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david's really interesting pages | palaeoart, animation and stuff
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Urs; student film by Moritz Mayerhofer

I talked with Moritz Mayerhofer about npr, 3D tools and stylistic development on his student film Urs. Check out his film site (only trailer at the moment) and some great rig videos by Jonas Jarvers.

Moritz, congratulations on a visually impressive film. How much exploration was involved in look development?

It took quite a while to know in which direction I wanted to lead the film itself. I wanted to mix 3d and 2d as much as possible. So my plan was to approach the different techniques with detailed matte paintings on the one hand and painterly 3d on the other.
The development of a special shader took quite a time until it worked. I analyzed the style of painting I liked and tried to recreate that with a shader in Lightwave.

What specifically did you adress in blurring the line between 2D and 3D feel of what is basically a traditionally rendered film?

Together with TD Michael Lederhuber we developed a shader who used different textures for the different areas of a lit object. One detailed texture was used for the lit parts and a less detailed one was used for the parts in shadows. This resembled the way I painted the mattes. Details in lit areas – less in shadows.
Furthermore we used stroke-textures to break up clear perfect borders between those areas and on the highlights. Matching the paintings, we also tinted the borders and gave them more saturation.

The effects are partially hand-drawn. Were there issues in integrating these elements into the 3D elements?
Most of the fx are hand-animated in TV Paint. First of all FX-animation is hard work in itself and I give a big credit to Jan Locher who has spent a lot of time on many of them. The biggest problem – no wonder – was the fact they were flat. It’s no big deal with breath as it is very vague. But if you have connection to the ground or even interaction it gets hard.
In compositing we realized that a main reason (for example) the fire looked so “2d” layed in it’s sharp edge. For the final composit we blended more flames into each other and used the whole palette of the layer-options in after effects.

Your film has no dialogue or voice-overs. The mountains seem to play as much a role as the two main characters. Can you say something about how the non-photoreal look plays into this?
I’m doing animation and I don’t want to make films that are 1:1 transferable to live-action. You could probably recreate ‘Urs’ with actors, but I wanted to let the environments, colors and the whole design communicate the storypoints.
The stylization is in my eyes a very powerful way to communicate with an audience. I’m fascinated by photo-realism, but a stylized but believeable realism is much stronger for me as it is easier to accept for the viewer. Photorealism often distracts – especially when dealing with humans. (Uncanny valley, etc.)

Your sketches and artwork also look great. Do you achieve exactly the look you were after? How did the 3D toolset support your pipeline in NPR?

It was hard to go for NPR. There are many problems to deal with. First of all the incredible liberty of a brushstroke. I knew that I can’t recreate that in CG. Everyone who has animated in 2d and 3d knows that there are so many things easier and more intuitive … and easier to fake in 2d than in 3d. But I also knew that I wanted to finish the project in time and it was essential to use 3d. In the end the 3d-part used painted textures and this shader to narrow the gap between 2d & 3d.
I’m really happy with the result as we found a very efficient but still aesthetic way to create the images we wanted.

you also roughed up the contours… another difficult NPR technique in 3D. How did you do this?
To be honest – it was no 3d-thing. For this task I used a filter in after-effects which I applied to the edge-areas of the rendering which I defined with a ramp-shader. I also looked for 3d solutions, but this seemed to be the way that matched the project.

The film feels very subdued and patient in comparison with many student films. How’s the reaction been so far?
There was a lot of critique and concerns about the length and pace of the film (from the Institute). I was always open to critique and I really appreciated the feedback. They were probably right with some points: many festivals try to take rather short and funny films. Comparing a 10 minute drama to three 3-minute shorts that could fit into the program I can understand programm-planers. But films are always different, their reasons and goals as well. I love cinema and so I wanted to create a film for the big screen. With epic pictures and a touching story. I knew the style of my film and what I wanted to see in the end. The film got really good response at festivals around the world including screenings at LA Shorts and ITFS Stuttgart. It even got some awards which makes me really happy. I guess you can’t create a film that everyone loves. You as the creator have to trust your film and believe in it.

The film is 10 minutes long. How long did it take to animate the characters?
The character-animation took me about 4 1/2 months. It was a very emotional time without much sleep. I always tried to feel like the character’s feel which was sometimes very hard. As an animator you have to become your character – think like him, feel like him – to communicate that as much as possible.
The animation was done entirely in pmg:messiah which I used for the first time on this project. I really enjoyed working in it and didn’t need much time to get used to the interface. Character-TD Jonas Jarvers did a great job with the character rigs. It was also his first messiah project but he managed to create everything from multi-dynamic parenting to referencing – which wasn’t available in that version of the software. The production-plan was very tight and that meant I had to start blocking and animating at a certain date. Messiah allowed us to animate the whole show while Jonas still worked on the Rigs and I finished modeling. We could update the objects a couple of times during production also because Urs changes his appearance during the film. Messiah doesn’t rely on skinning, so this was all very simple.

What’s your next project?
I was really exhausted after finishing ‘Urs’. It took me almost three years to get it done and 2008 was one year of crunchtime. In the last few weeks I could recover a bit and now I’m getting excited about creating something new. Over the last 13 years I got used to make one film after the next. So I definitely want to continue filmmaking… In other words – I can’t think of sanything else. For the next project I’m still looking for a new concept. I want to make something funny, shorter and in a way more radical. ‘Urs’ is a very classical film. For my next films I want to explore more ways of what is possible in Animation. There are many things we haven’t seen before. We just have to find them.

Anything to add?
Thanks to all who worked on ‘Urs’. Filmmaking is a team-effort and I want to stress that it wouldn’t have been possible to make the film without the passion of Jonas, Jan, my fellow matte-painters Julia and Leszek, music composer Peter Gromer and Sounddesigner Michael Diehl to name a few of them!

I act as production coordinator on student projects at the Filmakademie Baden-Weurttemberg.

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Animation i Väst » Urs – Studentfilm says:

[…] de som vill läsa vidare hittar ni en intervju med Moritz Mayerhofer, mannen bakom filmen, här. De tekniskt lagda kan titta vidare på arbetet från Jonas Jarvers som byggde riggarna till filmen […]

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