In Search of Ningyo
Miguel Ortega's CG Mythological Creatures
Blur Studio, Method Studios,
Atelier Feuerroth, INK,
Nick Gaul, Lukas Hajka
Filmakademie & Supinfocom Arles
2014 Issue 01
Blur in Motion
Catching up with "PORTALS"
VFX Behind Blockbusters
An Interview with Blake Sweeney
Planes, Dogs and V-Ray
In Search of Ningyo
The Making of Amanda
Crossing the Uncanny Valley
An Interview with Lukas Hajka
The Rise and Fall of Globosome
Life End in Bet She'an
artwork by Anders Ehrenborg
Blur Studio http://www.blur.com
Chaos Group http://www.chaosgroup.com
V-Ray 3.0 http://www.v-ray.com
Paramount Laundry Building http://ericowenmoss.com/project/paramount-laundry/
The modeling department is situated in between the concept art department and the rigging area.
Celebrated Lead Character Modeler Alessandro Baldasseroni tells us that his department receives
the art from the concept guys and the modelers produce technical 3D characters and assets to be then
passed on to the riggers. “We take care of the shading aspects of the model, not only the texturing, but
we bring a lot of extra detail and interest to the character’s presence, which would be difficult to do just
There’s certainly a lot more to modeling than just blocking the creatures together in a 3D space. Mathieu
Aerni, a Lead Character Modeler at Blur Studio finds that being so involved in character creation is very
exciting. “As character modelers, we actually do everything to do with the character, from scratch,” he
says. “So, modeling, UV, texturing and shading.” Aerni finds this is a very good way to get very involved
with the character. “It’s your own, so you’re really into it,” he adds.
“People come to Blur because we do come up with a lot of great ideas,”
adds CG Supervisor Chris Bedrosian. “We’ll flesh it from concepts through
to final, and if the clients don’t know what they want, we’ll help them
figure that out too,” says Bedrosian.
“Blur Studio has always had a general philosophy to hire good artists and
enable those artists to put their talent to as broad a use as possible,” says
Kevin Margo. One of the most innovative areas at Blur Studio these days is
the Scene Assembly department. Developed to be the real generalist area
of the studio, this is the place where everything is put together. But there
is a stark difference. The artists here are typically involved in environment
modeling, shading, lighting and compositing.
With all the talk of generalists, it is good to hear there are specialists
employed at Blur as well. We spoke to a dedicated Hair TD, Danny Young,
who is busy full time modeling the material from splines. “I am applying
this for long hair on female characters, to monsters with fur, all kinds of
characters. Simulating it, rendering it,” he says. “We used to run a plugin
in multiple passes, but now with the new modifier in V-Ray, it is possible
to run motion blur, depth-of-field, all the passes all in one go.”
Looking ahead to the features in V-Ray 3.0, the crew at Blur were interested in discussing how much
faster and easier rendering had become. “Sub-surface scattering is not just for skin anymore, and
can be applied to any surface, bringing in new light and life to any surface,” Simon Blanc explains.
“It used to be more about the technical side, but since we switched to V-Ray, now it’s more about the
artistic side that makes stuff look as complex and detailed as possible. We don’t worry too much on the
technical rendering side because we know it’s going to render just fine.”
The tools are so good now, in general, it really comes down to that
last 10% that matters, and we spend more time in that last 10%
The big thing that’s happened just recently, is the increase in confidence in the pipeline at Blur. The
crew has spent a lot of time, refining and perfecting each step in the workflow and structure of the
pipeline to the next, all the way through. “V-Ray took care of a lot of things we were brute-forcing with
a lot of other renderers,” says Tim Miller. “Whether it was flickering or too grainy; or long render times
that had to be micro-managed to get down to something reasonable. All of these things take artists a
lot of time and they’re not very fun tasks to do, and this took them away from the creative task. V-Ray
seemed to bypass all of that and very quickly you get a pretty good-looking render. And then, it’s the
artists coming in and pulling it up that much further.”
“V-Ray took care of a lot of things...”
“And you put it all together and you think, there’s no way
this is going to render. Always does, with V-Ray.”
“There are definitely times when you get all the assets together from a lot
of guys,” says James Atilano, a Lead in the Scene Assembly department.
“Since we switched to V-Ray, now it’s more about the artistic side...”
The “Portals” animated short was featured in our FMX 2013 magazine upon the release
of the film’s trailer. A year later, we talk to Director Simeon Sokerov and Concept Artist
Viktor Mazhlekov to find out more about the film’s release and people’s reactions to it.
The setting of Portals could not be more unique. It appears to take place in a microscopic
yet fantastical world. The life resembles that which you’d see in a science documentary
or in a textbook from school, but the resemblance to reality ends there.
