Quentin Papleux discussed the workflow and details behind his animated short film Diablo: Fire and Blood.
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Introduction & Inspiration
Hello, my name is Quentin Papleux, I am working as a Senior Lighting Artist at Sumo Digital.
For a period of time, I was thinking about how I could celebrate my favorite games from my childhood. From the artist's perspective, I was trying to find ideas on how I could create a tribute to these franchises. I wanted to start a series with my Bioshock-style relighting and I decided to continue with another franchise that I love: Diablo. The Blizzcon was in a month, I really wanted to create something with more time spent than I usually take. Normally, I am taking a day or two for a personal project but I wanted to extend this time to create something more complicated.
I finally found after hours of searching some good packs of monster assets and two scenes that I wanted to use as the main theatre for my story. All the elements are indicated in the credits, but to simplify I used Sevarog the hero from Paragon (Epic Games), the Diablo character is from IdaFaber, the Horadrim house is from Dekogon Studios, and the Dungeon from SilverTm. For the animations, I used the ones provided by the models. For the Angel character, I used only two animations which are part of gameplay emotes that I stretched to fit my needs.
Working on the Concept
The concept here was to create a small Diablo fan-movie inside Unreal 4, with the technical limitations that we have in games. The goal was to reach something running at 4k60 FPS on my configuration (i7, 1070GTX x2 ). Obviously, there is a little bit of cheating here since we talk only about the rendering part, but my budget was about 2-3ms max for lighting and 4-5.5ms max (depending on the shots) for the post-processing.
The story is set during an alternative time, hundred of years after Diablo 3. Tristram was living in peace until someone from the sky betrayed the Angiris council. This character is nothing more than Malthael. He decided to steal an unknown hidden fragment from the World Stone with the idea to bring Diablo to life. The story is narrated by a Horadrim from the Deckard Cain family, represented by the crow.
I started my work with the first environment: the Horadrom house. The level was pretty clean and with a lot of quality in the albedo textures. I didn't have much to modify in terms of base content, it's mainly personalized with diablo glyphs decals, adding some texture details on some close shots, balancing the materials, and fixing rendering issues.
I started from scratch with all the lighting in the scene to create my base static lighting for the environment. I wrote the first draft of the voice-over then I started to place my cameras and shot timing to fit my text on the top. I tried to match much as possible the shots/environment narration to the narrative voice. However, I did create some space/break time between certain shots to give some breathing time. And perhaps, give the desire of a second viewing to see elements not noticed on the first one. I wanted to talk first to Diablo fan so I put a few easter eggs in the short that I hope everyone will have noticed.
For the Dungeon, the process was the same. I took maybe less time to iterate on the base lighting because it was a big environment. I had more complex shot approaches, so I treated some of them with more dynamic lights even to light the environment. I used some VFXs from some Tech Epic demos and I personalized them with my own textures.
The lighting approach wasn't easy the first days, I took mostly 2 days to find the correct render I wanted. I was stuck between using sRGB or RGB color space due to my target device which was not defined. I wanted my short movie to look good on PC & Mobile using these two different color spaces. I had to do some QA/Survey testing with my friends on different configurations to see if it's too dark or not. The issue about playing with values close to black is that you can switch to something dark grey-ish on an sRGB gamma colorspace to something completely dark on RGB. I finally found a balance between both colorspace, but my final render target was on sRGB screens. It offers two artistic perspectives of viewing that I am happy with.
On the two environments, I was doing a first static lighting pass that I will refine later. This pass was setting my base lighting for the cinematic itself. After putting all my characters in place and my camera shots defined, I started to rig some lighting setup around my actors. In some cases, I was attaching directly to the actor itself a 3 Spotlight Rig that I will use traditionally: Key light, Fill light, Back/Rim light.
In the idea of introducing the Angel and setting his character in the scenes. I wanted to have some light shafts effects to follow him from the top. The idea was to demonstrate that he is a celestial creature, shiny, powerful. It is something that I tried to tease with the Light Shafts coming from the door, then with the shadow projected on the following camera shot.
I tried to implement for both main actors (The Angel and Diablo), some silhouette shots at the end of their sequence. The idea behind was to give the feeling that even when the light turns off, they're still there, like shadows. In a way, they are both invincible creatures.
I would recommend some excellent documentation about movie lighting and basics on PremiumBeat; they explain well the standard approaches and rigs which are used for character lighting.
I worked around 8 days on the production: camera, lighting, rendering, story concept, iterations, etc. It took 2-3 extra days to manage the polishing, bug fixing, tweaks, text writing, and audio feedback. It also took me half day to create the logo and the fire simulation in Blender. I worked, depending on the day, around 6 to 12 hours to finish this short movie.
Obviously, it was a huge help not having to create the environment models and characters. Also, the sound design was lovely made by Angel Ignace / Aurae Studios and the narrative voice from Nicolas Shake. My focus was entirely on the creative part of telling my short story and all the moving making, photo direction of the shots.
Taking that into consideration, it probably helped me to optimize weeks if not months of work. It is a frustrating part of personal projects, how many people started projects without finishing them? I think we all know that, and sometimes, we want to make something big and qualitative. The issue is that it is implying productions taking months if not years. It is hard in terms of motivation, especially if you're alone on a project. It is the reason why I set a day or two of production to my personal projects in general. In that way, I am sure to finish them.
I did around 11 versions of the short that I was watching after rendering on all my screens (Calibrated sRGB, RGB gaming, Phone, Video projector). After that, I was taking notes of all the problems I would find, then I was iterating on it, fixing the issues. I did this process for the first part and the second part, then all the globality to harmonize the color grading.
Creating Diablo Scenes
I think the pillars of the Diablo universe are kind of personal to everyone. I started with Diablo 2, and it probably influenced me in my approach to the gothic art style. However, I love the art behind Diablo 3 also but it wasn't my first reference. I would say Diablo to me is a never-quiet universe, where drama is always happening. I mean, it is mostly a British running gag about how many times Diablo can come back. I wanted to create my version of it.
I would recommend to artists who want to create their own Diablo scenes, to take a look for some inspirations from some gothic-style artists but also to add their personality into it. I didn't want to go too far, and I wanted to match the first Diablo games because this project was made like a tribute for Blizzcon. But in the idea, let your creativity lead you!
I hope some people have appreciated this low-budget project. For my next one, I will probably take more time to do everything from scratch but on a smaller scale... or not.