CGTantra Exclusive - An Interview with the Makers of Loom
1. Congratulations on winning "Best In Show Award" at Siggraph 2010. Please tell us how did you come up with the concept of the movie, what was the inspiration? What was the thought process?
Thanks! When we started tossing around ideas at the beginning, we thought about things that we want to tell, but also emotions we want to express and visual styles we like.
After Ilija watched a spider spinning its' web for hours, he told us how fascinating this process is and we took it from there on. We had several ideas of what we would like to implement in a story frame, such as linear developments like change of scale, change of time. We thought 'how emotional can a common process in nature be if you just take on a new perspective to it?' Of course, nowadays there are lots and lots of well made documentaries, and cameras can capture amazing details of everything. We had to keep that in mind to not fall in the trap of lining our project up with pictures that everybody already knows. The process for story-development was pretty straight forward. Ilija and Jan sat down for a couple of weeks every night to brainstorm. Create ideas, think about possible moments, and set up the plot points and emotional curve. After they both had a rough image in mind, we expanded the team to Csaba and Pit and took it from there on to fine tune.
2. Give us an insight to Polynoid
Polynoid is the name under which several artists live out their creativity and passion. The work produced under Polynoid has a very distinct style and part of the reason for this is that it is more of a collective than a full scale studio. We have facilities for production, something like a home base, but we want to stay flexible, being able to jump on different tasks, and go to different places....where ever Polynoid is needed ;)
3. LOOM happens to be your final project at the Filmakademie Baden Wurttemberg, Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction, so could you tell us whether any brief was given to the team, what were the prerequisites in terms of timeline and team?
There where no prerequisites besides a deadline. We all knew that at one point we have to graduate, but the spectrum of possibilities for your thesis is very broad. So basically, we've been given amazing facilities at the Institute of Animation to use, and the support on their side is awesome. They really try to let you do whatever you want, giving you good advise whenever you need it. One thing that we really liked during production was the 'weeklies'. Once a week everybody came together and gave a short presentation of where they currently are. The feedback you get out of these rounds was really helpful.
4. What were the softwares used?
We used Autodesk Softimage 7.5 for everything on the 3D side. Our main compositing tool was Eyon Fusion 5.1. Besides that we used Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects and Mudbox.
5. Tell us something about the team members and
production pipeline management.
Production pipeline wise we had pretty much all positions
and tasks covered that are essential for the production
of an animated short. Since we worked together before,
already established our own workflow which is always
aiming to keep everything as flexible as possible. From the
beginning we created assets for all the necessary
elements which where based on referenced models and
script driven character rigs, so all the different tasks like
modeling, shading,rigging and lighting could be tackled at
the same time, keeping everybody updated with the
newest versions. This way it's possible to figure
out bottlenecks in production very early and find
workarounds for them. We are lucky to have team
members with diverse skills and interests, who love the
field they specialize in and can bring their passion
into the whole production process.
6. How did you get the hyper real look of the spider and the moth? The anatomy, the web everything is brought to life with extreme intricacies how did you'll achieve it?
Thanks for the compliment. Creating this type of look is based on a couple of factors. First, there are the models, which we spend a lot of time with adding detail and creating the right passes to achieve the final look in comp. Next we studied a lot of spider movement, web dynamics and insect documentary film making. When it comes to the camera, it's always good to keep in mind that in reality nothing is as perfect as you can set it up in CG. So keeping that in mind for the whole animation and camera work helped a lot. And then there is the lighting + depth of field. Having extreme lighting situations with lots of contrast and shadows always adds a lot of realism. Much easier to light then for example an overcast daylight scene.
7. The animation has a beautiful flow and the smoothness is remarkable, how did you go about animating the moth and the spider, any kind of live footage was used as reference?
Great to hear you like the style of the animation. Right at the start of the project we gathered a lot of reference material. The BBC nature documentations provided us with a lot of really great footage to study. We selected a number of clips that showed the different types of movement we needed for our shots. Those clips we watched over and over again and discussed them with each animator helping us. The rigs of the two characters are very simple, so most of the animation is straightforward FK keyframe animation. Since we had all the shots in a rough animatic state, the part taking longest was refining those shots until they look convincing. The real-time shots in the beginning were the toughest to animate since the viewer is used to see this kind of footage. In addition, at this speed the interaction with the web was a bit difficult to realize. Most of the shots later in the piece were easier to produce due to the slow motion. Because of the linearity of the slow-mo movements it felt easier to get those shots right.
8. Dynamically too LOOM is very visually appealing,
this seems to be Polynoid's forte; any reason why
you'll are inclined towards such visual presentation?
It's always about the technique that fits best for what
you want to tell. We are a bunch of very visually thinking
people, and the combination of visuals with sound is
always something we really like. Combining this with a
story we want to tell ends up in the style we produce.
9. How did you manage the rendering of the
The Institute of Animation has a renderfarm that many
commercial studios would be jealous of. When you
produce there, you are actually able to 'think big' in
terms of rendering. We rendered the characters in 1080p,
and the spiderweb even in 4k to get the extra detail and
have better control over post depth of field and motion
blur. For the render management we used the fabulous 'RoyalRender' software of Holger Schoenberger which
helps a lot keeping the overview of the huge amount of
shots we had, each split up in round about 20 passes.
10. Could you tell us a little on the Sound design of Loom, what inspired the same?
The sound design was done by Joel Corelitz in his 'Waveplant' studio. We started looking for a sound designer right at the beginning of production, since past experiences have showed us that if you want the sound to really melt with the images, the sound designer should start at the same time as you do. So from the beginning, as we narrowed down the first editings and animatics, he started working on sound palettes and patterns to use. It was a very organic progress, where each side influenced the other. Sometimes he would come up with sound ideas which in return made us change the picture and vice versa. The cool thing is that this is a total internet story. We never met Joel before, we just communicated over skype, him sitting in Chicago and us in this small town in Germany. And it worked out great!
11. Any hitches during the entire film making process? What did you learn?
Of course there where many little hitches during production but nothing too severe. We probably learned the most about each other and working together as a team. You grow together after you experienced all these successful days when everything worked smooth, and the shitty days when everything went wrong. Also, of course you never stop learning and gaining experience about making shorts in general. How to nail down an idea and stick to it without being distracted by all the organizational needs and production details. Especially after a couple of months you might ask yourself why you are doing this and what again was the really cool thing about it. Always good to keep a good memory of the initial thoughts that did excite you so when you first started and just trust in them.
12. This movie is an astounding benchmark for students, anything that you would like to convey to students who are reading this interview?
We think there is a lot of very good student work out there. The benchmark is not as important as it may seem since a good film is a good film, no matter what production value it has or how long you've been working on it. The most important part is finding the emotional impact you want to trigger in yourself and the viewer. We think that more schools should give students more time, freedom and support to work on shorts. This way you learn much more about the technical aspects of the job as well as the conceptual part. We heard from a couple of friends about their studies and how the schools focus was more on training cg-operators for the industry than letting them grow for themselves and figure out their own stuff. So for the students out there, keep making short films and enjoy the 'non-commercial' time as much as you can. We tried to make as many shorts as possible in school and we are happy we did, on many levels.
13. Your message to the CGTantra Community!
First of all, congratulations to an awesome community name! And than at last, Polynoid says 'hello' to everybody and Polynoid wants to be your friend.