Audiences have reacted enthusiastically to “Portals” which was a pleasant surprise to the
film’s director. “What struck me is that people didn’t think about how the film was created.
They simply enjoyed the world they were immersed in and the feeling they were left with
after watching it,” says Sokerov. The duo was very flattered by the overall response and
the response of committee members and festival organizers after “Portals” was shown.
The film was submitted to various festivals over the past year including Annecy, Zagreb,
Anima Mundi, Hiroshima and Siggraph, but in the end Sokerov and Mazhlekov weren’t
focused on festival success. “We made the type of film we wanted to make and that is
what was most important to us,” says Sokerov.
“Portals” will soon be available for viewing in its entirety through various
channels and we’ll be sure to share the news when it is released.
You can currently watch the trailer for “Portals” on Vimeo here:
Catching up with
Looking at your IMDB profile, you've worked on an impressive and
diverse number of projects over the years. Looking back, are there
any that are especially memorable for you in your career? If so, why?
I had some great opportunities over the years, allowing me to work
with talented people on terrific projects at a variety of companies. Each
project was memorable for different reasons.
"Pearl Harbor" at ILM was the first show where I was able to light
shots on a feature film and the production team, supervisors, and other
artists were completely supportive of rookie work and mistakes.
I wasn't trusted with much -- a fifty pixel boat on the horizon, for
example -- but the chance to work on a movie at all was exciting.
"Star Wars: Episode II" was another amazing experience, my first show
as a dedicated artist rather than with one foot in a support roll. That
show gave me the opportunity to run a number of crowd simulations of
clone armies and even to light some shots with Yoda. Who doesn't want
to light Yoda?
"Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" at Weta in New Zealand was
a completely different experience. It had the benefit of both box office
and critical success, which is rare in big budget movies. And it also felt
like the whole country of New Zealand was emotionally involved in the
project. Despite long hours, the entire crew seemed to have positive
energy because everyone knew they were working on something epic.
More recently, "Real Steel" was a complete pleasure. It felt like the
entire show -- from the client side team to Legacy (who built the
practical robots) to the VFX team at DD -- was all setup for success. I
joined the team after a stint on Tron, which provided my first taste of
V-Ray, and we decided to use V-Ray for all of the robots on Real Steel.
That's when I really witnessed the power of V-Ray and the quality it
could produce. I remember some people commented that the simplicity
of look development and lighting in V-Ray actually made lighting fun
again. Chaos Group was a valuable ally on that show to help overcome
a number of technical challenges, including hair rendering, normal
differentials, and a bevy of other things.
"Cloud Atlas" was another amazing experience. We had a tremendous
and surprisingly compact team at Method that turned out some
incredibly complicated work. I'd never had a chance to feel so close to
the design process of a show before. Matt Dessero, the VFX supervisor,
led the team of artists to truly explore and design shots organically for
the client, who was totally supportive.
Like "Cloud Atlas," "Divergent" had a number of the same, talented
people working towards the end goal. The mirror room was especially
complicated and was about as demanding as you can be on a raytracer.
The entire design of the shoot and render philosophy were fun to witness
and dissect with the team. Vlado and the Chaos Group helped answer
some questions and added some features to support breaking out
reflections at different ray depths to aid the compositors in reassembling
An Interview with Blake Sweeney, CG Supervisor at Method Studios
Can you speak a little bit about learning your craft and what helped
you along the way?
Oh man, that's a tough one. I love computers, have always loved movies,
video games, and comic books. I lucked out and went to university at
the University of California at Davis, which had a really strong graphics
department and some great professors, including Ken Joy and Bernd
Hamman who were two of my favorites. The school had a ton of SGI
machines back when that was important, and I spent many nights in the
computer lab programming graphics applications in OpenGL and C++
and learning PowerAnimator.
A number of people from our UC Davis computer lab went on to ILM,
Pixar, and PDI, who actually came to our career fair. It was at the career
fair where I applied for a job as a technical assistant. I got the job at
ILM, most likely because two of my classmates, Matt Bouchard and Dan
Lobl, already worked there. And despite the strange hours, the job was
a blast. We were all more than happy to do whatever it took -- even if it
were two years of technical shift work -- to have the chance to work on
movies at ILM.
One of the nicest things about that job was it had a genuine career path.
They viewed it as a training position to develop new technical directors,
and usually people would work as technical assistants for two years
and then be picked out from a show to become Assistant Technical
Directors. My number was called on Pearl Harbor and Ben Snow
and Michael Bauer, both supervisors, spent a lot of time answering
questions and teaching me about what it actually meant to do the job.
Coming from a Computer Science background definitely came in handy
and allowed me to start to do some Python programming and lots of
MEL programming within Maya.
