Friday Animation Fun: Bet She’an
Watch this tantalising teaser for Bet She’an, a Supinfocom-student-created short heavily influenced by the work of top graphic novelists. Find out how the team achieved a 2D look using 3D software…
It’s that time of year: students have been turning out some fantastic teasers of their graduation animated shorts, so expect to see lots more in the coming weeks.
Supinfocom students are no stranger to 3D World – in the past we featured some astounding shorts from this top French school – and here we are again showcasing this teaser for new short Bet She’an. (Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to bring you the full short after the festival run.)
We caught up with the art director Julien Soler, director Bastien Letoile and technical director David Calvet to find out more about their highly stylised piece.
Watch Bet She’an’s teaser
3D World: In your own words, please describe what happens in Bet She’an?
Bet She’an team: In the citadel of Bet She’an lost into the high clouds of the sky, mankind is progressively morphing into crows. In this metaphor of death, we follow a man who decides to leave a trace of this dwindling humanity. He’s sculpting a gigantic man in the rock before turning himself into an animal.
3D World: What were the film’s influences, both story-wise and stylistically?
Julien Soler: The visual references for Bet She’an came from middle east, the fertile crescent where first humans where building cities and early civilization was our start: from Yemen and Uzbekistan for their dryness and their architecture, Jordania and especially the ruins of Petra and also Morocco for the Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou.
The environments in Bet She'an are influenced by Middle Eastern architecture
From the early beginning of the project we wanted to stay close to graphic novel, our main references were Hugo Pratt, Sergio Toppi and Moebius. Those three are some of the greatest modern graphic novelist. And their line is mastered with great precision and sensitivity.
3D World: What did you do on the short and what was the hardest job?
Julien Soler: I was the art director on Bet She’an, I had to choose each aspect of visual department. From the shape of each amphora, to the melting of architecture which would give a particular taste for Bet She’an and passing also on colors, lights, a bit of shot composition on some aspect.
I was also the character designer for all the characters of the movie. It was interesting to create the mix of human shape and anatomy with crows – we drew lots of characters, mainly silhouettes of them to search which mix would have the credibility we needed.
"It was interesting to create the mix of human shape and anatomy with crows - we drew lots of characters, mainly silhouettes of them to search which mix would have the credibility we needed," says art director Julien Soler
I worked closely with our character modeler to keep the dynamic and the lines of each of the characters. But my favorite has to be the crow itself.
And finally my hardest task was to draw over each final shot to give them their own graphic style and also the character’s UVs. We started on pressure tablet (Wacom tablet) but hatching on this is a pain, there is a mini lag when making fast strokes. So we directly moved to luminous table and Rotring pen to get this particular handmade style. It was perfect but more than 80 shots to hatch made the work very long, I spent days and days bending over my desk to finish this on time.
3D World: How long did Bet She’an take to produce?
Bet She’an team: Well we started early pre-production in May 2011 and the last click was the 13th June 2012 in the morning, 13 months and an half from scratch to final movie. Production itself started around December 2011, that took six and an half months.
3D World: What 3D software did you use?
David Calvet: We used 3ds Max 2011 because we learned on it and we took the version we knew the best instead of jumping to 2012 with new bugs and tricks.
We used the great classics Photoshop (Scanning and Batch processing), After Effect (Compositing) and Premiere (Video and Sound Editing).
We also used plugins: Hair Farm for hair and feather simulation, for rendering we used V-Ray for its plasticity and Scanline. We sculpted the massive statue in ZBrush, and some characters have been modified also in there.
3D World: What was the most useful piece of 3D software?
David Calvet: During the production we adopted a strange way to achieve hairs and feathers. The rendering node for Hair Farm proved problematic and we were forced to bake the modeling and the animation of all Hair Farm simulated hair and feather system. This way we could render our scenes on any computer without using the Hair Farm plugin. It was tedious but effective.
