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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
3d artist Sava Zivkovic was kind enough to share some of the tricks that he and his colleagues used to create the amazing CGI-short ‘Twitch‘. It’s a beautifully done picture, which features a lot of modern techniques, which can greatly reduce the production time.
Speaking of the team, the core people that worked on the project are Milan Nikolic, Iz Svemira and myself. We are all close friends from Belgrade, Serbia and we’ve been in the freelance game for the past 4 years, working in our respective fields. Milan Nikolic is a concept artist and he’s the only one that has worked on game/movie projects, all of them still confidential unfortunately. Iz Svemira is a composer and a sound designer, with background in music production. He’s been involved with a lot of local artists back in the day, but has found sound design itself way more satisfying, so now he focuses on experimenting quite a bit in this field. I myself have a background in Interior and furniture design which got me into 3d architectural visualization and eventually into animation and motion graphics, which embodies most of the work I did over the years.
It all started as a really simple modeling project, I wanted try out some more complex hard surface modeling than what I usually deal with in day to day work, and seeing Milan’s work every day obviously was a huge drive towards that goal. But the simple nature of the project changed after I saw the first concept and I immediately started thinking about creating some sort of animation. As we settled on making the title sequence for Milan’s twitch stream we realized that the project had a huge learning potential for all of us, for everything from concept art to modeling, animation, music and sound. We all took this opportunity to learn and grow our individual skills but also grow in working together as a team.
Milan is an amazing concept artist and he loves organic forms so it was really difficult to translate his design to 3d. I used 3ds Max mainly because it’s my main 3d package and is what I’m most comfortable working with. I’m not that well versed with Zbrush and if I’ve tried to learn it on this project it would take much longer to finish. Also being that we’re doing this between projects in our free time I had to choose what for me is the faster option. I do plan to dive deeper into Zbrush eventually, maybe on the next one. The techniques used are pretty simple, just standard edit poly modeling and some freeform modeling tools. The key is to stick to it, it requires a lot of time and patience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried something on this scale before and I’ve always stuck on the modeling process. The most challenging thing by far was the model itself. Since I was doing this sort of modeling for the first time I wanted to keep it all documented and measure the time it took for each segment, modeling-uv-texturing. That way I know approximately what to expect the next time, and see where I can make the necessary improvements. In this particular case the modeling took 21 days, uv’s were done in a day, and texturing was 3 days long. After that it was smooth sailing, and in the end I’m pretty satisfied with my first attempt at character creation, although there’s room for massive improvements in topology, detail, textures, rigging, you name it.
I wanted to experiment with some new software that automates texture production, and Quixel and Substance were both obvious choices. After some research I’ve chosen Quixel because it shipped with larger material/brush/mask preset library and at the time it was the only of the two that could export 8k textures. It was also a lot more affordable. Working with Quixel was a breeze, and creating high quality materials isn’t that hard when you know what you’re after and have good reference. The key I believe, as is with everything in CG, are layers. No matter how clean of a material you’re after it should always have some minor miscoloration, some minor dust, edge wear, and basically imperfection. It’s those small details, that don’t appear obvious, that make a huge difference in the end. My goal with Quixel or Substance was to find the solution that automated the texture creation process which used to be pretty mundane. I’m not planning on spending a ton of time on a single texture, and doing the work of a texture artist. I’m much more interested in the creative side of the whole project and want to focus more on directing and storytelling. Working with Quixel makes the texture creation fast and efficient and you can focus your time and energy on other, maybe more pressing things.
Visual Look of the Character and Assets
For the visual side of things Octane Render takes all the credit. Just kidding, basically it’s all in the lighting and framing. The shaders themselves were not so complex but that’s due to the use of Quixel, so all of the details were already there in the textures. I only had to link the diffuse, roughness, specular and bump textures to their individual slots and the shaders were all set up. The beauty of working with Octane is that you get a realtime preview which makes the framing and look dev much easier and a lot more fun. You have the ability to frame to light and shadow and get a near final result pretty quickly. As for the action scene the camera movement was key in selling those shots. Since that scene was added towards the end of the project I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to models and textures, so I relied heavily on motion blur and depth of filed to hide the imperfections. When combined with shaky cam, particle simulations, dust, explosions and fog it really sells the effect of being in the middle of the action. Also one of the biggest contributors to the whole experience is the music and the sound. These are mostly overlooked by a lot of people, but are absolutely essential. It’s been said before that music and sound are 51% of the whole film experience, it’s more than the picture itself and it should never be an afterthought.
Originally we planned the animation without MoCap, and this was the biggest limitation since I’m no character animator. But a good friend of ours, Kristina Antic, just happens to work in Take One, one of the biggest motion capture studios in the region. They’ve worked on some amazing projects like The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, Battlefield 3, Mirrors Edge Catalyst and many more, so they know their stuff pretty well. We’ve presented the project to them and they were very happy to step in and help with the motion capture. All of the additional cleanup was done by Take One and at the end I received the finished animated fbx files, so the process wasn’t difficult at all, on my end at least:) We had a ton of fun on the shooting day, learned firsthand how the motion capture process works, and it was nice that Milan was the one who wore the MoCap suit. He designed the character and in the end was the character, it all came to a nice full circle to cap off the whole project.