Since then, almost everyone I've met has taught me something. Samson
Kao and I started a visual effects company back in 2005 which was really
eye opening. Being a part of large VFX companies shielded me from the
details that go into every job, and it was fun to actually work on camera
tracks, do roto, pull green screens, do animation and anything else that
was needed to take on the jobs that came in. Although I didn't master
anything, it definitely gave me an appreciation and broader overview for
what it takes to put together a shot.
How have changes in software changed the way you've worked over
Changes in both software and hardware have drastically changed the
landscape of visual effects since I started in 1998. Back then, film VFX
companies were running primarily on SGI machines using the IRIX OS,
which meant that there was a serious financial barrier to entry. The
cheapest SGI machine then was around $5000. Now however, artists
can build a good machine for considerably less, install Linux for free
and download demo versions of software to start to practice at home.
Additionally, it feels like most of the big VFX companies used to rely
very heavily on proprietary hardware. If you just look at compositing,
ILM used “comptime” (proprietary), R&H used “comp” (proprietary), DD
used “Nuke” (proprietary at that time), Sony Imageworks used Bonsai,
etc. Shake emerged in 1997 and started to slowly change the paradigm.
In my mind, that’s a very interesting paradigm shift. If a person works
at a company that has primarily proprietary software, I believe that the
company and the employees are both more committed to one another.
From the company’s perspective, bringing in people off the street
means that they need to be trained from the ground up on a piece of
software they have never seen. From the employee’s perspective, it’s
considerably more daunting to leave the safety of a company where
you know all of the homegrown tools, and there’s a big question as to
whether the skills you’ve learned are at all portable.
These days, since the core pieces of software are mostly third party,
I believe companies have become a lot less devoted to the artists. At
the same time, this also means that more students can emerge from
a university or art school and feel prepared to be artists using familiar
software from day one. It’s a much more open world now, in my opinion.
Changes in both software and
hardware have drastically
changed the landscape of visual
effects since I started in 1998.
In the story of Faust, Dr. Marlowe loses his way in his pursuit of success, but for director Miguel
Ortega, it's a story of an artist finding his way under challenging circumstances.
Miguel has gone to great lengths to bring his CG masterpiece to life. In fact, he's shooting in his
dining room daily. But living on the set of his film is only a small challenge compared to funding
a full-length indie feature film, with insane digital FX, whose story is about a hunt for mythic
Ortega is a veteran CG artist, having worked on well-known projects like Thor, The Mist,
Transformers 3, Alice in Wonderland, and G.I. Joe; just to name a few. His current venture is
inspired by his fascination with cryptozoology and mythic beasts. It's a Faustian tale that follows
the character Dr. Marlowe, a paleontologist and professor (Indiana Jones-esque) on his hunt for
the Ningyo, a mythical mermaid-like Japanese creature whose flesh is infamous for increasing
longevity. The doctor is mocked by his peers for his search of the exotic beast but proceeds,
hoping that a discovery could be an amazing contribution to science. What he comes up against is
the greatest challenge to his morality that he could ever imagine.
Why one CG Storyteller transformed his home
in search of the Mythical Ningyo
It was definitely no small feat, but there's now a 35 minute pilot that is hoped to expand into a
feature film. The real trick, when making an indie film of this scope, is "making something that
looks like it costs many times more", Ortega says. Initially, the project was much smaller in scope,
because there was no guarantee that there would be funding. Cryptology and museumology from
over 100 years ago aren't, on the surface, blockbuster subjects.
Ortega is inspired by scientists, naturalists, and explorers of the 1900's, like Carl Akeley (who
invented taxidermy), Frederick Sealous, and Allan Quatermain, who was the inspiration for
Indiana Jones himself. Not to mention Grover Krantz, who was the first to research cryptozoology
in the 1960's.
The film is set in 1909, a time when science was not the death of magic, but still full of mystery
and possibility. As a storyteller, Ortega found this era irresistible, and a perfect setting for his
unique artistry with CG technology. Monsters were still real in this time period, and it's this
mysterious possibility that inspired Ortega to transform his home into a full-blown set, and climb
the tricky mountain of funding his dream project through sites like Kickstarter. He's well into
post-production, but getting the film shot on budget was a self-proclaimed "painful experience".
The real trick, when making an indie film of this scope, is
"making something that looks like it costs many times more"
In “The Ningyo,” the characters are authentic. There are fantastic elements, for sure, but this
only serves to illuminate the humanity of the main players. "We want to keep the consequences
of our characters' actions more grounded in reality; death should have a deeper weight. And any
character can die. We are more interested in the psychological than in the action", Ortega says.
That doesn't mean that he doesn't love creatures; in fact, he is one of the premier geniuses at
creating them from scratch. But what is most important is creating beings that seem as though
they really could exist in the world. That means no "Heavy Metal" monsters, but beings that are
inspired by nature, and therefore have added realism.
