Several months ago, archeologists in the Lower Saxony region of Germany made an amazing discovery – the fossilized remains of a previously unknown raptor sub-species. This was a revolutionary discovery for German paleontologists, in particular for those in Lower Saxony. It was quickly decided that this discovery should be presented to the public in the form of a documentary film. But how can an animal that died millions of years ago be brought to life?
The job of breathing life into this fossil was given to the Hannover, Germany-based animation studio Soulpix. When production began, VFX supervisor and project lead Frank Sennholz travelled with the film crew to New Caledonia to coordinate the filming. In addition to the real-world background footage, with which the CG dinosaur would later be combined, HDRI shots were made with the help of a mirror sphere, which would later help illuminate the shots.
While the footage was being filmed in New Caledonia, the remaining team members began preparation for production. Digital impressions were made of the dinosaur that was to be created in CG. 3D artists and paleontologists worked together closely and made sure to include the most up-to-date anatomical information for the creation of the model. Numerous photos of skeletons and fossils from the researchers’ archives were used as reference. Many corrections to shape of the dinosaur’s anatomy were made by the 3D artists with the scientists at their side to ensure utmost accuracy.
After the scientists had given their approval to the models, the team began creating the textures, which had an average size of 8000 x 8000 pixels. All details had to look as authentic as possible. The integration of BodyPaint 3D in Cinema 4D made texturing a very comfortable process since textures of this size have hardly any impact on the performance of Cinema 4D. The artists were still able to edit textures in real-time and view the results as they worked. A great deal of creative freedom was possible in the creation of the textures because the paleontologists themselves could only make educated guesses as to the way they actually would have looked. The Layer Shader in Cinema 4D was used to mix a myriad of procedural masks and textures, making it possible to create an individual material for each dinosaur.
To make movement and states of rest as authentic as possible, slow-motion shots of modern flightless birds were used as reference. In addition, fossilized footprints of various dinosaurs made it possible to draw conclusions about how the dinosaurs must have propelled themselves forward. First, various animations were made that were added to a library to which each animator had access. Hence, various animated walk cycles were available, which were later mixed with other animations, e.g. with the roar of a dinosaur, using Cinema 4D’s Motion Layer system. This made it possible to quickly create individual animation, which in turn helped the team at Soulpix meet the tight production deadline. The final animations were then baked using Point Cache, which allowed complex animations with inverse kinematics, Jiggle deformers and other physical effects to be rendered easily using NET Render.
A combination of Vray and Cinema 4D was used to render the scenes. Cinema 4D and Vray’s excellent connectivity made this the perfect combination. Cinema 4D’s layer-based and very intuitive material system made it possible to quickly create Shaders for Vray. Even the dinosaurs’ extreme displacement and mass could be rendered quickly thanks to this seamless integration.
The rendered scenes were split up into several render passes. The beauty passes were completed exclusively with Vray and Cinema 4D was used to render the shadow, Ambient Occlusion and hair passes. All masks for selective color correction in post-production and partial effects were also rendered in Cinema 4D.
Depending on the number of dinosaurs in and the complexity of a Project, up to 20 render passes had to be made and the render time varied from just 5 minutes to one hour. The entire post-production and the integration of the live shots was done in After Effects, including depth of field, motion blur and any last-minute color correction to give the renderings their final polish.