Straightface Studios: Digitizing traditional ballet

Straightface Studios was approached by Peter Boal, artistic director for the Pacific Northwest Ballet to reimagine the overture for Tchaikovsky’s musical masterpiece, The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker overture is traditionally played to a closed curtain, but Boal wanted to immediately bring his audience into the show’s iconic wintery wonderland. His answer?

A 5,400-frame animated shot, complete with over 1.5 million trees, 8,540 bushes, 287 buildings, and 7 mice!

Presented from a flyover viewpoint, Straightface Studios created seven kilometers of snowy forest, a 19th-century New England town and an ornate, Greek-style mansion.


To generate a realistic flurry of snow throughout the entire overture, Straightface Studios needed a tool that could handle incredibly long viewing distances of over a kilometer, yet still be manageable for rendering and simulation. To complete the challenge, the team turned to compound geometry tool – Frost.

“From the start we wanted to create the snow realistically and not as a simple 2D cheat,” explains Gavin Greenwalt, VFX supervisor at Straightface Studios.

“We relied heavily on Frost 2.0’s new instancing tools to deliver memory efficient snowflakes to Vray for final rendering. In the end, every snowflake for over 3 minutes – across nearly 7 kilometers – was dependent on Frost.”

The sheer quantity of digital assets was a challenge for Straightface’s render farm. Final render time for a full beauty pass finished up at approximately 150,000 hours, equivalent to a month of work.

“We used extensive instancing and LOD objects to manage memory requirements and stay within our 32GB budget,” recalls Gavin. “Due to the month-long final render time, we rendered everything with deep samples, in order to integrate the atmospheric elements, snow simulation and perform paint fixes.”

Straightface took advantage used the following Thinkbox Software tools to create a workflow:

Krakatoa generated PRT chunks in parallel across multiple machines.

Magma tools were used to refine and modify the simulation as camera animation changed angles.

XMesh transferred animated meshes into the larger scene, without having to transfer rigs or duplicate work between the different software packages.

“This project was our first to use a Thinkbox PRT workflow,” says Gavin, “and I can honestly say that we simply couldn’t have handled the scope and size of the simulation without Krakatoa’s magma and Frost’s instancing.”
       Straightface studios

       Straightface studios