Short film: The Future Forms of Life
3D artist David Lance reveals how he made a weird and wonderful creature for his short film
Each year, I try to make a small non-commercial project that will improve my skills and which I can submit to video festivals, but this year was different. Instead, I decided to spend as much time as I needed to make a short movie that I was happy with. (I’m my own biggest critic!)
The result was The Future Forms of Life. The film draws on the work of Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures: wind-powered creatures that he has worked on since 1990 with the aim of creating new forms of life. Using one of Jansen’s creatures as my main character, I wanted to make a film that asked a rhetorical question: what if our dreams one day were realised and these creatures started living?
At the same time, I wanted to use the film to illustrate my knowledge about modelling and rigging a character. My interest in three-dimensional work began in Lithuania 12 years ago, when I started to learn 3D graphics. At that time, it was extremely difficult because there were no video tutorials and I didn’t even have an internet connection at home. Conditions have changed a lot since then: I’ve lived in London for the last year and a half, where I work as a 3D architectural visualisation and animation artist. My name is Dovydas Augaitis, but in the creative virtual world I’m better known as David Lance.
To make the film and the creature successfully, I thought carefully about the final creation, making lots of sketches of each detail of the creature. By the time I came to the modelling stage, I had a strong vision for how it should look. Simultaneously I started many tests for the rigging process. I wanted to automate the character as much as possible, while at the same time keeping it light and easy to animate. I’d previously made many tests with facial and character rigging, and I was sure I could produce a really complex solution, but had never had enough time to finish it. My goal was to make a model formed of as few polygons as possible and where you could easily render every single detail from a macro distance. The rig itself is quite heavy and requires many process calculations, so scripts were used to switch off all the unused modifiers in the animation process.
An HDRI chrome ball was used to generate environment maps for reflections and lighting, integrating the 3D character into the scene
What I did right
1. I planned my time and the project well
I started by writing a script, so that all the movie-making steps were done properly. Though it can feel like you’re wasting time, in the end this process pays off. Storyboarding took a while as well, but it was more enjoyable work because I like to draw. I ended up with a script and a clear sequence of scenes, a basic animated video, and a soundtrack.
2. The modelling and rigging went smoothly
I started modelling in 3ds Max then imported it into ZBrush to sculpt all the details in, and exported 4K-resolution displacement maps and textures. The sculpting was very intricate – each of the creature’s nails even has its own texture and displacement – and because every hand has nine fingers, this process was quite time-consuming!
The rigging process was interesting. I wanted to use all the rigging techniques possible in this model so I used an FK/IK switch method for the arms. The fingers were connected to a slider, which moved them all together (although I had the choice to animate all the fingers separately as well).
I wanted to avoid freeze frames for my character, so created a ‘breathe’ mode: an infinitely spinning dummy object affects the behaviour of the whole rib structure and allows the creature to come to life. The result was brilliant: I dragged one controller object and then the creature was walking, flapping its wings and breathing with natural and random movements.
3. I used a straightforward animation process
I made one long animation sequence of about 1,500 frames that showed the creature walking, changing poses and running, and I then divided this animation up and inserted it into different scenes.
In this way, the animation looks more natural because there’s visual continuity for the viewer. For example, the creature lifts its arms at the end of one scene, and then in the next a similar pose is seen but from a different viewpoint.
The Camera Map modifier was used to map original footage onto the 3D object. This way, David Lance could make the car interact with it
What went wrong
1. The weather was poor
The day of shooting was very gloomy. In every single shot the sky had to be replaced with cloudy footage. We were shooting at the start of February, so park shots were difficult as all the background trees were added in post, and foreground ones were rendered in 3D.
2. I had limited time
There was little time available for adding post-production effects such as particles, smoke and dirt. I was shooting a chrome ball in all the scenes for the HDR images, but couldn’t use all of them properly. In essence, the biggest enemy was limited time: I had only weekends available to work on this project, which is why it took me a year to produce a five-minute animation.
The model was optimised and render times were between three and fifteen minutes per frame
Technically, I wanted to invent something new with the video. I created another version of the video that had a 60-frames-per-second variable frame rate. In some parts of the video, the frame rate reduces to 25fps; in others where I wanted greater impact it’s 60fps. The downside of this effect is that you can’t upload it to popular video streaming portals, but it should work perfectly on gaming consoles that support 60fps videos. This version of the film is available to download from www.lancin.co.uk.
My colleague Laurent Shen created a matte painting, but I wanted to get a parallax from a painted background – he provided me with Photoshop files of the separate layers so that I could reposition layers in After Effects and rebuild scenes in 3D. I knew that I’d animate the film myself, but I also wanted to practise with 3D model naming conventions, so I created the model ready for other animators to use. The finished film was presented in an art exhibition on 20 July 2012. Even after a year of work, colour corrections and final adjustments were made on the last night!
The storyboard saved a lot of time during the shooting process – all of the footage was shot in one day
Format: Full HD
Project length: One year
Team size: 10
Software used: 3ds Max, ZBrush, After Effects, Photoshop, Mocha, MatchMover, V-Ray, Marvelous Designer 2
Release date: July 2012
Dovydas Augaitis (aka David Lance) works as an architectural 3D visualisation and animation artist. He was born in Lithuania and, at the age of 12, went to a traditional art school. The first time he heard about 3D graphics was when he was 16, and today he’s still working, learning and thinking about 3D
Discover 2012′s best 3D movies over at our sister site, Creative Bloq.
on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 at 2:50 pm under Features, Making of, Shorts, Showcase.
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Tags: 3ds Max, After Effects, Photoshop, V-Ray, ZBrush