3D Artist

modo and LightWave help create a post-apocalyptic universe

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Wes Ball talks to 3D Artist about how he used modo to model and render everything for his futuristic short film project, RUIN

Wes Ball explains how he created his short film RUIN

RUIN was a daydream project for many years until its creator, Wes Ball, decided to give it 100 per cent. “I decided to take a bit of a risk; I would essentially not take in any work for five months and focus solely on a short set in this world,” he says. “Once I committed and began writing, building assets, getting the help I needed in place… it took about 8 months.”

Wes talks to 3D Artist about the creation of the epic short film project, which began as a fun experiment to push himself and since reaped huge online success since its release…

Wes Ball explains how he created his short film RUIN

3D Artist: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career so far?

Wes Ball: I got started with 3D in high school using Lightwave 3D. I made little VFX shorts with badly comped CG robots over video footage of friends running for their lives.

I studied everything I could with regards to working in CG: magazines, behind-the-scenes shows – whatever I could get hold of. After graduation, I attempted to enroll at the FSU Film School, but was not accepted.

I enrolled at FSU anyway as an undeclared major. I took my normal freshman year classes but on the weekends I hung around the film school and volunteered on student film sets doing things like G&E, craft service, PA, all the while trying to absorb as much as I could about the filmmaking process…

The next year, I applied again and was accepted to the FSU Film School – one of 15 transfer students. Almost immediately we were learning about live-action filmmaking, with real 16mm film, lights, and equipment.

I also began looking for ways to introduce VFX into my 16mm shorts. It started with dong the old-school double exposure tricks in camera, then I started learning how to do comps with our digitised dailies. I was learning on the fly. But it was my thesis film that I attempted my first fully animated CG short. It was called ‘A Work in Progress’. It ended up winning several awards, including a Student Academy Award.

When I moved out to Los Angeles, this short opened the door to almost immediately begin working for myself as a freelance graphics guy. I did motion graphics for TV and DVD, VFX for small commercials and music videos, and occasionally small animated sequences. Each year bigger and bigger projects came my way, and eventually a few friends and I decided to go legit with my company OddBall Animation.

Cut to a few years later – having done a fair bit of client work – I decided to make an animated short called ‘RUIN‘.

Wes Ball explains how he created his short film RUIN

3DA: What software was used to create a convincing post-apocalyptic universe?

WB: I modelled and rendered everything inside of Luxology’s modo. In my opinion, it’s the best modeller out there. And it’s renderer isn’t too shabby either! The main reason I chose to render in modo was its instancing implementation called Replicators. I found it was just an incredibly powerful and efficient way to create the complexity of an overgrown abandoned civilisation.

For animation, I used my first love, Newtek’s LightWave 3D. All the character animation, the camera animation, as well as bike and drone animations were done there. modo does a great job working with outside formats, and LightWave’s LWO files were used to transfer meshes between the two.

I used FBX to get all item-level animation out of LightWave and into modo. This brought in all camera animation, as well as any rigid body stuff like the bike and drone. But and deformer based motion like character animation had to be baked out of LightWave using MDDs, which were reapplied in modo.

I used After Effects to comp everything. I worked in 16-bit linear space using mainly OpenEXR renders out of modo. Almost all the shots were comped in 3D space inside of After Effects, something I needed to do since this was a stereoscopic project. I used Fredrik Stenson’s AfterFXIO script to get keyframe data out of modo and into After Effects.

For the most part, I tried to nail everything in the render out of modo. I didn’t do a lot of passes in an effort to keep things simple and easily managed. I pretty much only rendered my one final colour pass, whatever simple mattes I wanted for colour correction purposes, and several depth passes at varying depths.

  • I also used an iPad app to create the trees, called TreeSketch
  • Some of the shots that have fire, I used Turbulence4D inside of LightWave
  • All of the physics-based hard body animation was done using Recoil in modo, which is now included in modo 601
  • For rigging the character inside of Lightwave, I used a set of scripts called Rhiggit Pro. It’s great tool for setting up character rigs!
  • Trapcode Particular was used for all the bugs and dust trails. Since I had everything in 3D space inside of After Effects, it was fairly easy to get a convincing result. And it all worked in stereoscopic!

Wes Ball explains how he created his short film RUIN

3DA: Can you tell us about the biggest challenges and how they were overcome?

WB: The biggest challenge was the scope. I ended up creating about 10 miles worth of highway stretches in addition to the various locations where there is no action, or the action is stopped.

I wasn’t sure how to solve the daunting task of adding decay and overgrowth to all this stuff. But after some random testing (even before there was ever a short), I figured out how powerful modo’s Replicator system was for this process. I spent the first few months just building assets, making buildings, trees, bushes, grass, and lots and lots of wall ivy. I also ruined cars and other little roadway items.

With modo, I would model out my locations, bring everything into LightWave to setup my cameras and animation, then bring it back into modo to add the overgrowth, where I would essentially paint on growth using point clouds that were used to drive replicator groups.

For the walls of the freeway, I had specific poly strips with correct alignment that I could use to drive the replicator group of ivy. Adding scale and position offsets and you it worked great.

Wes Ball explains how he created his short film RUIN

3DA: How about the characters?

WB: This was the big challenge that scared me when I decided to do this short. I had never done a CG human before! I started with a sketch by John Park who came up with a killer design for the guy. That was handed off to Mark Davies who modelled the character for me. After that, I began work on the face and textures and rigging inside of LightWave.

Most of the animation is hand keyed. I had a young animation intern named Adam Floeck who came on in the beginning for a few months. I pretty much threw him in the deep end with me and he ended up animating the character in a few shots before he jumps onto the bike.

I also experimented with motion capture for the first time. I used a small 12-cam OptiTrack system to do a few shots at the end. It was a good learning experience but definitely realise now motion capture isn’t easier than hand keying, just a different process. I’d like to go a little deeper next time and work out a better system for implementing the captured data.

In any case, I pretty much did the motion capture by myself. I set up the camera system in my office, strapped on the embarrassing lycra suit, pressed record on the computer, walking into the volume, acted out and pressed stop. Done. It was fun!

Check out RUIN on Vimeo.

  • Richard Lagrue

    A brilliant piece of work! I liked the beginning where the camera pans over a long disused freeway and abandoned skyscrapers, overgrown with plant life. Looking forward to then next instalment!