A story of weight within us.
Directed by – Sava Zivkovic
Written by – Sava Zivkovic, Milan Nikolic, Nebojsa jez
Art Direction / Concept Design – Milan Nikolic
Character Artist – Antonio Esparza
Asset Artist – Mihailo Radosevic
Rigging – Borna Berc / Bunker VFX
Motion Capture / Character Animation – Take One
Motion Capture Performance by – Nebojsa Jez
Environments / Rendering / Compositing – Sava Zivkovic
Sound Design – Echoic
Original Score by – Iz Svemira
Tools: 3ds Max, Redshift, Substance Painter, Zbrush, 3D Coat, Adobe Suite
FREIGHT started out as a pitch for a client project. We were tasked with creating a short film that could demonstrate the capabilities of an upcoming real-time ray tracing technology. There were no creative limitations, everything regarding the story or the art direction was left to us, which at time seemed like a dream project finally coming to fruition.
We’ve assembled the core team of longtime friends and collaborators, Milan NIkolic, Nebojsa Jez and myself, and developed the pitch for the project, consisting of the script, character concept art and a detailed previz, as well as some keyframe renders. A pretty strong start for any project. Unfortunately due to many variables the client couldn’t proceed with the project, which left us with a completely developed idea, one that we felt really strongly about, but without client funding to produce it.
Since the three of us felt incredibly passionate about the story we’ve crafted, and since we owned the rights to the IP, we decided to yet again take the plunge into the unknown and fund and produce the project ourselves.
Along the way of creating FREIGHT we’ve had an opportunity to apply what we’ve learned working on AAA video games, but also test some of our own workflows. This video documents some of those workflows and the process behind the creation of FREIGHT.
Having very limited time of 7 days to come up with a clear pitch for a project of this scope, we had to develop a workflow that would allow us to produce multiple original assets to be used in the pitch.
Once we created the story, Milan immediately started working on a 3d concept sculpt for the character, while I started working on a previz. I’ve used a placeholder character asset from our IFCC project and was able to lock in all the shots while Milan was creating the character.
When the 3d concept sculpt was created I’ve switched the placeholder character in the previz for the finished concept and worked on fine tuning the edit. At the same time Milan was working on the final character concept paint-over.
As the 3d concept sculpt was pretty detailed, I was able to use it and do some very early look development, that would end up as key-frame renders to go along with the rest of the pitch material.
The story called for a tortured soul, a creature lost in this non-descript world, forced to carry the weight of his miss-deeds. The main visual signifiers used to describe the character are his hunched back and neck, strained from carrying the weight, as well as his strong elongated arms and a sense of food deprivation reflected in his stomach.
Milan used his tested and proven workflow for designing the character and the props. He sculpted the base forms with Zbrush and finished up the paint over in Photoshop, giving clear guidance on the materials and texture to the asset artists later on in production.
For the previz I wanted to give a very clear approximation of the final film, which meant using the actual character, locked camera angles and an indication of lighting and atmosphere. The duration was a bit shorter than the finished film since we were dealing with very rough animations and we knew some actions will be prolonged by motion capture performance in later stages.
The cinematography rules we used are presenting the character with a handheld operated camera, showing his inner instability, while the payload he’s freighting is always shown with a locked off stable camera. The use of close up was there to build up the tension as our character is faced with moments of weakness, after which I would always cut to a wide shot, relieving that tension and bringing back breathing space.
The environments were really roughly blocked in and did not represent the final look, but they contained all the biggest compositional elements that were crucial to the story.
R&D / Keyframes
These early test renders were very different look-wise to what our final picture ended up looking like, but having these images very early on helped with the pitch since the clients could envision how the not so realistic previz could actually look like. It also helps with motivating the team, as we get to see an early depiction of our world just days after we’ve finished writing it.
These images were also the testing ground for render engines and finding the right one for this project. For these I’ve used Vray, Octane and Redshift, but I’ll elaborate more on the chosen renderer below in the production section.
The character asset was created by incredibly talented Antonio Esparza. We’ve met Antonio through Milan’s Learn Squared mentorship and after a quick call he was immediately onboard for the project. Antonio used all the typical tools of the trade, 3ds Max, Zbrush and Substance Painter in order to model, sculpt and texture the character. Having Milan’s 3d concept sculpt was an enormous help as all the proportions and major shapes were clearly defined.
Antonio’s process images
The model was then rigged by my friends at Bunker VFX, a local CGI studio, where Borna Berc handled the rigging. Antonio also modeled over 40 facial blend shapes for a FACS driven facial rig.
Bunker images, rigging print screens, scripts, code, blendshapes, blendshape gifs
We’ve decided to go for a mid-density poly count for our final asset and let the normal and displacement maps do all the heavy lifting.
The Case and the Wall Machine assets were modeled by a good friend and an amazing artist Mihailo Radosevic. Mihailo also used 3dsMax/Zbrush/Substance combo in creating the assets. If you’re interesting in modeling for production, Mihailo has an upcoming course on Learn Squared, so make sure to check back on their website for the release date!