Interview with Laszlo Ruska and David Ringeisen, Graduates of Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME)

A story about the delicate balance of nature, Paper World won the Jury Award at SIGGRAPH 2014 and a gold medal at the New York Festival.

Your final student project is the most daunting. It’s your last opportunity while in school to catch the attention of festivals in the student category and hopefully kick-start your career. Laszlo Ruska’s and David Ringeisen’s graduation project Paper World not only achieved these goals but also managed to attract international viewership. The two graduates of the Budapest-based Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME) approached the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) in Hungary and proposed to create an imaginativ film about the delicate relationship between the human environment and the natural world.

We decided at an early stage of pre production, that we’d like to make a graduation film that could reach audiences beyond animation festivals. Therefore, we decided to go for a commissioned film and approached wwf hungary with our ideas.

Laszlo Ruska, MOME Graduate

Luckily the WWF was quite supportive and gave Laszlo and David a lot of freedom in terms of story and design. The students saw this as a great opportunity to experiment creatively, while keeping in mind the objectives for a film about raising awareness. While striving for novel content and look, they emphasized the goals of the organization, and its key message.

Paper World is a journey through a world of visual metaphors communicating WWF’s pivotal messages. The motif of folded paper animals was part of the concept at the earliest stages. “It was an obvious choice to grant a leading dramatic role to paper; it’s a material that is used in many shapes and sizes, easy to fold, bend, cut and crumple, it can be strong but at the same time very vulnerable,” Laszlo says. “All in all it felt like a great metaphor for nature around us. We put the keyboards aside and started brainstorming by folding, cutting and burning animal figures. From those ideas we roughly built the story arc. Along with it came the idea to have the setting be a single desktop, as it would be a familiar environment for all, something we could relate to, while it could also symbolize the entire world in itself.“

One of the major challenges was to visualize the traits of real life paper in CG. The characters were very simple hard-edge models, that were cut at the most important joints for the sake of animation. Nonetheless, some tricks had to be used at those parts: the rigs basically moved rigid segments, while making deformations only at the most inevitable places. Thus the team could achieve an optimal balance between the rigid look that came from character design and the practical requirements of realistic character animation.

Most of the production part took place at the university, Laszlo and David used very basic models due to resource limitations. The details were coming from normal maps that were baked from high res sculpts. They also had similar issues while fine-tuning shaders and textures.

How could we achieve a convincing ‘paperish’ look while saving resources? It turned out V-Ray2sided material could do the trick. It was a convincingly fast and easy way to imitate paper’s characteristics.

David Ringeisen, МОМЕ Graduate

The team chose V-Ray because of its quick and easy solutions to set up photorealistic scenes. Global Illumination was used generally with Irradiance map and Brute force. “Vray2Sided material along with Blend was also a great addition. Not to mention VFB which is an amazingly handy feature, with which we could manage and modify lighting and shading quite interactively. We also utilized some of the available passes, amongst others Velocity and Z-depth were a must,” David shares.

A great passion for arts combined with relevant education seems to have worked the magic for both Laszlo and David. “During Primary School I joined art courses and visited art camps. I went to an Arts High School, where I studied various art techniques. The interest for animation also dates back then, when I had the chance to try traditional animation,” Laszlo says and David adds: “My passion for arts comes all the way from kindergarden I think. I was an introverted child with a vivid imagination so I piled up huge mountains of drawings during the years.” Their university education at MOME seems to have played the decisive roles for both young talents. David shares, “During my years at MOME I went through a strange unconscious transformation that I only realize now as I look back on my studies. When I was admitted to MOME, on one hand I was involved in traditional arts: drawing, painting etc. and on the other hand I was a self-taught 3D artist, aiming to produce ‘professional’ stuff. Or so I thought! Then in the first years I completely turned away from CG only to submerge in traditional animation techniques, classic film craft and storytelling.”

Later, during my master years cg slowly crawled back but with a difference. It wasn’t the purpose any more, but only the means of expression, a tool to create something, that is beyond the technical bravado.

Laszlo Ruska, MOME Graduate

Paper World has brought different dimensions of success to its creators but most importantly it managed to convey the message that any project inspired by a true cause can win the hearts and minds of the audience.