Creating a Cinematic Trailer for the Population Zero Game

Mikhail Dmitriev discussed the production of a cinematic trailer for Population Zero and talked about the collaboration of all teams in the process. 

Introduction and Career

My name is Mikhail Dmitriev, I have been working in the CG industry since 2009, how long has it been. It is interesting to remember the first attempts to study 3D Max using a thick book and a text lesson on the net.

After about a year of study of 3D max, my friend Mikhail Grushenkov, founder of the Wireframe studio, give me the contact of a client who was offered a simple job of modeling furniture and after a while, I became a project manager on this project, probably because I always very responsible for my work. But really, as it seems to me, I grew up after my school friend Anton Chistyakov and I shot a short animated film Bibo, on which we worked for about 3 years from 2010 to 2013. Then I realized for myself an important point that working with people and managing the production process is better for me than being a CG artist. And in 2014 I started working as a project manager, supervisor, and producer.

One of my favorite projects that I was lucky to work on was a VR comic for the Black Eyed Peas called Master of the sun VR It was great to work and get comments from people you saw on TV as a kid. It is also always interesting to work on a project with a lot of character animation and an interesting script.
Of course, there were many more projects, but I think a detailed story does not fit the format of this interview, I can highlight the most interesting and provide links below:

And, of course, the cinematic, which we are discussing here.

At the moment, I am not heavily loaded with projects and devote my free time to work on my game.
I want to move into the game development industry in the near future.

Art Direction

When I was invited to the project by Artem Sherbakov, director of the ZheeShee studio, in which we made this cinematic, the Population Zero game was at the release stage. Therefore, all arts were made by the developers from Enplex games. But for a better understanding of the world of this game, all teams were necessary to play a lot. It was a little strange for me to play and work.

Working on the Idea

The cinematics was needed to show the movement of the hero through all the variety of locations in the game world. The client did not have strict requirements for locations, therefore, I ran around the game and took screenshots of locations, from which we collected storyboards.

After all the locations were approved, we made a very draft 3D animation to understand better how well the montage works 

In the process, we gradually detailed the animation and environment. 

I want to highlight the role of the art director on the project, who overpainted all the locations after first renders. And we got ready-made visual images of each scene.

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Using Game Assets

We collected the environment scene basis of game assets provided to us by the game developer. Of course, some of the models had to be fixed, since there was not enough detail, but we can say we were lucky with the plants. For example, in the scene with the cave, all the plants were taken directly from the game:

From the Game

From Cinematic

It is also important to note that the artists who worked on the game created a very beautiful and sensitive world, so, from the very beginning, we decided not to change the design of the game world. The difficulty was that it was necessary to show an even more beautiful world than in the game.

Since we used most of the models from the game, they were all already textured. Of course, somewhere it was necessary to detail models and textures, but this is more like a special case. For example, all plants, except trees, for the Savannah location were re-modeled and textured:

Savannah in the game

Savannah from cinematic

Character Production

Working on the main character was the most interesting part for me. The client provided the concept of the costume and the early concept of face. 

In the process, we decided to make the face more attractive to increase empathy for the hero. 

To make the hero design work better in different scenes, 4 variants of the costume textures were made.

Marvelous Designer was used to create the base mesh of the costume. 

Then we used ZBrush to add additional details to the model.

For the texturing, we used Substance Painter.

The hair was made in ornatrix for 3D Max and then converted into a mesh, that it was convenient to transfer the character with animation in an alembic file and rendered inside the location scene. But the most important thing here is the talent of the artists who worked on the main character.


To get high-quality and realistic animation, the Xsens mockup was used. The director from the client's side, came to the recording of the mockup to work with an actor. We shot all the process and later made an animation with an actor.

It gave us an understanding ​​of how the main character would behave in the cinematics.
After the client had selected the best takes, the mockup was handed over to the animation team for cleaning and polishing. This is standard practice, as it rarely happens that a mockup data works completely correctly on a 3D model. 

In fact, it's all about the model, since we didn't use clothes simulation. Because the model has a lot of details in the form of folds, the right feeling is created in movement.
A little higher, I showed 4 options of textures for the main character's costume. Details like dirt and scuffs are done on the textures.

Recreating Weather Conditions

In working on effects, in my opinion, it is very important that the goal does not shift to facilities. Of course, it is always great to watch how expensive movie effects are created, but when the effect is not the goal, simple and effective solutions can be found. In the scene with the sandstorm, the main effect was done in After Effects
The energy wave effect is also being made in After Effects, and what is interesting, is this whole shot is created in Element 3D. It is almost real-time, but it looks no worse than the shots that were rendered in V-Ray, although nobody will not be surprised by this now. The smoke for the capsule scenes was made in Houdini using a smoke solver.

Camera Work

In the beginning, there was an idea to show the continuous movement of the main character with a cut change of locations in the background. But in the process, we decided that it was better to do full cuts between scenes:

The transitions between scenes look soft because the background changes a lot in each scene, and the hero is always in approximately the same position in the frame. But we came to this decision only in the process, initially, the plan was slightly different. The camera was made in 3D Max, nothing complicated.

Biggest Challenges

For me, since I was responsible for the production of this cinematic, the difficulty was in communicating with a large number of people remotely, about 20 people worked on the project and the management of tasks between the whole team. I had to daily adjust the work of all members, find solutions together with the team when difficulties emerge and monitor the timings, which were constantly shifting, but the deadline did not move.
For the team, I think the main challenge was to maintain the high level that our art director required.
For many years of work, I realized that the most important thing is good preparation for the project. It is important to write a good script, make a detailed storyboard, make concept art for each scene, make 2D or 3D animatics. If all this is done well, the rest of the work on the project will be clear to everyone, and most importantly, only technical tasks will remain. 
In the future, I want to make a game and open a small studio that will make beautiful design games.

Mikhail Dmitriev, CG Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    great story and work!)


    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·

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