There's an immensely talented team behind this project, who have helped Ortega to transform
his ENTIRE home into a set. Though this may sound exciting on the surface, (one has visions of
'Synecdoche New York' where Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character keeps building and building
until his whole world is his stage play), but it was actually quite insane for Ortega. He went about
buying all the necessary skulls, taxidermy, and antiques for the set (because it was cheaper than
renting) and to this day he is living amidst this odd home decor. All the items were found on
Craigslist, and only the bathroom and bedroom remain immune to it all.
"A period film is expensive, but by using our wits instead of our wallets we have managed to find
ways of making this possible.". By distressing and refurbishing these online-bought props and set
pieces, they've managed to create a whole new world on a very tight budget.
Finding funding through Kickstarter was helpful but also something Ortega notes was a
"full time job". At one point the whole funding process came to a halt, and he was
tired of donors asking him what he was going to do when his project failed.
That was tremendously hard for the director and his creative team,
but they pushed on. When funding was low his team
stuck by him nonetheless.
"A period film is expensive, but by using our wits instead of our
wallets we have managed to find ways of making this possible."
It's important for him to build as much as he possibly can within the confines of his home, and
then take care of the impossible with digital technology. The reason for making his home so
detailed with set pieces as opposed to creating elements in post-production is "that the more
detailed the sets are, the easier we can light and texture them", Ortega says.
The technology is "huge for us, it was a revelation for us when we first started using it. It allowed
us to stop being technicians and really focus on making pretty images. For the first time we
can put a light in a scene and it just looks good.". V-Ray is an amazing innovation in computer
graphics with some of the best rendering technology ever seen. Ortega took advantage of the
photo-realistic images and architectural visualization capacity of this software to bridge the gap
between his imagination and what he could create on screen.
"Coming from a traditional photography background makes it even more of a joy to use: Physical
Cameras, Kelvin Color Temperatures in lights and simple to setup rendering elements."
Creating an independent film with visual effects is always a challenge, but Ortega cites V-Ray
as being something that liberated his team, and allowed them to do the FX for themselves.
"Ironically, what is expensive to most filmmakers is cheap for us and what's cheap for Hollywood
is expensive for us."
CG environments take a tremendous amount of hardware and time to light, shade and render.
The environments that Ortega works with have displacements, 4K textures and "all the bells and
whistles we can throw at it.". After that, V-Ray handles the rest in terms of data and rendering,
which Ortega says is "quite surprisingly quick".
He takes a "Disney approach" to visual storytelling, and begins with elaborate storyboards that
are a combination of 2D, 3D, and photography, and from here the team begins to visualize how to
shoot the sequences in respect to their limitations; taking stock of which scenes can be shot with
lenses they already own.
Bringing to life the topography of completely imaginary locations is no small feat, so it's done
in steps. Ortega explains: "We start by collecting as much reference as possible, roughing out
basic forms in Maya and then having our art team paint on top of our very rough 3D models to
get an idea of the lighting, details, etc. Then we move to Maya and use a combination of all 3D
backgrounds as well as matte painting projections inside Nuke."
For Miguel, CG is his great skill,
but he doesn't want to rely upon it like a crutch.
Any filmmaker in Hollywood with a big budget is going to find it much easier to film Ponce de
Leon-style adventure sequences in underwater caverns, so shooting in Miguel Ortega's living
room presents unique challenges. Modestly, he claims that the greatest difficulty comes from
creating detailed dynamics like bubbles, water particles, and dust atmospherics. With the help of
Houdini for FX and rendering done through V-Ray, Ortega got his bubbles, to say the least.
The very first project that Ortega transformed his home for was The Green Ruby Pumpkin, a short
film inspired by the work of Edward Gorey, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein. It was created with
$7,000, by hand, and in the living room. The motivation behind it was to "try doing creature films
that don't fall into the typical formula. We want to try a creature film that treats monsters and
creatures as plausible, not as fantastical (even if they are). We want to try a tone that isn't typical
to this genre of films, blending history with creatures."
Today Ortega is still working in post production on “The Ningyo,” and with his extraordinary team
and technology behind him, he's sure to overcome some mythological challenges that are involved
when making an indie film with advanced graphic artistry.
Through it all, his greatest concern is ART. "Its simplicity and its strength", he says. In the end, it
looks like the leading character in this story will not lose himself in his pursuit of success.
The technology is "huge for us, it was a revelation for us
when we first started using it. It allowed us to stop being
technicians and really focus on making pretty images. For the
first time we can put a light in a scene and it just looks good."
V-Ray is an amazing innovation in computer graphics with some
of the best rendering technology ever seen.
AMANDAFor whatever reason, some images just seem to grab and hold our
look away. For many of us at Chaos Group this was exactly the feeling
we had when we first looked upon Nick Gaul’s latest female portrait.
