Bad Hair Days…

It’s been an awfully long time — yet again — since I’ve updated all of you on the progress of The Price. Things have been moving forward at a truly glacial pace, and I have been plagued with guilt at every encouraging email I’ve received, innocently (yet, inevitably) asking, “How’s it going?”

Despite the numerous times I’ve felt prompted to post some little blurb of news, I’ve found that instead I continue to postpone writing anything here until something more notable has actually happened …

… and then somehow, 4 months have flown past!

So, I’m throwing my apprehensions to the wind, and offer up the following in hopes that you will realize that, yes, both The Price and I are still alive and fighting everyday to make some kind of progress towards the finish line! :)

Now, about those “Bad Hair Days:”

Let me just say that when you look at the closing credits of an animated movie and watch the cascade of names that roll past under the header “Hair Team” … well, there’s a good reason for that endless procession: getting a computer to “make” hair is really, REALLY difficult!!! One of the primary hold-ups in our production has been creating decent hair — and since both of our protagonists have rather copious amounts of it, I’m sure you can appreciate the significance!

“But wait-a-minute,”  I can hear someone exclaiming, “you already posted a picture with hair; what was wrong with that?”

You mean this?

Let me explain: the 3D Sculptor/Designer of the characters (Ryan Peterson) and I had originally wanted the hair to be somewhat stylized, and so he sculpted the hair into the initial “Neil” model. While the forms were terrific, we couldn’t get the color and texture to look enough like hair, and found it was detracting from the overall look. For the image posted above, I had to laboriously paint each of the hairs on top of the shapes already there, and although it looks okay for this one shot, there is no way for me to use a similar technique for every shot in the film!

That lead us to using 3D hair systems (which, although they have been around awhile now, are still notoriously difficult to work with). After much trial and error, we’ve gotten most of the bugs worked-out, but I thought you might get a kick out of some of these not-quite-successful experiments:

Pretty crazy, right? And I know what you’re thinking: what’s with the green? Well, Ryan was trying different presets in ZBrush, an absolutely amazing digital sculpting program that recently added a tool called “Fiber Mesh” to their arsenal. The green “hair” pictured above is actually the “grass” preset, and although we weren’t considering using the actual color (which is easily changed), we were liking the clumpy, more stylized look (as opposed to Captain Frizz-Head over on the left). :)

We finally started to get somewhere we liked with this version:

From here, we had our resident Zbrush guru Michael Hoopes generate a test render:

And although the camera used here distorted the facial proportions a bit, the hair is actually starting to look like … hair!!!

Rest assured that the final look will be worth the wait, and know that my little team of warriors and I still have an awfully long way to go until we get to Mordor & actually kick-down those Black Gates … but the end is in sight!!!

About Xtopher

Director of The Price, and Owner/Creative Director of Silver Fish Creative, LLC.
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43 Responses to Bad Hair Days…

  1. Stacy Hurt says:

    Dude! I bet when Neil sees this he will get such a kick out of it! I wondering if you can package this and sell it to hair salons! LOL Keep up the great (and laborious) work!

    • Xtopher says:

      He indeed must have been tickled as he Tweeted my Blog link & promptly crashed the server for a few minutes! :) (I even got the “ultra-beefy-bandwidth” kit when I set this site up, but Mr.G’s horde kicked it to the curb, regardless!)

  2. Cat Mihos says:

    I am so intrigued by all the HAIR options! i do especially love the green one.
    Thank you for this @Xtopher!
    Leaving on a jetplane today with the Rob Zombie tour, will be home soon,
    working on our FESTIVAL LIST!
    xoxox to the family,
    Kitty Cat

  3. Sandra Getgood says:

    Thank you for the update, Christopher…. it’s always a pleasure and a joy to hear from you, and to see what you and your team are up to, what battles you are fighting, what triumphs you have to report. This is such a special project, on every level and in every way.

    • Xtopher says:

      You seriously have no idea how much all of the supportive comments and positive vibes really do for me & The Price — you rock, Sandra!!!

