Post Magazine

September/October 2022

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 27 of 39

orld-class animators bring cap- tivating stories to life in Netflix's acclaimed anthology series Love, Death + Robots. Spanning a wide range of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, comedy and horror, the series explores intriguing alternate realities across a mul- titude of visual styles. Oscar-nominated director David Fincher, who is among the show's executive producers, helmed the second episode of Season 3. Titled "Bad Travelling," the episode marks Fincher's computer-animated directorial debut. Based on the short story of the same name by Neal Asher, the episode follows a dishonest crew of shark-hunting sailors as they traverse an uncharted ocean. When ships are lost at sea during these voyages, it is said they have met the fate of a "bad travelling." As the crew navigates stormy waters, they encounter a ravenous mon- ster of the deep known as a "Thanapod." The massive crustacean-like creature brutally attacks the crew, turning the surviving sailors against each other before striking a deal with the ship's navigator, Torrin (voiced by Troy Baker). Fincher collaborated with Blur Studio, an award-winning animation and VFX firm founded by Tim Miller (creator of Love, Death + Robots), to craft the eerie nautical tale. The studio successfully delivered 386 shots for the episode in only six months. Two key crew members from the Blur Studio team — composit- ing supervisor Nitant Ashok Karnik and CG supervisor Jean Baptiste Cambier — shared insight into the rendering work- flow behind this dynamic project. All hands on deck Bringing Fincher's distinctive cinematic aesthetic to an animated production required close collaboration between the members of the Blur Studio team. Establishing a clear line of communica- tion with Fincher was essential for bring- ing his creative vision to life on screen. "I think one of the first steps was just to get to know him as a person," recalls CG supervisor Jean Baptiste Cambier. "We experimented with color and light- ing to get to know each other and see how he would respond." The team studied a range of reference images to solidify the project's visual aesthetic, including work from various painters, like Rembrandt, and cinematog- raphy from films that included The Black Stallion [1979], No Country for Old Men [2007] and The Witch [2015]. Next, the team developed concept art to flesh out the episode's distinctive character design. "These characters are so heavily sculpt- ed and stylized, so we wanted to use that to our advantage," notes compositing supervisor Nitant Ashok Karnik. The proj- ect's art director, Alexey Andreev, com- pleted numerous "paintovers" to develop the look of the episode. "Those concept frames really helped drive the conversation," states Karnik. "Fincher would respond well or nega- tively, and that's how we would get a direction to start in." Fincher's extensive experience with vi- sual effects also enhanced the episode's development process. "He's done VFX forever, so he's very used to that," says Cambier. "I was amazed by how easy he was to commu- nicate with. He was very familiar with the process." Embracing the darkness Fincher is known for embracing low-key lighting and dark color palettes to ex- plore the pitfalls of human morality in his films. The Blur team began establishing a lighting style very early in the look-de- velopment process, which required the aesthetic of each sequence to be fully refined prior to creating any assets. "Fincher is keenly aware of the practi- cality of different textures, surfaces and materials, and the physics of how they re- act to light in the real world," notes Karnik. "His eye for color is insanely precise. For example, when we were establishing lighting for the ship's cargo hold, Fincher specified that he only wanted oil lanterns and moonlight — specifically 1,800K and 4,000K, respectively. And of course, they were all spot-on in look and feel." Karnik also recalls a review session during which the director noticed a very subtle trace of color. "He was looking at an image and say- ing that the glancing angle of the light reflecting off the varnish, filtered through the panes of glass, was making this wood look magenta. It was interesting to hear his thought process. He was breaking down the physics of why magenta exist- ed in the image." Fincher was also very intentional about the emotions he intended the audience to experience as the events of the epi- sode unfolded. "We worked hard to make these characters feel like they were in a hor- rible, wretched place, and to make the audience feel as uncomfortable as the characters looked," explains Karnik. "We also played with lighting on the char- acters. For the antihero, Torrin, our art director had the idea of using a 50/50 lighting style, where only half his face was lit. Conceptually, we thought this lighting mirrored how morally gray his behavior was. You can see this transition from the beginning of the short, where the light wraps across Torrin's face, to the end, where he's murdered his entire crew and his face is half-lit." Tools of the trade Specialized lighting tools made it possi- ble to apply Fincher's distinctive live-ac- tion aesthetic to an animated workflow. "Unlike live action, animation does not often leave much room for on-set happy accidents or instinctive decisions — ev- erything is thought about, planned and calculated," explains Cambier. The team utilized V-Ray to bridge the gap between live action and CG animation. A physical- ly-based renderer developed by Chaos, V-Ray has received both an Academy Award and an Engineering Emmy for its role in the widespread adoption of ray- traced rendering in film and television. "Chaos have been our partners in crime for a very long time," notes Cambier. "Even David Fincher's relation- ship with V-Ray goes way back: his video for Only by Nine Inch Nails [created with Digital Domain in 2005] was the first time V-Ray's photorealistic ray tracing was used in a commercial project." The team leveraged V-Ray's Light Selects and Physical Camera Exposure LOVE, DEATH + ROBOTS: 'BAD TRAVELLING' BY KENDRA RUCZAK EXPLORING THE RENDERING WORKFLOW FOR DAVID FINCHER'S COMPUTER- ANIMATED DEBUT W ANIMATION 26 POST SEPT/OCT 2022

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Post Magazine - September/October 2022