Using a combination of Maya, Mudbox and V-Ray, Gaul created a
human portrait that is both realistic and stylized. Inspired by the look of
actor Amanda Seyfried, the portrait is reminiscent of classic Hollywood
photo shoots from the 40s and 50s. “I started this piece looking for images
of actresses who I found looked interesting or had a certain timeless quality
to them,” Gaul says. “There was a nostalgic sense that I wanted to try and
convey.” The aim was for something that would “feel realistic, but not quite
photoreal,” pushing towards a slightly stylized look with the use of color and lighting.
T h e m a k i n g o f
Gaul has always been interested in and has
enjoyed doing sculpts of the human face.
Exploring subtle details, nuances and giving
character to a CG portrait is a challenge,
especially when you are trying capture a
likeness and make it look believable. “I enjoy
using a realistic portrait as a way to study
different areas in CG such as sculpting,
lighting and shading. V-Ray was actually
what got me started in doing fully lit and
shaded portraits,” adds Gaul.
When approaching a project like this, Gaul
first starts with collecting reference images
and then doing some freehand sculpting to
block in the main forms and proportions of
the face. This is followed by lining up the
model to the reference photos in Maya and
starting to tighten up the likeness. He also
looked at examples of fashion photography
to get inspiration for use of color and
composition. “I knew I wanted to use a lot of
golds and browns in the image, with a subtle
use of complementary blues that you see in
her eyes and rim lighting. I felt that these
hues would push this sense of nostalgia and
give it a retro feel.”
Halfway through the sculpting process,
Gaul begins to experiment with lighting
and shading with V-Ray. Once again,
reference images are used to see how the
skin should look under certain lighting
environments. This recreation of a photo
studio environment helps to expose parts of
the mesh and shading that need refinement.
There is always a challenge of balancing
artistic and technical adjustments according
to Gaul, “It’s extremely difficult to make a
portrait that doesn't come off looking creepy
or slightly off.”
As for materials and textures, Gaul relied
heavily on VrayFastSSS shader and VrayMtl,
“I really appreciated how the skin shader
in V-Ray, with some presets, can be a great
point to start from and get quick results.”
For the hair, Gaul created a layered shader
grabbing some extra reflection controls from
VrayMtl to mix with the VrayHair shader.
For Gaul, one of the biggest challenges was
to get the eyes just right. He ended up using
and painted maps for driving scatter amount
and thickness. To get just the right amount of
detail and shadow catching in the iris, Gaul
decided to do a detailed displacement pass
on the iris fibers themselves that helped to
give the eyes extra depth. As a final touch,
some of the caustic settings were bumped
up on the iris material to get a “bit of a kick”
from the lighting.
With a portrait such as this, Gaul is able
to create an image that evokes mood
through color and light. With attention to
photographic reference and detail, he has
managed to balance realism and stylistic
choice in such a way that garners admiration
and demands our attention.
Am a n da v-ray hair3d mo del
V-Ray was actually what got
me started in doing fully lit
and shaded portraits.
You can read an interview with V-Ray for Blender developer, Andrei Izrantcev, at RenderStreet.com:
artwork by Max Puliero
V-Ray for Blender is now available
Chaos Group is a proud sponsor of the
2014 Architectural 3D Awards
in the student category.
How did you first learn 3D and what made you
decide to pursue it?
I started 6 years ago, in the spring of 2008. Before 3D I was
live action with CG caught my attention I suppose and that’s
when I started digging into Maya 8.0. I rarely finished any of
my personal projects, but still they felt meaningful to me and
I was having fun working on them.
Your thread on CG Talk started in 2011 and it has
been an amazing journey to watch and for others
to learn from. What prompted you to start this
project and be so open with it?
Thanks. I was testing some free photo scanning solutions on
environment props and later on human faces. Some really
good results encouraged me to progress further, and now
here I am, almost at the end. I also thought that the modeling
workflow was really cool and accurate, so I shared it on
CG Talk and later on CGfeedback. People started posting
questions and I kept answering them. That’s all there is to
it. Honestly, I would feel like a jerk if I just ignored or evaded
Crossing Тhe Uncanny Valley
What is the most surprising thing about this
project and the community feedback over the
What is most surprising is the amount of attention this
project has gained in the community lately, and it's not even
finished yet. I mean, I totally wasn’t expecting that I’d do an
interview for Chaos Group regarding this project some day.
That’s indeed surprising.
What industry are you in and has this project
benefited your skills and abilities for your job?
I’m making print ads for local agencies mostly here in
Slovakia. I had some offers from two high profile video game
and VFX studios, but at the moment working from home suits
me much more. Yeah, stuff I’ve learned working on the project
definitely helped me in my job and vice versa.