  4. Court says:

    This is really funny, because Neil has a picture book called “Crazy Hair.”

    But I know what you mean, when I was in 3-D animation classes, I did everything I could to avoid doing hair! But this is looking so, so good!

    • Xtopher says:

      I know — the book is sitting on the shelf next to me!!! :) And there is absolutely no way to avoid hair on this particular project, is there? 😉

  5. Doug Salmon says:

    Does every “master of the arts” experience this much travail with respect to detail? You are amazing, Chris!

    • Xtopher says:

      I don’t know any “masters” as of yet, but when I do meet one I will ask! :) Thanks mon oncle!

  6. Sioux says:

    Lol… I don’t see Neil… I see Alan Rickman, Brian May and Jon Bon Jovi down the right hand side of those pictures! haha…brilliant!
    Great work though! It seems strange that you have to put in so much effort in order to get back to where you wanted to start! But it looks better than the first render already imho.
    I like these in-between posts, Chris, seeing all the ups, downs, successes, failures and hard work you all put in! I’ll just appreciate the finished product even more!

    • Xtopher says:

      Very sharp of you, Sioux — you made me laugh out loud!!! :) And again: thanks for being so understanding & supportive!!!

  7. Matt Frederickson says:


    I’ll admit, I’m one of the folks who was wondering how this was progressing. I don’t know anything about rendering or computer animation, but I can just imagine how wonky rendering hair can get. This is a big hurdle, and I can totally see the work you’re putting into this. I’d rather see a great product than a rushed product any day. Keep up the good work!

  8. Joe K says:

    Hair is… ahem… hairy. I’m old enough to remember back when it was one of the Great Unsolved Problems in computer graphics, and every minor step forward was cause for celebration. Making it look right, look consistent from frame to frame, and respond properly from frame to frame is definitely not easy.

  9. Liz M says:

    I think it’s because of the shiny effect on the eyeballs, but the middle Neil head in the first hair test looks a lot like Morpheus/Dream from the Sandman graphic novels.

  10. Russ Rogers says:

    Well done. Progress! The character looks GREAT. The hair looks good. Well, it’s Neil’s hair, so it has to be a little “crazy.” Rock on!

  11. LaffingKat says:

    LOL, those experiments are too funny. Glad I’m not the one having to struggle to make it work though! It’s so cool to get these little insights into your process. Definitely part of what puts the fun in crowdfunding.

  12. Joanna says:

    I was JUST looking at this blog last night and thinking, I hope he posts an update soon….and lo and behold, today you did! :)

    I love seeing the behind-the-scenes work on this – please post more if you can! It’s really cool to get a peek into the process….especially when the results are that hilarious :)

    Keep up the great work!

    • Xtopher says:

      I’m putting the finishing touches on a new Videoblog that is pretty cool … I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m aiming to get it posted this week, so stay tuned (and thank-you for “keeping the faith”)!

  13. Vance says:

    I like the rightmost on Hair Test 1. It’s reminiscent of The Sandman.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the final version!

  14. I can fully sympathize – even the folks at Pixar have mentioned that hair/fur is extremely tough! That statement was made again just recently, with their upcoming movie “Brave” – Merida and her brothers’ wild, curly red hair even stumped the pros for a while! So, judging from that comment – wow, Chris, you and the gang have come a LONG way – that last render looks GREAT!!

    • Xtopher says:

      Thank-you, Anna! What’s funny is that Michael Hoopes (who cracked the hair and generated that last render) just called me after viewing this post, and said “Hey, I’ll send you a better render tonight to replace that last one!” That’s the kind of stellar dedication my little band of rebels can muster!!! :) So look for an update in a day or two!

  15. Stephanie says:

    Is it just me, or does the top right picture look like Neil is cosplaying as Dream? 😀

  16. Trish says:

    LOVE it! Thank you for showing the in-between work and taking us behind the scenes in the process. Not only do I feel inspired by your updates, I learn stuff too (though I don’t see myself in computer animation in the future but you never know!)

