Friday Animation Fun: Terraform
Terraform is a fascinating animated short featuring the evolution of Mars from an uninhabitable planet to an Earth-like one. Find out how it was created with our interesting Q&A piece
Created by a team of students at Montpelier-based ArtFX school for special effects and computer graphics, the inspiration for the short on terraforming came from a variety of classic media. As Arthur Bayard, one of the self-named Terror Team, told us: “Feature films like Alien, nature documentaries like Planet Earth and books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy all really helped us in creating Terraform. Humans have already proved that they can affect their environment, so why not another planet?”
Watch Terraform below.
3D World: What were the film’s influences, both story-wise and stylistically?
Arthur Bayard: Each member of the team, with his own influences, has contributed to the look of the film. There were five of us on the team, including myself, Guillaume Dadaglio, Félicien Daros, Vincent Glaize and Thomas Nivet. We started by watching scientific documentaries to see if what we wanted to do would be possible. At first, we wanted to show the terraforming from an external point of view, with only wide shots of the planet. As the project evolved, we added more action to it, but we kept this rhythm (each shot lasts an average of eight seconds). The film Baraka inspired us, as it features a lot of environments and time-lapses.
Once we got the storyboard, we focused on the look of our construction vehicles, spaceships and the drop-pod. We took our inspiration from industrial products manufactured on assembly lines while trying to keep them attractive and designed.
To this structure, we added a little bit of sci-fi style, the personal touch and there you go, our short was shaped!
3D World: What did you do on the short and what was the hardest job?
Arthur Bayard: We did almost everything, from writing to colour grading. It included a lot of fun stuff such as location shooting, castings, concepts, storyboarding and, of course, visual effects. And actually, the hardest job we have found, has been the need to manage every aspect of the production (not only the post production) on a long-term schedule.
3D World: How long did Terraform take to produce?
Arthur Bayard: We started in June 2011 by establishing the script and looking for shooting locations. Once we were sure that the project was achievable, we worked on the storyboard, the concepts, the voice-over and the like. We started the real CGI work in November only, and everything was completed by June 2012.
3D World: What 3D software did you use and why?
Arthur Bayard: We used Maya with mental ray for the CG part. For the HDR lighting, we used sIBL from hdr labs. This free tool allowed us to be more efficient with a fair rendering pace.
For the environment creation, we used World Machine, e-on Vue and Photoshop. We did all the compositing and camera mappings in Nuke. After we established the workflow between Maya and Nuke, we used toolsets to composite all the render passes. The 3D environment of the software helped us in many ways. I should also say that we did the matchmoving in Boujou, and some of the 2D work and particles in After Effects.
To read reviews of the software programs used to create this animation, click on the links above.
3D World: What was the most useful piece of 3D software and why?
Arthur Bayard: E-on software’s Vue was a very useful piece of 3D software for making Terraform. Having 3D environments allowed us to reuse the same terrain for shots with different camera angles. Because of the large number of matte paintings and set extension in the film, we found this was the quickest way to create Mars’ evolution.
The software can handle a very high number of polygons (tens of billions!) and the render times are quite good considering what is calculated. However, for quicker results, we sometimes used projections of the renders directly on lowpoly versions of the terrains (exported from Vue).
Another positive was the ability to render panoramic 32bit images, usable in Maya for the HDR lighting.
We used Vue in combination with World Machine, a nodal-based terrain generator. The erosion node is by far the most useful feature of this software as it can improve Vue’s terrains significantly.
3D World: What was the most impressive technical aspect of the project and how was it achieved using 3D software?
Arthur Bayard: The space sequence was much more painful to create than we thought it would be. We had to deal with huge scenes and a lot of polygons. We used multiple layers of references in order to work on the animation, modeling, texturing, and shading at the same time. But in the end, our scenes were very heavy, and we paid the bill when it came to the rendering step. We overcame that by splitting the renders as much as we could and rebuilt them in compositing. In some cases, we got some flickering issues, and the only way to get rid of it in a reasonable rendering time was to remove the artefacts in Nuke.
3D World: Did you do anything wrong in the production? Did you learn anything from producing Terraform?
Arthur Bayard: We lost a lot of time during the pre-production stage because we all wanted to bring ideas in for the storyboard and the concepts! But in the end, we finished on time and everyone participated in the elaboration of the film, and not only in the visual effects part!
3D World: Did you use or develop any new or notable techniques?
Arthur Bayard: The last shot of the film was probably one of the most ambitious. It was also very important for the story-telling: a dead red desert turns into an Earth-like forest in a time-lapse. First, the shooting part was a technical challenge, then we had to blend a crane shot with a time-lapse, while taking in account light variations for the exposure. And after that, we had to recreate the landscape without the plants.
Because of the sunset, we had to create a 3D version of the place in order to get accurate moving shadows. We used Google Earth to find the set location, and we exported the layout in microDEM, a free software for geographic data. Then, we exported an elevation map from this software, and built a more detailed version of the ground with World Machine and Vue. This workflow was amusing and interesting to develop, and it can be very useful for making huge layouts for visual effects!
Watch the making-of Terraform video.
3D World: Did you have any help from outside studio?
Arthur Bayard: We travelled to Paris for the voice-over recording at Dubbing Brothers studio, and worked with a professional voice actress. It was great to work with these experts and we were lucky as they did it for free! As for the movie itself, though, we didn’t get any help from outside studios. This is a graduation movie and it was 100% made by us – the students.
The music and sound design was done by a third-year classmate at ArtfX (thumbs up Jeremy Flandrin)!
3D World: What are your favourite animations and were you influenced by these in creating Terraform?
Arthur Bayard: One of the team, who would like to stay anonymous, says that “The Triplets of Belleville” is his favourite animation, not that it influenced us in the making of this film!
On a more serious note, we were not really inspired or influenced by animations. They definitely participate in our culture of the cinema but for our movie we were more influenced by feature films such as Alien, nature documentaries like Planet Earth, or books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.
on Friday, September 21st, 2012 at 2:00 pm under Shorts, Showcase.
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Tags: Animation, short, terraform