Tell me how you define "uncanny valley."
My understanding of the uncanny valley wouldn’t be much
different from anyone else’s I suppose. When it comes to CG
characters, it’s simply a failed attempt at a photorealistic
approach. The human brain perceives faces very sensitively
and it can spot discrepancies right away, so every detail
When achieving this level of photorealism, there
is a careful balance between the scientific and
aesthetic choices you make. Can you explain how
you handle that balance?
papers, measured data and so on just to help me gain a basic
understanding and some sort of starting point. It eliminates
lots of guessing work in the process. But at the end, I don’t
want to restrict myself too much by it. Often during R&D, I
pick a parameter that’s supposed to be accurate then do a test
render with a double value and a half value, just to visualize
that range and understand how it influences the overall look.
Then I shift to whatever direction that I think looks better.
You seem to make the choice to change your hair
and facial hair from the references we have seen.
You also give yourself a smile and look reminding
me Aphex Twin. Can you explain why you chose to
change your look throughout this project?
For the record, the portrayed face is not my own, it belongs to
Ondrej Virág, a friend of mine, whom I want to thank for his
cooperation. Now back to the question…To give the character
a genuine emotion, in this case a smile, was planned from
the beginning. The smile was taken from the motion capture
animation and applied as a blendshape. The facial hair is
the same as the reference, only longer. When doing the hair,
I wasn’t sure where to go with the character, I was testing
various short hairstyles and I didn’t really like any of them,
so I took a U-turn and started over with the long hair version.
And although Richard D. James is my favorite musician, the
resemblance is purely coincidental.
When looking at the forum thread, you seem to
have a very straightforward system for your
shaders. Most of the work is done in the shader
itself allowing you to focus on the textures
going in. Can you explain your ideas behind how
the shader is built?
The shader is broken down into smaller building blocks,
different ones for the SSS, diffuse and reflectance. The
reflectance was a challenge. It needed to have multiple
reflectance lobes, a different set of microstructure textures
for different facial parts blended together properly and so on.
In my shaders I also like to put some extra care into areas
of contact between two different objects (for example where
an eyeball meets the eyelids, or teeth penetrate gums, the
hairline, etc.). It’s important for these transitions to look soft,
natural and organic. Any harsh looking edge is an instant
Since the shaders rely heavily on the textures
going in, what system do you use to ensure that
they are "correct"?
I shot some reference images, tried my best to replicate the
light scenario in V-Ray, and then compared and adjusted
If you were to start over,
would you do it differently?
I think I would, the only way to improve is to change
What advice would you give based on your
experiences with the creation and sharing
of this work?
Study your references, pay very close attention to details and
What can we look forward to from you next on
this and other projects?
You will have to wait and see. ;)
You stated in the thread something along the
lines of, “CG is never final or finished.” I suspect
that a project like this one is a prime example
of that. What would you like to focus on next in
terms of this project?
My next focus will be aimed at the post-production,
where I’ll try to push it a step further.
Baden-Wuerttemberg, shows us the evolution and struggles on a
planet overrun with the dominant species: little black blobs. Sascha
Geddert’s inspiration sprouted from his interest in climate change. He
interviewed local climate scientists and made a short film to show his
classmates. From this, “Globosome” began to take shape, the idea
being how can a species remain renewable after millennia of growth
and the depletion of natural resources.
“Globosome” is a civilization of blobs that go through various phases
of evolution and change their planet forever. It starts in the beginning
with verdant plant life creating an atmosphere, making a perfect
setting for little blobs. They appear, multiply and evolve at a rapid
pace. Alone they are puny, but en masse they appear ominous and
powerful. Geddert conscientiously makes many nods to science
playing with the idea of the apocalypse. It doesn’t sound too good for
the blobs. When asked about the ending, Geddert commented, “The
ending was especially tough and I don’t want to spoil it. Let me just
quote Ian Malcolm from ‘Jurassic Park’ here, ‘Life finds a way.’”
Geddert knew he would be facing a lot of technical challenges when
he started working on the film.
“I knew there would be hundreds of these rolling, little creatures
that had to interact with the environment and with each other,” says
In addition, Geddert wanted lush, translucent vegetation that would grow, move
with the wind and then dramatically get destroyed. For software he went with
3ds Max and V-Ray. A fellow student, Patrick Schuler, studied swarm dynamics
and incorporated them into thinking particles for 3ds Max. The plants were
created with the GrowFX plugin and replicated with MultiScatter. V-Ray was
used for rendering, and Phoenix FD was used to create atmospheric effects.
“V-Ray was absolutely essential in the creation of the film. Basically, everything
revolves around it,” says Geddert. “I love V-Ray’s materials and GI systems, its
proxy workflow and its ability to chew through the millions and millions of
polygons that MultiScatter provided,” he continued.
