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Daniel Robichaud on the making of Tightrope

Almost two decades have gone by since the production of the short. What kind of roadblocks did you meet at the time due to software or technology limitations that would’ve been much easier or done better with current technologies?

At the time, technology was limited compared to the tools we take for granted nowadays. For instance, subdivision surfaces were not widely available, so we had to build our characters with NURBS surfaces, making seamless connections of arms to body and fingers to hand hard to maintain. Also, we did not yet have access to lighting tools such as ambient occlusion or global illumination; we had to fake it with conventional spotlights and ray-tracing (using Mental Ray). On the other hand, we had an edge on the competition by being able to composite with Nuke, a DD proprietary software which would not be commercially available until several years later.

Did you intend the short to have any metaphorical meanings?

My intention was to create an allegorical story about good vs. evil. However, like any fable, I wanted to leave room for interpretation, and intentionally established an element of ambiguity, which allowed the audience to come up with their own “moral of the story.” Some people saw the film as a metaphor for art against industry, others interpreted it as a tale about the passage to the afterlife.

When did you see the film screened for the first time publicly?

Tightrope premiered in November 1998 at the Laemmle Theater in Santa Monica. The audience reacted positively, laughing loudly when the Suit fell to his doom, his rope having been “magically” cut off. It felt rewarding for the team and myself to see the film screened publicly to an approving audience.

How did the Softimage development team react to the film?

Softimage offered us their full support during the production of the film, to the extent of writing a tool to extract UV information from projected texture maps. Following the release, they gave Tightrope a lot of exposure, and unveiled it at their SIGGRAPH User Group meeting that year.

What has the short meant for Digital Domain and for you personally?

The intention was for Digital Domain to produce many more shorts after the release of Tightrope, but to my knowledge none ever reached completion. The state of the VFX business changed radically in the following years, forcing DD to re-evaluate its goals. As for me personally, it allowed me to grow as an animator and storyteller. It later led me to direct a feature-length animated film (Pinocchio 3000).

Which autobiographical elements do you see in the short?

Perhaps the desire to follow my dreams, the tightrope symbolizing my career path.

Have you been tempted to make more short films in recent years?

Following Tightrope, I wrote another short film story about a deep sea diver and a mermaid, which I hope to bring to life one day. I am also developing my own animated feature entitled “Frog Legs”.

Best of luck with both films, then! Looking forward to them. And thank you very much for your kindness in answering our questions.

Images are Copyright © Daniel Robichaud and Digital Domain. Provided courtesy of the author.

 Don’t miss 

Tightrope – film analysis

Daniel Robichaud's website

Tightrope's official page

Digital Domain's website

Scott Ross (Wikipedia)

Softimage (Wikipedia)

Article published September 2, 2015


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