BENEATH THE SKIN:
A Celebration of MadMicrobe's 5-year Anniversary.
If you peel back the skin, you'll discover the team that got us there...
I would like to say this project started out as the 5-year anniversary video for MadMicrobe that it ended up being. The truth is, it all started more than a year prior to that when I found myself on a whim exploring a human skeleton/anatomy model in Cinema 4D one weekend, using my favorite render engine: Arnold. It was an exercise in lighting and sub surface scattering in which I kept all of the textures a solid white/gray, going for a minimalistic look. Playing with the images in post, I became inspired to add text elements and, being a long-time fan of the title sequence, soon began to think this might work well as a sequence in the esthetic of tv shows like West World and Altered Carbon. I created some key styleframes that weekend which I liked, and, sadly, that is pretty much where things sat for several months.
About 5 months later, after getting up to speed in Redshift, I thought I might want to revisit this project and see if it was possible to translate the Arnold shots into Redshift. I found they were nearly identical after using the same textures, and lighting rigs. Arnold looks great, but the render times can be prohibitive, compared to Redshift. I now felt like I could actually get this thing rendered in a timely manner now that I had switched render engines.
Knowing it was to be a title sequence, I soon realized there was a missing element. Who would be listed in the title credits? One thing that I had realized over the years since MadMicrobe started, was that many artists in the field knew me, but for whatever reason were not yet aware that MadMicrobe's work was the result of a team of over a dozen artists that had grown over the last 5 years, and not necessarily my work at all. Some of the other animation studios out there also erroneously assumed that our team was a group of loosely affiliated freelancers. This wasn't the case either, MadMicrobe employs a full time staff. It eventually became clear that this title sequence would be a great opportunity to shine a well-deserved spotlight on our full time team by listing them in the credits.
One piece of the puzzle solved, but... NOW what?
This idea would sit and fester in my brain for over a year as I tried again and again to come up with enough shots that were not only interesting but flowed together in some way. It was a very frustrating experience, and I ended up nearly giving up again and again. Luckily, I attempted to remain patient and trust that the creative energies required to finish this thing would eventually flow when the time was right.
I had decided early on that Blue States' instrumental "Alice Bright Lane" would be the the tune I would animate to. It had a mysterious quality that seemed to work well with the imagery. The music inspired some of the shots. The typography style also changed at least 10 times, eventually landing on bold red text to connect with our logo and branding. Over time and with a lot of trial and error, I assembled enough shots to fill out a lot of the track.
The piece remained about 90% complete for months. Things were continually busy at MadMicrobe, preventing me from putting a lot of time into this project which also made it harder to return and get my head back into the right space to continue when I actually DID have time. Progress was way...too...slow. I needed something to pull this thing together once and for all, and SOON.
Getting this project done, and what I learned:
Around February 2020 it occurred to me that our 5-year anniversary was coming up in March, and this would be the perfect piece to use as a vehicle to celebrate this milestone. I now had a finite deadline which forced me to figure this out. Using the 5-year theme pulled everything together from start to finish! Although there are a few things I'd like to have tweaked some more, I feel like it worked as well as it could.
What I've learned from this project is to trust the creative process. Be patient and try not to overthink. Also, having a hard deadline will usually force you to produce something. If it doesnt exaclty hit the mark, trust that there will be other opportunities.
Inside the nasal cavity looking out. I wanted to start this piece from inside the body and have it by completely abstract at almost a micro level and try to make these spaces feel huge. The music we used (Blue States moody and ominous Alice Bright Lane) begins with a foreboding repetition of tones which I felt lent itself well to a series of short cuts that quickly fade to black to tease what was coming. The 4 shots in this section of the piece was the most difficult to work out as it had to feel like a series of snapshots revealing something bigger and it was tricky to find open spaces in the models that worked well.
Here we are a little further ahead towards the nasal opening with the huge nasal turbinates hanging overhead to our right like a huge frozen tidelwave.
Returning to the spine we see at the start, here we are pulling upwards inside the ribcage and up the spine.
After composing the series of shots, it still felt like it needed something to pull the piece together and connect it to the music. Having each shot being anatomical and sharing a similar rendering style didnt seem enough to keep it interesting. So I found some element in most of the shots that I could animate rhythmically to the beat of the music. Here I animated pulses moving through the arteries on the side of the head. In other shots I have the heart beating in time, as well as things like iris/pupils dilation of the eyes, and blood cells pulsing through the vessels. I think this worked and added some anticipation from shot to shot as you find yourself looking for what element will be animated. It also made things feel more alive rather than frozen sculptures.
This shot (and a few others) break the rules a bit and move from the human figure/skeleton down to the micro level with a vessel blood flow shot. I managed to balance it out by adding just enough shots further in the show that broke the rule as well (a cellular shot and a neuron) so it kind of works.
This last shot was the hardest to work out. I just couldn't find a way to wrap it up. In the end I think the heart worked as it ties in the rhythmical beating, and also has some other connotations, for instance, like our team being the "heartbeat" of everything we do. The piece was meant to be a tribute to our team so I think this last shot says it all.
Here are some shots that didn't quite make it in. Most of these were originally rendered in Arnold, and although the look and feel were working, the render times were a bit prohibitive for rendering 2 minutes of animation as a side project fit in between other jobs, The close-up skull image was getting used quite a bit as well, so I felt I had to remove a few. The pelvis shots, although they looked cool and intricate with all the nerves and vasculature just didn't seem to fit in. You can also see a few alternate text treatment styles we started with.