At one point, the studio even considered leaving those artifacts in the films to add a bit of character to the scene. It could have been a way to remind audiences that everything they’re watching is crafted by hand. But once Laika started clearing things up, the work scaled considerably.
“The largest subset of the visual effects team is rotopoaint, and nobody who goes to a film walks out and says, ‘Oh my God, the rotopaint was so incredible in that!,” Steve Emerson, visual FX supervisor at Laika, told Engadget. “So we want to be able to to streamline some of these tasks. So then we can ship those resources over to really push the look and the visual experience of a Laika film. And then it also gives the people that are doing those types of tasks new opportunities to really stretch themselves as artists.”
The Intel-powered machine learning tool shows up as a plugin within Nuke, the 3D modeling program used by Laika artists. The company tells us it’s able to clear up artifacts in 70 frames (lasting around 3 seconds) in around five minutes and 25 seconds. Previously, it would take artists five to six hours to do the same with earlier tools. The AI solution isn’t completely hands-free: Laika still needs to train it to understand individual character models, a process which takes several weeks. And artists will still need to tell the plugin where it needs to work by setting bounding boxes. But it’s hard to argue with the massive reduction in tedious work.