The second useful piece we used was texture baking, normally used in video games, we used it to get back the global illumination from VRay for easier camera mapping and for characters’ texture, this way it was easy to get a light and volume reactive texture basis.
We chose to bake characters’ texture for each lighting atmosphere in the movie. On one hand, it’s quicker and easier and it was matching perfectly to the rest of the render (so we had perfect colors and light match on the whole picture, environments, characters and moving objects). On the other hand, we made around 100 character textures (we were using multi UV system), so it was a heavy duty even though we didn’t encounter any problems.
The basic baking texture panel in 3ds Max is pretty well done apart from the saving issue – in fact it saves automatically each texture you bake but it saves a nice blank texture – so we had to save each texture we baked manually.
3D World: What was the most impressive technical aspect of the project?
David Calvet: Rendering was the most impressive technical aspect of the project. The rendering pipeline was heavy.
The watercolour style of the animated short presented the Bet She'an team with a challenge - one that they overcame!
We started with the idea of a 2D very illustrative picture. And the watercolor style presented a challenge. There is no clear way to achieve such effect easily in 3D. Our 2D artists where already taken, our Art director was working on hatching the shots and the characters, and our Painter was working on skies and 2D effects such as smoke, wind etc, so we decided to find a procedural way to achieve those 2D watercolor effects from our 3D models.
We started research on two sides, one branch was to get an expressive nonrealistic render in 3D, and the second branch was to get 2D textures effects and 2D aspects through 2D filters.
The final rendering pipeline was made of 12 passes, two of them were very important, one was here to give expressive render and the second was calculated from the first one to get 2D texture effect.
After, we did VRay classic passes such as Lighting, Global illumination, Shadow, Occlusion, Specular, Falloff and finally Toon. In addition we had handmade hatching passes, ID and masking passes.
Watch a pass by pass making-of video of a shot in Bet She’an
The first pass we created in VRay was a very interesting render because its way of calculating lights is close to the way humans see. It was easy to find the middle point between flat colored objects and photorealistic render.
The second pass is very simple, taking our last expressive render we transferred the greyscale of the picture into a colored multi-noise gradient. All of this is made in screen texture mode in an empty 3ds Max scene. By doing this as much as needed we created a new texture every time.
Finally the most important thing in doing a 2D/3D movie is not to think a way to achieve the whole movie in one time, nor to think that each shot has to be done as one piece. It’s an hybrid workflow that will give you the choice between different ways to get the same result, camera mapping, procedural texture, After Effect 3D layers and so on. In some instances we were doing texture, lighting, models for the whole movie but sometimes it was just for one single shot.
3D World: Did you do anything wrong in the production?
David Calvet: The rendering and Hair and Feather challenges meant we had to rush the animation, this was a shame but deadlines were at our heels.
We all learned a lot during this production, mostly about production pipeline and end production bugs foresee.
We had some arguments about lighting, colors and ambiences on some shots, everything wasn’t fully locked – to a certain degree, it’s important to keep some aspects undecided before production starts. It wasn’t a big problem, and finally it helped us all to see the same picture.
3D World: Did you use or develop any new or notable techniques?
David Calvet: To render we used VRay in a way we normally don’t. I can’t explain exactly what we did because we are going to explore this more in our next short movie.
We used VRay approximation to get a expressive render style, this was our color basis. From this first render we needed some textures so we plugged that back in 3ds Max and we made a noisy gradient which was applied in screen on our first expressive pass.
We got help from outside for the music, and we used Damian Nenow’s cloud rendering technique that’s all.
Thanks to Bet She’an’s Julien Soler, Bastien Letoile and David Calvet for sharing this story with us. We can’t wait to see the full animated short and will update this post once that becomes available online – after the festival run! All the best with that!
on Friday, August 3rd, 2012 at 2:29 pm under Shorts, Showcase.
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Tags: Bet She'an, Friday Animation Fun, supinfocom, teaser