced by PT Spektra Film. Combining live action and computerized 3D animation, it tells of the friendship between a 34th-century cyborg-like warrior, Janus, and 21st-century, 12-year-old-boy Mayo.

It is scheduled to be released in theaters in June.

There is nothing really special about the movie, especially when compared with the hundreds of similar movies from Hollywood that are screened here. What caused the buzz was that Janus will be the first locally made, feature-length, 3D, computerized- animation movie screened commercially in local theaters.

Do not expect advanced animation, as in Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, though. However, watching the thriller, hopes are high that such locally made movie will no longer be wishful thinking.

While animation has been used in locally made TV commercials and video clips, no filmmakers or producers have shown a willingness to utilize it in feature-length movies for commercial release. The reasons are partly due to the high production costs of computerized 3D animation and a higher risk of flunking in the market.

So far, only advertising companies are willing to take the risk of producing high-cost, animated TV commercials. It is therefore appropriate to say that animation in the country is developing at the heels of the advertising industry.

"One would have to be crazy to make a feature-length, animated movie in Indonesia," Chandra chuckled.

But it is the "craziness" for 3D animation that drove Chandra and his friends to put fantasy Janus into a live, animated character.

The idea of producing the movie arose three years ago, when Chandra finished writing the story and script. However, financial and technological constraints forced Chandra to put the story back in the drawer.

It was not until June 2002 that Chandra and his friends put Janus into production after he met producer Reza Yusuf Enoch, who produced the successful ghostbusting teen-flick Jelangkung.

"I could not find (another) producer who shared a similar view and who could help financially because there was concern that once the movie was finished, it could not be sold," Chandra said.

Technology was a major headache in producing the movie, which drew a lot of inspiration from futuristic movies such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Steven Spielberg's E.T..

"The trend in movie effects now is that when an audience cannot distinguish between computerized animation and live action, then it is a success. Not many are able to put live action and 3D animation together," the 38-year-old director explained.

To make Janus, whose name is taken from the god who guards the past and the future in Greek mythology, Chandra gave the task to an experienced animation team.

"Basically, the production of 3D animation for feature-length and short TV commercials is similar," said head of the animation team Dodo.

Nonetheless, technological limitations forced the animators to do some of the work manually, such as in motion-capture, for instance. Motion-capture is about capturing the movements of a real model -- usually movements of living creatures such as animals or humans -- in order to animate a character.

To do this, a motion-capture set equipped with sensors is required. The sensors are placed on the model's body and attached to the computer. They will send data to the computer on the model's movements.

Chandra said there was only one motion-capture set with 12 sensors in Indonesia, while a full set was available only in Thailand.

"We needed a motion-capture set with a minimum of 30 sensors. But it would have been way too expensive to rent a complete set," he said.

To circumvent the problem, the team did the work manually.

"We had to shoot the model and then manually tracked the movements on the computer," Dodo explained.

Combining the real shots and 3D animation is probably the greatest challenge. In order to get a good result, the team combined computerized animation with animatronics and digital video.

The live action was shot using a digital video camera while the futuristic scenes were produced by computerized animation. Combination of the two involved the use of Softimage software and AVID Symphony for editing.

Chandra said they preferred digital video to shoot the real action, rather than a conventional camera, as the resolution quality of the animated scenes had yet to match that of a conventional camera shoot.

The limited number of animators was also another constraint. Janus involved a handful animators who worked on four animated characters. In contrast, animated movies like Toy Story or Shrek involved dozens of animators. According to Chandra, at least four or five animators were needed to work on one character.

"The number of animators used and the number of animated characters to be produced would determine the rate of progress of the whole process," said Chandra, who has directed TV commercials and video clips for years.

To solve the problem, the number of animated characters was limited to four.

As a consequence, the story was kept simple.

"So, the challenge was to make a movie that was quite simple, yet still interesting to watch," he remarked.

It took only 20 days to shoot the live action. Meanwhile, the animated scenes--starting with modelling and animating--has been ongoing since December, 2002 and scheduled to finish in April.

Chandra chose former MTV VJ Jamie Aditya as the model on which to base Janus.

"I don't know why, but once I'd written the story, I had only Jamie in mind as Janus," Chandra laughed.

Another celebrity in the movie is 12-year-old Derby Romero, as Mayo. Derby successfully played a school bully in the 2000 children's hit movie Petualangan Sherina (Sherina's Adventure).

Asked if the movie would be a success in local theaters, Chandra said he would let audiences be the judge of that.

"Whatever the results are, we believe that it will open the doors to other locally made, animated movies," he said.

"Five or six years ago, this kind of development was just wishful thinking. We are fortunate to have been the first to make it happen," Chandra remarked.