    Keep up on the awesome work. Much love and creative vibes to you and your team of warriors.

    • Xtopher says:

      Thanks so much Trish & glad you’re finding it informative — we truly do appreciate the goodwill!!!

  17. Heather says:

    Thanks so much for posting these! It’s amazing fun to see the different facets of this production. I love that you can use grass as a stand-in for hair. The test versions are really funny, but the last few images just look great!

    • Xtopher says:

      Thanks Heather … yeah, the whole grass thing was an unexpected source of inspiration, but that is one of the more interesting & exciting elements of the creative process!

  18. Trina says:

    It amuses me to no end that Neil’s HAIR is the hardest part of this work. His hair is like a living breathing creature on its own. So apropros. =) I am sooooo looking forward to seeing this film!

    • Xtopher says:

      It IS a living breathing creature, quite magnificent to behold, actually … and something that just has to be given the appropriate time and energy to realize correctly. ‘Nuff said. 😉

  19. Elizabeth (aka Suzi) Skutley says:

    Hair today and more tomorrow! Keep up the good work and we’ll all be waiting when you come through the end of the tunnel (am I mixing metaphors?).
    The “hair” show kept me rooted in my seat 😉 I’ll never give you the brush-off (especially if you put up with my terrible puns).

  20. Ed White says:

    Whew, looks like I’m late to the party…it’s been busy few days! Anyway, funny you posted just now since I had been thinking about The Price and wondering how it was coming along! BTW, I think you underestimate how interesting this technical stuff can be when explained to the layperson…it’s certainly very interesting to me 😉

    So, can you say why things are moving along so slow? Just overcoming technical issues and whatnot, or just life having its way? 😛

    • Xtopher says:

      Hey Ed — so good to hear from you! :) The quagmire is the result of both reasons, I’m afraid. Solving the tech issues has been an arduous process to be sure, but it has been made much longer and more painful because of personnel “issues.” Assets that were to have been completed months ago are still not finished, and when you have as small a team as I do, just one broken link in the chain can cause things to grind to a standstill. What is hard for me is having to depend on others for the elements that I can’t create myself; I can do most of the jobs involved in making this film (and once all of the pieces are in place, there will be no stopping me). Sorry to vent a little, but it really has been incredibly frustrating… yet some very valuable business/management lessons have been learned, so there you go. To quote a little Dr. Malcolm (by way of Michael Crichton), “Life will find a way,” right? 😉

      • Ed White says:

        No need to apologize for venting…after all, I literally asked for it! 😉

        And I do completely understand how issues in small teams can slow progress to a dead stand-still, especially when you’re dealing with a team composed of a handful of technical experts who each play a pivotal–and irreplaceable–part in the process. I can only hope your personnel issues are getting resolved and/or that you are finding ways to get other team members doing concurrent prep work.

        That said, glad you still sound cheerful and that you are extracting lessons from the challenges the project is throwing at you; keeping the right perspective lets you see they’re just blessings in disguise…once they’re in the rear-view mirror! 😉

        Anyway, I’ll venture to guess that it’s not lack of progress that’s holding up the updates so much as the messy business of interpersonal work relationships (which are fragile in even the best of circumstances) so I can’t really gig you too hard about the months between updates…just remember, at least one of your backers is easily impressed by these little updates that talk about minutae of the process, so don’t be too afraid to post, as there will always be someone willing to slow-clap :)

        Keep your chin up, Dr. X, we’re all rooting for ya!

  21. Josh says:

    Hair and eyes must be amongst a creatures most moody and revealing parts. I wish you luck with your endeavours and hope that when all is complete “The Price” will be released in Australia, too!

    • Xtopher says:

      They are difficult indeed, but things are definitely moving forward — but thanks so much for the kind words, Josh! Aussie, Aussie, Aussie — Oy! Oy! OY!!! 😉

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