Voile Noir: VFX short film with great plane and compositing effects
The sky’s the limit in this student short. Kerrie Hughes talks to project lead Michael Balthazart about the mix of live-action and CG
▲ Voile Noir is composed of 60 shots, over 40 of them fully CGI and the remainder a seamless blend of live action and CGI elements
Voile Noir tells the story of two pilots, Allan and Yvan, who go on a mission to try to bring down the government, with explosive repercussions. A seamless mixture of live action and CG, the film is the creation of four students – Clément Granjon de Lépiney, Quentin Sauvinet, Raphael Gaudin and Michael Balthazart – of 3D digital effects and animation school ArtFX.
At just over five minutes long, Voile Noir is composed of 60 shots, over 40 of them fully CGI and the remainder a mixture of CGI elements and live action.
“Some cockpits are fully CG, and some close-ups were shot,” says Balthazart. “We had the chance to work with a private museum owner, so that helped us a lot concerning all the aircraft panels – altimeters, handles and so on.”
Although it was a huge amount of work to undertake, the student team managed to complete the final-year project within the allotted 12-month time period.
In order to meet their deadline, the quartet started working on concepts for the film early on.
“We had the idea of working on aircraft during our second year of study, around May 2011,” Balthazart says. “We then used the summer vacation to develop our ideas. In the beginning, we wanted it to go through a lot of different times, from the first planes to futuristic ones.
“We quickly realised that it was just impossible to create this amount of different models in just one year. So we chose to focus only on the time of World War II and give a personal version of how Nazi-like people evolved and imposed their regime in a near future. And that’s how the Voile Noir story was born…”
▲ The team’s biggest challenge was flying aircraft over huge distances. To overcome this they had to organise individual solutions for each shot
With the time period for their film decided upon, the team began to look at reference material for inspiration.
“We were amazed by the short Paths of Hate by Platige Image,” Balthazart says.
“The animation and look of the film is just fabulous. But we wanted something close to realistic concerning the look. So we watched a lot of movies and trailers, including Red Tails, The Red Baron, Memphis Belle, The Flight of the Phoenix, Stealth, Pearl Harbor and Top Gun, to name a few!”
However, watching these films didn’t really help to solve the project’s biggest challenge – flying aircraft over huge distances.
To overcome this, the team had to organise individual solutions for each shot, using specific techniques and the tools of their chosen software – Maya, ZBrush, Mudbox, Photoshop, Nuke and After Effects.
“For specific scenes where the camera doesn’t move a lot and is following the subject, we chose to animate the background and not the aircraft,” says Balthazart.
“It’s always easier to animate a 2D plate in one direction than to animate several subjects through a full-CG environment. And even with this solution, some matte paintings were reaching pretty wide resolutions to properly cover the camera movement.”
But for many shots, the team didn’t have that choice as the cameras and aircraft movements were much too complicated. Instead, they had to mix different techniques in order to create environments to properly cover the distance flown.
They also enlisted the help of student freelancers Jeremy Flandrin, Arnaud Boudon and Lucas Girault to aid them with the matte paintings and compositing.
“For one of the trickiest shots, where the enemy loses his left wing and is being destroyed by the fighter aircraft, we mixed camera mapping and 2D matte painting techniques,” Balthazart explains.
“We needed more than 15 projection cameras and several matte paintings to create the environment. Several 3D FX passes were added to the shot to create smoke, fire and explosions, combined with some stock shots for the bullet impacts. It was complicated, but we did it!”
CREATING THE ATMOSPHERE
The film’s final sequence was extremely complicated as well, with the team having to create futuristic aircraft, an entire City Hall building and a memorial statue, and integrate a live-action guard and a real flag.
“It was a really tricky sequence, which included almost all the techniques we learnt at ArtFX, including separating all the elements for composition because the scene was really heavy to render,” Balthazart explains. “For example, for the statue, which was sculpted in ZBrush, we used proxies because of the huge amount of polygons.
▲ Maya and ZBrush were used to create the film’s CGI assets
“City Hall was also entirely modelled and textured, because we wanted to give the architecture a very precise look. It’s a totally different atmosphere. We’re not in the past any more, with World War II-era planes. We wanted to show two completely different worlds, two really opposed environments.”
Having overcome the film’s many hurdles and completed it in time for their deadline, the quartet released Voile Noir to a very positive response.
So what’s on the cards next for the project’s lead? “Currently, my main objective is to start a career in the best conditions possible,” says Balthazart.
“I want to work on movies and commercials, and I’ll have the opportunity to do that in a few days as I’ll be working for The Mill in London as a CG artist. I want my career to progress but at the moment I truly like what I do – and that’s essential.”
In order to create such a perfect, seamless blend of live action and CG, the student team behind Voile Noir relied heavily on the powers of Maya.
Project lead Michael Balthazart explains: “We used Maya for all the modelling elements, to lay out some scenes, create the shaders, create and render the FX passes and particles, and render the CG shots.
“It’s great that you can work with a lot of different rendering engines in Maya – such as mental ray or V-Ray, for example – and that you can work on fluid simulations, dynamics, modelling, texturing, animation and tracking, and so on.
“You can almost do everything with it, which makes it easier to work closely with other artists who specialise in all the different disciplines. Maya can be involved in all the creation steps of a VFX shot, and that’s really cool!”
Title: Voile Noir
Budget: 1,000 Euros approx
Co-directors: Michael Balthazart, Raphael Gaudin, Clément Granjon de Lépiney, Quentin Sauvinet
Production time: One year
Software: Maya, ZBrush, Mudbox, Photoshop, Nuke, After Effects
Synopsis: Two brave pilots go on a mission to bring down the government, with explosive repercussions
If you like this, watch… Paths of Hate, Damian Nenow, Platige Image, 2010
To view Paths of Hate, check out our top picks from The Electronic Theater from Siggraph last year.
Learn where to find textures for 3D projects at our sister site, Creative Bloq.
on Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 at 12:29 pm under Shorts, Showcase.
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Tags: compositing, short, VFX