Design by DeWaal - 3D Animation Portfolio

A Key Rigging Grip/Underwater Key Grip's collection of 3D animation designs.

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(click on pictures below to see videos)

Although I started this page a few years ago to highlight how SketchUp can be used by rigging grips to design and plan their rigging challenges, I've been getting more and more interested in the complexities of set design.
This led me to take a short but extensive course in Production Design for Film and Television. One of our projects was the design of a speakeasy set. Here's what I came up with:

student project designed in SketchUp

In Aldergrove, British Columbia, there's an old horse riding arena that was converted to a sound stage. The CBC's TV production Arctic Air was one of dozens of productions shot in this revamped facility. While rigging the stage for Arctic Air we were presented with a challenge to hang a studio pipe grid 14 feet above the floor across most of the 100 foot wide by 260 foot long building. The entire grid was hung from cables that were attached to brackets bolted to the ceiling beams. The brackets were roughly 12 feet apart along beams that were spaced 20 feet apart. Since the pipe grid needed to be based on 10 ft by 10 ft squares many of the pipes had to hung on bridle cables between the beams. Creating a 3D model as a design and planning tool simplified the calculations and logistics of making over 200 bridle cables of varying lengths. The grid has already serviced three seasons of Arctic Air and now serves the needs of a new TV series currently in production.

studio grid designed in SketchUp

Another show and another challenge: we needed to hang a flying curved greenscreen with an arc length of 112 feet and a radius of 43 feet.The 20 foot high greenscreen was rigged to fly out of the way to quickly make room for shooting scenes that did not require the greenscreen. Curved curtain track was not an option due to time constraints during filming. The 3D model was created as a design and planning tool to simplify the placement along the arc of five 24 foot long runs of straight truss. The truss sections were joined with hinge plates to create a solid support for the 112 foot curved aluminum pipe arc. The 3D model also helped determine the pick points along the truss for the 6 chain motors required to fly the curved greenscreen. The model shows how the parts of the building can be rendered invisible to bring the primary focus to the placement of the rigging and lighting hardware. After shooting with the greenscreen on the main set the push of one button makes the greenscreen and a large piece of rigging hardware rise to the ceiling. Since the shooting schedule called for going back and forth between sets it was very quick and easy to restablish the greenscreen.

studio grid designed in SketchUp

The Beijing Underwater Film Studio. I designed this virtual facility after being contacted by Ray Productions of Beijing. They were searching for
input and ideas for the construction of a dedicated underwater studio. I wanted to illustrate all the features that would be important to have in a studio created exclusively for the filming of underwater scenes.

My ideal size for a perfect tank would be at least 60 feet by 60 feet. The depth would be about 20 feet. There would be three distinct levels in the tank starting with the boat ramp in line with a roll up door going down the 5 feet deep section. From this level there would be permanent concrete stairs going down to a 10-foot deep level with more stairs going to a 15-foot deep zone followed by the last set of stairs to the bottom at 20 feet. Permanent stairs right to the bottom makes life a lot easier when the tank is partially or entirely drained. If a larger area of only 5 or 10 feet deep is required it is easy to build an underwater scaffold platform to extend the 5 or 10-foot zone. For scenes with vigorous wave action the level may be dropped to whatever level is required to ensure that wave water stays in the tank.

A large deck around the tank is important when combining above and below water set elements. Sloping rock cliffs that go right from the ceiling to deep underwater are easy to create when there is enough deck space. Greenscreens, translights, and other topside elements need room for front or back lighting. If the permanent deck needs to be larger, scaffold platforms underwater make it possible to create almost any conceivable set piece from the edge of an ice-covered mountain forest to a sloping tropical beach.

The dive tank walls and floor would be flat black. Greenscreens would be lowered into the water on truss and chain motors from the 40-foot high underside of a beefy arrangement of steel roof trusses. Literally tonnes of rigging and lighting equipment can safely hang from the ceiling trusses of most modern studios and the ideal underwater studio would have the same structural characteristics as any conventional purpose-build studio.

There should be a dedicated room for the director and the rest of the video village personnel. They can watch and direct the action from the comfort of proper chairs and tables with large-screen HDTV monitors, underwater speakers, and live two-way communication with the dive crew. The dive tank area will be warm and humid and the air-conditioned comfort of the video village room will be appreciated.

Since there could be up to 15 or more divers and actors in the water (depending on the script) there needs to be an efficient way to deal with dive gear and wet divers. The divers need good access to and from the water. A wet-use washroom facility adjacent to the divers area helps maintain water quality. Air compressors located in the basement directly below the divers makes filling scuba tanks a very simple procedure.

The underwater camera crew needs their workstation right beside the divers area. Underwater camera housings need to be opened fairly often to change lenses, batteries, etc.

