Behind the curtain

Stop-motion has been an animation technique used since the very first days of movies, giving life to characters, objects and landscapes made of clay, cardboard, paper, wax, even metal or wood. Models seem to be made from those materials and still be alive, and so should this image.

BWC2010 Challenge. Indigo’s performance is outstanding with furniture, interior and exterior real-life scenes, but what about fantasy-like realism? Architectural renders are very different in nature than stop-motion shots. Characters’ presence gives a totally different point of view for integration, so using it was a double challenge, since it handles lighting, materials and compositing differently from Lux (another unbiased renderer), and from every other internal or external renderer I’ve used. This exercise was the very first work with Indigo in my experience.

The Idea
. We all know Life is wonderful and it has so many things to offer, but few of us stop from our daily battles to really enjoy those beautiful things surrounding us. Thinking only in the next best weapon, phone, computer, car, etc., we only see what happens in front of us, unaware from those things and people above us and what they can do to us. The idea that Life is larger than our little understanding, but it is made from all of our days, despite the fear and the uncertain is what I wanted to reproduce. The image itself has to reflect it. Life is not perfect. Life is not focused on me or on you. Life is about the surrounding, about the personal and group experience gained from trial and error, and this image has to have that “setting the scene” feeling, as our Life is, always in the pursue of something. If it has approached to it, please let me know.

Graphic Representation. Stop-motion environments were different in color expression than nowadays. Today color schemes are considered since early stages: in every scene a color tab is predominant. In the 60s and 70s, however, many colors were used in the same scene, but the very same principle that monochrome drawings was applied: darker colors as background, light colors as foreground.

Modeling. With classic stop-motion in mind, a retro style in elements was considered. Characters and their weapons came from around the World Wars time. Easy-made models should be placed, as with Stop-motion figures. In classic stop-motion, elements were not that detailed, as they would be iconic and colorful. Blender gives enough flexibility to build things rapidly, so that is not a concern.

3D Vegetation. Alternatives were reviewed. From very realistic to only suggested, as a wide range has been used for stop-motion. Vinyl wall art illustration-like shrubs, plants and trees were chosen, as they could look like digital clay-made.

Texturing. The base materials should look like wood and shiny clay, so unwrapped textures were made for these models. Lighting is nothing without texturing, and texturing is nothing without proper lighting. The most time was spent in textures, taking the base textures from CGTextures and mixing them in the GIMP with my own patterns. Wood should look lacquered, but still showing its streaks. Modeling clay in the 60s and 70s was varnished, ceramics as glazed, and both materials very shiny. Indigo’s Phong material came marvelous to represent them.

Lighting. Indigo’s way to light a scene is completely different than the other renderers available for Blender (and other 3D programs, let me say). Light is very precise in Indigo for room scenes. Before this scene, a dummy room was placed with a white material for Indigo to render it. It performs extremely well. In this scene, however, Physical sky+sun and Environment map were out of scope, as classic stop-motion was only illuminated with a key light. They never used secondary lights, and so did I. Light has to make those dark materials get vivid and shiny, so extra-light had to be set. Fortunately, Indigo manages very well photometric IES files. Indigo’s Techniques Manual is a must-see reference, even if you are not using Indigo. It gives you elements to consider as if you were taking real-life shots. I thought many trials would be required to have the light I wanted, as the page suggests. I was pleased with the results, Indigo does business very precisely and with not that many essays the final light was set to go. Don’t be intimidated for its way to light scenes. It is very good in what it does, and it gives you plenty of control, because you know exactly what is happening with your light in every moment.

Render Integration. Blender’s development branch is evolving, changing the way it works and, for the cause, breaking the Blendigo beta scripts. I did my project in Blender 2.53 beta, but I used the Blender 2.49.2 in order to use Blendigo stable. The script is very friendly and straightforward.

Post Processing. Believe it or not, no post processing was made to the image. The depth of field effect Indigo made is very precise, it focused exactly what I wanted to focus, no grain had to be removed. No color balance, no final touches. It came perfect for me. Period.

Experience and final thoughts. This contest gave me the opportunity to use another program with a very different approach from what I am used to do. I am pleased with the results. It looks real but it looks like fantasy also. It is very colorful and bright, a change from what I do. Nothing is really finished in Life, and that is the message I wanted to give. Images are larger than life, as they are our living wordless ideas, and they will be the only thing we carry with ourselves from this world.</p>

Why posting now? I found about this year BWC on September the 1st, 2010. The only one who really backed both to my brother Gabriel and to myself could not even talk. Today, the day after my submission came true, he past away. This is a tribute to him. This is the best i could do right now. Many things you could say in order to improve it, but for me, it is finished, as it was made when my team was on this planet. This one is for you, our very first post at This one is for you, Rafael!

That was a very strange post. I am sorry for your loss. It looks like you put a lot of very hard work into this picture. I don’t particularly care for it though. Good luck, I hope you have a bright future.

I am sorry for your loss. The image came out nicely.

Besides everything else the image deserves some improvements. First of all it looks like all the objects have the same material settings (which makes the whole scene a bit dull); second of all - I don’t understand why there is such a big depth of field (it blurs the whole foreground, about 50% of the models). Finally - the lighting is too strong, If I were you I would put two less intensive lamps - blue and yellow; white light from the right burns the surface of the objects.

I think the materials fit perfectly, it’s either this complete plasticky look, or the matte-subsurface look, either one would have been great. This is not a piece that has any kind of realism to it, but it is very well done imho. Of course it’s nothing like other pieces, but it fits the scene, the story, the work, hell even the drawing.

the only comment is that I agree that the dof is not very good, it looks like none of the models are really sharp, except the background.

and sorry for your loss

as strange and plasiticy it is, i like it. sorry about your bro

lighting and materials are fine to me, but the DoF should focus on the figures, no the background. It’s streangth is fine though, if not too weak, as stop motion has really small figures, so the blur has to be strong