The Rise and Fall of
A talk with Sascha Geddert
Currently a game for “Globosome” is in the works and should be available
in the coming months. Hopefully it will be possible to have a more uplifting
ending in the upcoming game. We’ll just have to wait and see.
how can a species remain renewable
AFTER MILLENIA OF GROWTH AND the
depletion of natural resources.
“V-Ray was absolutely essential in the creation of
the film. Basically, everything revolves around it,”
“I love V-Ray’s materials and GI systems, its proxy workflow and its ability to chew
through the millions and millions of polygons that MultiScatter provided.”
Geddert also used V-Ray’s displacement to create
movement in the clouds for the nebulas.
Playing off expectations is one of the oldest
tricks in comedy. If an audience sees Louis XIV-
era France as a place filled with exquisite
architecture and opulent wealth, then that’s
fertile ground for a joke. Especially when it’s
shaped like a chicken.
The student team behind the award-winning short “A La Française” decided to skewer history
with a graduation piece that found comic gold in asking a farm bird to be proper. Sword-happy
sentries, randy lords, and well-mannered ladies who may or may not be able to contain their
chickenly urges populate an animated world that is both vivid and intricate. Colors are vibrant,
costumes are packed with embroidered details, and the wordless vignettes play off real-life
situations recounted by the famous French playwright, Molière.
So how did this group of ambitious Supinfocom students re-create their version of 1700
Versailles? They turned to V-Ray.
Looking back, their demands weren’t revolutionary; they wanted speed, simplicity and final
frames that could match what they saw in their minds. Julien Hazebroucq, the lighting and
rendering lead, decided to build their pipeline around V-Ray. Five years of experience made
them confident that wherever this idea was heading, V-Ray could help them bring it out.
“V-Ray can be very fast, to the point where
you can end up with a lot of leftover time
for more animation and details,” said Julien.
“Each iteration makes your film better so
anything that can bring you back to the
process is a blessing.”
With Global Illumination (GI) turned on, the team
was able to walk that fine line between cartoon and
realism. As color played a big role in their vision,
V-Ray’s GI came in handy as it allowed the artists
to bounce environmental color light onto their
character’s clothing. A wooden floor quickly became
an accentuator at court, while a blue sky became a
cooling agent in the garden.
“GI helped us do a lot with a little,” added Julien. “In
the reverence scene our only light source was the
windows, which was challenging since we had to light
a packed hall full of characters wearing colorful attire
as well as a mirror reflection. A combination of GI and
V-Ray Sphere Fade was all we needed to do it though.
It worked with what we had and made it look great.”
V-Ray Sphere Fade proved important to the team since
they wanted to avoid camera movement. Every shot
was fixed, which meant that they had to only render
their character to save time. On the reverence scene
this meant only moving characters, which could be
accomplished since V-Ray Sphere Fade allows artists
to define where they want V-Ray to render.
With some resourceful thinking and V-Ray on hand, more time-consuming processes like
real hair simulation could be traded out for wig work completed with the help of V-Ray’s
displacement mode. “We honestly didn’t have time to create a full head of hair for each chicken,
so we had to think on our feet.
Those faces are probably part of the reason the film has been such a smash hit since its
release. Already a grand prize winner at SIGGRAPH 2013, “A La Française” has also won 12
other awards or honorable mentions in film festivals across the US, Europe and Asia.
“As a symbol of France, the rooster is a perfect instrument,” said Julien. “What can be elegant
and proud, can also be ridiculous and foolish, not unlike those luxurious nobles in the palace of
Louis XIV. In order to achieve such a "A La Française" (French) movie, these two elements had
to come together. We’re just glad we had V-Ray there to make it look right.”
Co-director - Team Management - Set Design/Modeling/
Texturing - Lighting - Rendering Compositing - Sound
Co-director - Character Design - Animation - Texturing
(characters) - Sound
Co-director - Layout - Modeling (character/set) - Skin/
Texturing (character) - Cloth
Co-director - Character Design - Storyboard - Animation -
FX - Sound
Ren Hsien Hsu
Co-director - Script Development - Character Design/
Modeling - Animation - Cloth
V-Ray’s displacement mode provided great detail and a fun shape that tied
to the amusing faces our characters were making,” recalled Hazebroucq.
“We’re just glad we had V-Ray
there to make it look right.”
Asked about the win, Seifert said, “Being nominated, let
alone winning, the VES award in the student category was
totally amazing. When you work on a project very intensely for
quite some time, it gets difficult to judge your own work. The
nomination was the ultimate confirmation that our work was
really pretty solid.”
