We speak to Andreas Feix and Francesco Faranna, the brilliant minds behind this VES award winning graduation film.
Students from Germany’s Filmakademie Baden Württemberg are no stranger to the red carpet at the Visual Effects Society awards. In recent years, the institute’s short films “Natalis,” “a.maize,” “Loom,” and “They Will Come To Town” have scooped the prize for Best Visual Effects in a Student Project.
Andreas Feix and Francesco Faranna’s short film Citipati is the latest student short from the Filmakademie to be bestowed with the award. It’s not hard to see why it caught the judges’ attention: it ambitiously tells the tale of the dying moments of an ostrich-sized dinosaur as meteors destroy the world around it.
Both Andreas and Francesco were interested in VFX before joining Filmakademie. Throughout high school Andreas experimented with personal projects and VFX work, while Francesco ran a small production studio prior to joining Filmakademie. But it was the spirit of camaraderie at Filmakademie which lead to Andreas and Francesco uniting to produce their best work.
Students at Filmakademie are very competitive. You either compete with your classmates, or you create projects together. The four-year course is followed by one year dedicated to graduation projects. Filmakademie is a place where intense CG work goes on all the time.
As Andreas and Francesco explain in their podcast with Chaos Group labs’ Chris Nichols, the idea for Citipati was derived from their childhood fascination with the groundbreaking CG dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.”
“One specific feature is that Filmakademie gives you the freedom to choose how you work on your project,” says Francesco. “They provide an extraordinary infrastructure and let you design your pipeline. As you participate in the design of your own pipeline, you try things out and you get a better understanding of the whole production process.”
The project's core pipeline centred around 3ds Max and Nuke, and borrowed elements from two of Andreas’ previous projects: the creature pipeline which created “Lindwurm’s” titular dragon, and the environment and stereo 3D pipeline used in fellow student Sascha Geddert’s “Globosome.”
The film's creatures were modelled in 3ds Max, detailed and textured in Mudbox, then brought back into 3ds Max for rigging and animation incorporating the CAT system. The film’s effects were done with 3ds Max with Particle Flow and Phoenix FD, then rendered in V-Ray, and composited in stereo 3D within Nuke.
For the main character, Andreas built a few systems into the rig which would automatically create secondary movements and skin dynamics on top of the character animation. Using a custom muscle setup and bone chains driven by noise and spring controllers, this additional layer attached to the base rig to allow for bulging muscles and the jiggle of soft tissue, as well as automated tail movement. This sped up the animation process considerably, and added extra detail to each and every shot.
The amount of FX simulations – over 300 in total – was particularly challenging, but so was the overall diversity. We covered everything from fluids & liquids to particles, rigid bodies and even hair simulations. On top of that several of the FX systems and plugins weren't all that familiar to us when production was kicked into gear.
With the short film was in the can, Andreas and Francesco edited a two-minute reel for the Visual Effects Society’s consideration. “We tried to strike include our favourite shots, while showcasing the variety of scenes throughout the film and the type of work that went into them,” says Andreas. “The announcement of the nominees was a big surprise and caused a big reaction, mostly because of all the ambiguity and the tension from being in the dark prior to that.”
Accepting the award became the icing on the cake, as Andreas puts it. “You're just on fire while you thank everyone during the speech you've hastily prepared.”
What advice would you give to someone starting their education in 3D visualization?
Andreas Feix: The most basic lesson is to just start doing something; learning by doing is probably the best way of practicing your skill. Most of the work you do can be described as problem solving, so concentrate on that aspect. Set your goals a little bit higher each time, and then try to solve challenges whatever way possible.
Don’t forget to be social. Collaborate with people who don’t think in the same way as you, as they can bring fresh perspective to the table. Don't shy away from tutorials, but make sure you learn the technique, rather than how to copy the result.