Pixeldust Studios, a digital animation and visual design company with studios in the Metro D.C. area and New York City, recently produced original animations for National Geographic Channel’s upcoming mini-series Untamed Americas. The show premieres June 10-11 on the National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo MUNDO.
Pixeldust Studios produced highly detailed animations depicting the geography and topography of the North and South American continents, as seen from above. Based on detailed satellite imagery and extensive research, the work was designed to embellish the aerial photography shot by the show’s producers.
“Pixeldust’s stylistic aerials are both real and other-worldly,” said Ashley Hoppin, executive producer of Untamed Americas for National Geographic Channel. “They make the viewer feel like he/she is flying up, down, and above the Americas, like Superman.”
“The challenge for us on this massive project was how to best recreate the vast terrain of North and South America using reference materials from satellite data and maps while keeping it manageable in a 3-D animation software,” explained Ricardo Andrade, founder/executive creative director of Pixeldust Studios. “We wished to present a photorealistic look to the terrain on the Earth but didn’t want to create the look of traditional maps. Instead, we spent a good deal of time ensuring that the true colors, and the densities of the colors and the terrain, ranging from clouds to snowcapped mountaintops to ground landscape to oceans, would match the video plates that were shot. Our CGI work had to blend in seamlessly with the actual video footage that the producers brought to us.”
“We used E-On’s Vue 10 software, which offered us billions of polygons, to depict the various elevations of the Earth’s terrain featured in this show,” he added. “We also incorporated Autodesk’s Maya 2013 software to create the camera moves as a viewer POV fly-over, so there would be seamless transitions from the actual video plate projections, to our CGI terrain, and then back to the outgoing video plates.”
Samar Shool, Pixeldust Studios’ technical director, oversaw the challenge of creating an accurate and seamless look. “We had to present high-altitude travel scenery over everything from Alaska to Patagonia, while depicting every mountain and every detail of the Earth’s actual terrain,” said Shool. “Our goal was to recreate these details exactly, based on the satellite imagery and other materials. We delivered digital set extensions that were both technologically and artistically correct, matching the starting point and ending point using video plates that were shot on location. We took our ‘look and feel’ references, colors, tones and densities, from the beautiful footage that was presented to us by the producers of this program.”