The underwater crew needs a good locker room for changing in and out of their wetsuits. Actors may need a hot tub to warm up between shots if they start to find the water a bit cool. A seminar room is important for training purposes. Space is also required for production offices, wardrobe, props, set dec, grip and lighting departments. Laundry facilities for wetsuits, towels, and wardrobe can be located anywhere in the building. A large freight elevator right from the basement to the roof facilitates any kind of future need. A helicopter-landing pad on the roof is essential for people for whom time is money. 

These are just a few of the ideas covered in the animation and the correspondence that was emailed to Ray Productions of Beijing. Now it appears that China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, is building an underwater studio as part of the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis. Once completed in 2017, the project will be the world's largest studio complex with 20 sound stages in addition to the underwater studio. From my perspective as a Key Rigging Grip and an Underwater Key Grip this is a preview of what the ideal underwater studio and production center would look like. I am excited to see how many of my ideas actually make it into the finished project. So Mr. Jianlin, if you read this and want to send me a ticket to China to come and see the completed project I would definitely accept your offer!

Design by DEWAAL concept for an underwater film production center

For the production of Man of Steel we needed a set of stairs going into the 60 foot diameter dive tank. Since the shooting schedule for the underwater work was projected to last 5 weeks we needed a set of stairs that was comfortable for actors as well as divers. Safety was also a primary concern so the stairs were made over 4 feet wide to allow two people to enter or leave the water at the same time. Three platforms were added below the water surface so that there was adequate room for actors and divers to rest between takes. All stairs and decks were carpeted for actor and crew comfort and safety. Since the scaffolding stairs system was on wheels we were able to roll it out of the way and re-position it as the underwater sets were changed.

scaffold stairs for a 60 foot diameter tank.

Scaffold towers for lighting exterior film sets are often used in situations like dense forests when a condor or stinger crane simply cannot go where the director of photography wants to position his big exterior lighting.This scaffold tower needed to be 10 feet by 10 feet square with a deck height of 35 feet. An I-beam was rigged up six feet above the deck to provide a pully for hoisting heavy lamps up to the deck as well as serving as a hanging support for the lamps. Heat shield frames would be mounted to the pipe beside the I-beam and a 30 foot by 12 foot diffusion fabric would be wrapped around the 3 faces of the tower facing the set. The effect would be a large-source lighting effect simulating sunlight or moonlight. Since the tower is to be built in the forest guylines with cable tirfirs will secure the tower to nearby trees.

lighting scaffold tower

On a recent tech survey for a TV show everyone was contemplating filming day for night on an actual full-size diesel locomotive. The actors were mostly interacting in the cab of the train and the action called for a 20 foot by 80 foot long greenscreen for the visual effects. A large blackout tent with a big curved greenscreen inside was required as was support pipes for the lamps lighting the greenscreen. The 3D renditions of the rigging helped visualize how we were intending to build the structure that would be needed to actually shoot the scene as requested. While the 3D animations are useful for demonstrating exactly what we intend to build the 2D pictures from the model are completely adequate for quickly conveying the scale and perspective of what we are being asked to build. Needless to say, once the producers realized how big the setup was getting for the INT LOCOMOTIVE scene they nixed the real locomotive idea and decided to do it in a locomotive cab mockup in a studio set.

Scuba divers have to carefully monitor their depth as well as the duration of the dive in order to return to the surface before accumulating too much disolved nitrogen in their tissues. To help safely remove that disolved nitrogen divers are often required to decompress at a predetermined shallow depth. They remain there at the specific depth for a period of time that depends on how deep they went as well as how long they were at that depth. After staying at 20 feet for the minimum required time they can safely return to the surface without suffering from the bends.
The animation below illustrates a design for a
diver's safety stop station that is intended to be moored to a sunken wreck. The safety stop station will hang from a mooring buoy 20 feet below the waters surface so that divers can comfortably perform their decompression safety stop after a dive. This safety stop station was designed by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC) and is intended to be installed on each of the artificial reefs the ARSBC has sunk in the waters off the coast of BC.

ARSBC decompression station on mooring line over wreck

Photo Galleries: A thousand pictures to tell the stories................................

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All photos, video animations, and designs on this page copyright protected by Design by DeWaal. Images are presented for information puposes only. Design by DeWaal and it's affiliates are in no way responsible for any outcome by anyone attempting to physically build the structures on this webpage. Always consult with a professional structural engineer and appropriate tradesmen before building anything you may see on the internet.

If you require a 3D model to help determine a studio rigging plot or design please fee free to contact
Herb DeWaal, IATSE 891 Key Rigging Grip, at (604) 961-5428

Email for all inquiries regarding use of photos.

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