From preproduction to final polish, the project took about
eight months by a core team of eight people, each with varying
degrees of experience with Maya. “When we started working
on this project, I came from a 3ds Max background and hadn’t
used Maya before. Fortunately, I had used V-Ray a lot with
3ds Max. Since my task was shading, lighting and rendering,
I only had to learn some Maya basics and could start working
productively almost immediately,” says Seifert.
The trailer for FMX 2014 was a team effort, not just a
team effort for the students involved in the project,
but also for the team of bugs who work together in
the animated short, “Rugbybugs.” A small group
of students at Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg
teamed up to make this year’s FMX trailer and ended
up with some awards in the process.
Deep in a forest at night, bugs of all kinds seem to race against
the clock as they gather, carry, fly, pass along and deliver
glowing red crystals. “Rugbybugs” plays like a dramatic action
sequence, an idea that was appealing to Timm Wagener who
set up the pipeline and coordinated the overall workflow for the
project. “I like fast, forceful and dynamic animation. The chase
setting in “Rugbybugs” seemed to be the perfect setup for
that.” One of the appealing challenges of the project for Manuel
Seifert, whose task was shading, lighting and rendering, was
to create a photorealistic look and integrate it within an actual
physical set, “For me the biggest challenge was to get the
shading of the characters right in the amount of time we had.
The team agreed from the beginning on a photorealistic look,
since creating a tight set integration was a challenge we all
wanted. This meant for me that I had to push my shading to a
level of photorealism that I knew I hadn’t reached before.”
The look of the FMX logo, comprised of crystals
charged with a kind of magic energy, took some
time to create in order to get the right look. “After
a lot of look development, where I played a lot with
subsurface scattering for that deep, rich glow from
the inside, I decided to use animated layers of V-Ray
fog inside the geometry,” Wagener says.
Asked if they would approach the project differently if they
started it today, Seifert says he would shoot more HDR images
on set to be used for lighting, “Shooting HDR light maps in a
miniature set is difficult. The team members who shot chrome
balls (actually a Christmas tree ball) on set did a good job, but
there was still a lot of additional manual lighting needed in CG.
I learned from this project that it is a good idea to shoot each
of the lights that were used on set separately as an unclipped
HDR texture, which then could be used as an area light.”
RugbybugsA talk with Manuel Seifert and Timm Wagener
“During the project, I became very fond of the V-Ray
implementation for Maya. Especially when it comes
to rendering different passes, V-Ray Object Properties
and Maya Render Layers work together really
beautifully. Additionally, even with displacement and
lots of subsurface scattering, our render times where
very moderate.” said Seifert.
This past February,
“Rugbybugs” won the VES award
for “Outstanding Visual Effects
in a Student Project.”
Named after one of the oldest cities in
Israel, “Bet She’an” is a student film
from the Supinfocom in Arles, France. The
students are obviously very talented since
another project from the school, “A La
Francaise,” has also met with great success.
“Bet She’an” shows us an anachronistic city in ruins, where humans
are morphing into crows. David Calvert, the Technical Director on the
project, explained to us what inspired this talented small group of
students to create this dark work.
“The idea of the project began with a simple drawing from Julien Soler
who would end up being our Art Director on the project. He did a simple
drawing of a man with bird wings instead of arms, sitting on his King's
chair and waiting to turn into a crow,” says Calvert. “We developed this
idea of morphing into a crow as a metaphor for dying.”
The setting for the short is a world in mutation and the last of mankind
lives in an ancient citadel high in the sky. The buildings look like the
ruins of Bet She’an, but amongst the rubble are objects from various
times in history, an old radio, an empty Coke can, a dusty camera, even
a rusty French horn. In this city, the residents gradually forget what
they are and wait to fly as crows. The main character is a sculptor
spending his remaining days as a human building a giant statue, a stele
Since the release of “Bet She’an,” the former students have created
their own group, the Bandits Collective. http://banditscollective.com
A talk with David Calvert
The look of the film was inspired by the work of Moebius and Sergio
Toppi. Calvert worked with Soler to create a two dimensional graphic
novel look in a 3D film. Soler drew more than 250 different types
of cross-hatching to use as textures on the characters and their
surroundings. The hatching even varies in scale dependent on where
the characters are in relation to the camera. Calvert meanwhile
researched various rendering techniques from scripts, 2D effects and
also different rendering engines.
One pass involved creative use of global illumination and playing with
the light cache, followed by the use of 2D filters. The last pass was for
hatching and had to match the earlier passes perfectly. The effect is
stunning and makes for a perfect look in a short animation dealing with
change and the finality of life. Calvert hopes that their animation about
the end of humanity will prompt the viewer to think, “What will we leave
To achieve a flat watercolor look and
contain the details of cross-hatching, the
team decided to go with multiple passes
using V-Ray and 3ds Max.
www.v-ray.comartwork by Toni Bratincevic
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