Shawn's digital media arts studies were coming to an end and he was facing the same challenge as all students: choosing a topic for his thesis. At the time, cinemas were full of films about robots and artificial intelligence. Chappie and Wall-E were all the rage and the Mars rover Curiosity was exploring the red planet - all of which inspired Shawn to create is Thesis titled 'Unknown Planet'.
The fact that Shawn was - and still is - an enthusiastic Cinema 4D user and wanted to use this opportunity to expand his skills with the software helped shape his concept: he wanted to portray two robots that were looking for life on a distant planet. Friendship was the motivating factor for the characters and an asteroid storm was going to put this friendship to the test.
Shawn designed both robots as vehicles with added features to give them each a unique personality. "I chose this solution because I was planning on completing the entire film by myself. The vehicles are driven by caterpillar tracks and wheels, which were each given a special rig. These are in fact two separate systems that control the rig. The first system is based on the Constraint tag's Clamp function, which lets it react to the underlying terrain. The tracks and wheels were always had contact with the ground and rolled when the character was moved. The second system was created using XPresso, which I used to execute a series of mathematical calculations to create restrictions for the tracks and wheels. This ensured that they only moved when they touched the ground. Both systems were used to make up the vehicles' control system and a series of additional XPresso Expressions and several Python scripts were used to create the actual rig."
Another challenge for Shawn was the high number of assets that he needed to populate his scenes. He created a custom library in the Content Browser for his assets, which made it possible for him to quickly and easily access all the rocks, asteroids, materials and other elements he needed. All he had to do is drag and drop them from the Content Browser into his scene.
Shawn used the Octane renderer, which offered render times of 4 to 15 minutes per frame. He primarily rendered overnight and had finished sequences waiting for him the next morning that were ready for compositing. Rendering took a total of about four months to complete.
Shawn worked on the project for eleven months and it was well worth the effort: his film has won more than half a dozen prizes at various international short film festivals and was chosen as Staff Pick at Vimeo where it's received more than 140k clicks. Meeting and mastering the challenges that this project offered paid off for Shawn: his Cinema 4D skill level increased dramatically. "In the end," he explains, "it's part of the ice berg that you don't see right away that really pays off: the tools and usability concept that never let you down when you're working on a highly complex project!"