Mari has a really good projecting tool, so we could get nice textures without seams and match up our photos
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My name is Lærke Kromann and I, together with David Crisp, directed the student short film "Roommate Wanted – Dead or Alive" Roommate Wanted – Dead or Alive is made by 8 students from The Animation Workshop as a graduation project. On the team, we were 4 CG artists and 4 Character Animation students working together on both the story, design and the final production of the short for 9 months.
The team consisted of the following:
The film is a mixed media project where we integrated 3D characters in a hand-built miniature set. The original idea for the story came when I had to find a roommate myself and my sister came up with the idea of making a Wanted: Dead or Alive poster.
What if someone as different as a dead person moved in? What would it be like to live with somebody that odd? I come from a very open family with a lot of family members and friends. Many different people have stayed in our home and a lot of fun and weird situations have occurred because of culture differences and clashes of different personalities. I wanted to tell a story about differences and that it is okay that we are all different. With respect and understanding from both sides, it is always possible to find a way to deal with one another.
I pitched the concept for the film and I wanted it to be very character based with a lot of focus on the action. The comical elements should not come from jokes but from the characters' personality and the acting. David Crisp and I wanted the mood to be mysterious and odd and we very inspired by Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman's childrens' stories which contain something dark that gives it a very different atmosphere. To support the mystery and comedy aspects of the film we wanted to experiment with stop motion and the rich texture look that comes with the handmade style. I always wanted to try out set building so I decided that we should build a miniature set for the environment. We should get our hands dirty and feel the materials we wanted to have in the film. In this article, I will cover the production of the film and how we got to our final look.
The whole group took part in creating our two characters and their world, the apartment. It was fun figuring out how they should look and how to create our own new zombie style. We played a lot with contrasts in the designs where we wanted their differences to be clear. Adam became this very stiff, slim, symmetrical and more squared character with the same more cold colors as used for the backgrounds. We wanted Zack to stick out more to show that he did not belong in Adam's world. Zack became more round, broad and asymmetrical. Zack comes into the apartment with big movements and in very warm colors, in contrast to Adam and the apartment. The biggest challenge in the character design was to give them a style that could be realistic in real claymation.
The final development of the characters was done in 3D where we used Maya for modeling and ZBrush for the sculpting. It was important to think simple and think about what would actually be possible with clay in real life.
2D design and final 3D render of the characters - drawing by Anne Moth Larsen.
Shape is the keyword for the design of the apartment. Our main character Adam is a very organized and systematized guy and we would like that to be mirrored in his surroundings. We came up with the idea of using Tetris as the main inspiration for the shapes and making everything, especially in the kitchen, fit together as Tetris blocks. Every kitchen cabinet has a different funky shape, but they all fit together, even the magnets on the fridge are shaped like Tetris blocks.
Again it was important for us to figure out how to make our own miniature style. We build the set out of materials such as Super Sculpey for most of the props, balsa wood for doors, windows and the wooden floor and thick cardboard, paper and polyurethane foam for walls and other props. We experimented a lot with different materials to get the look we wanted e.g. did we use painted straws for the pipes and we ended up using real tea bags and tea for the miniature ones. Because we didn’t have to animate directly in the set, we did not have to worry about the weight of props or functionality as much so we could concentrate more on the look.
Concept designs for the apartment made by Dorte Flensted Jensen
The method was to take the photos with the composition we needed from the real set with a neutral light setup. Photos taken with a neutral light setup gave us a much easier time with lighting in Maya later on and more freedom to play around with the light and integration. We also did not have to worry about having double shadows and the texture would be much more crisp. The photos were edited afterward with color correction and cropped to the right format.
We used Photoshop and CameraRaw for this process and then the photos were ready for being matched up and projected on geometry in Maya similar to the shapes of the real set. To get the most accurate mesh in Maya to project the photos on, we scanned the whole set using Agisoft PhotoScan. Agisoft Photoscan was a great tool for us to get the exact measurements and scale of the set into Maya and it made the modeling of the set part much faster.
Photoscanning of the set made by Henning Sanden
Accurate model of the set after Photoscan made by Henning Sanden
Here is a photo of the set projected on top of the modeled set in Maya. This render is taking from another camera than the projection camera so you can see that the projection is not accurate in all places.
Pictures from our photo shoot where we took pictures for the final compositions to the shots in the film.
After the matching up, both animation and lighting could start. The props that the characters had to interact with were modeled again in 3D using Maya and then textured with photos from the real prop to make them look as much as the original as possible. In the story our main character Adam’s room ends up being totally destroyed so we ended up rebuilding the whole of his room again in 3D but with the real set as reference it was not too difficult for us to model and texture it so it looks very close to the real model.
Texturing of props and characters was done in Mari. Mari was an excellent tool for us and easy to use. Mari has a really good projecting tool, so we could get nice textures without seams and match up our photos of the props onto the 3D models in a fast and elegant way. The characters also needed the handmade feel even though they were 100% 3D. We wanted them to look like claymation and Mari was again a good tool for us to create good texture and bump maps with fingerprints and dirt so it would look like if as they have been animated and moved by real people.
We made several fingerprint maps for both characters so we could give them animated textures in Maya where the different maps with fingerprint would get shuffled around on the animated characters. It was a nice detail to add and together with a stepped animation style on 2s and 4s instead of having the typical 3D animation with smooth movements on spine, the film would feel even more like stop motion in the end. For the rendering we used Vray and for the final compositing we used Nuke.
The piggybank prop in the final film made by Bjørn Blaabjerg Sørensen
For me it was a great film to work on because of the mix between the real set building and 3D. It was so much fun building the set and see how “happy accidents” would appear all the time and create cool details we never would be able to get in CG within the time we had. It was also very inspiring to work with photo real CG and find the methods we needed for the project to work.
Thanks to the whole group that worked on Roomate Wanted – Dead or Alive. And thanks to all supervisors, teachers and helping hands from The Animation Workshop.