First, the appetizer: the opening sequence. Opening sequences are not only used by movies and television series to entice viewers – design conferences worldwide also use opening sequences created by well-known motion graphics artists. Artists also see this as an opportunity to explore many of their own creative and more experimental ideas in these projects. When Semi-Permanent contacted Raoul about creating an opener for the Semi-Permanent Conference 2015, Raoul was instantly onboard. “I was very excited to take a month off my usual work to tackle something new. It was a great opportunity to explore some new techniques and images I’d had floating around in my head,” remembers Raoul.
An photographic series from a 1968 issue of LIFE magazine gave Raoul the inspiration for the opening sequence: an astronaut falling through the darkness of outer space. This together with Raoul’s interest in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ were some of the key influences for the titles. “2001 has a stunning ability to hint at something surreal, something undefinable. I’ve always responded to that unnerving feeling in films and loved the awe it was able to evoke. I’ve found myself revisiting 2001 every few years and it always seems to offer up some new form of inspiration.” determined Raoul.
“I’ve worked with Cinema 4D for a number of years now and find it a very malleable and forgiving piece of software. I had a tight timeframe of 4 weeks for concept work and production. Cinema 4D's versatility allowed me to work intelligently and focus on key elements of the titles.” For the main spacesuit modelling was a combination of Cinema 4D and Marvelous Designer. The high polygon count of the model meant a different approach needed to be used for animation. Raoul used low-res versions of the models to create the animations and transferred the movements to a higher resolution model using the Mesh deformer deformers. “For close-up shots I would use the simulations coming out of Marvelous designer and for mid-range to distant shots I would use the Mesh deformer process” explains Raoul.
The astronaut’s free fall and the various elements that drifted around him in space posed a series of problems for Raoul for which he had to find solutions. “I relied heavily on source photography from the Apollo era to reproduce the quality of light and grading reminiscent of that period. I sourced some very high-resolution height maps of Mars to help create the rocky surfaces in many of the shots.” says Raoul.
Steam effects for gasses and clouds of dust can be seen throughout Raoul’s film. These effects were created using Cinema 4D and the TurbulenceFD plugin, which is specially designed for creating such effects. Raoul was also focused on finer details such as the uneven structures on asteroids: “In particular I had a lot of light and shadows shifting over very complex sub-polygon displaced surfaces. As the sun shifted over the cratered surfaces of the face I wanted realistic GI light to bounce off all the small details and create a believable lunar surface.”
For the final shots in the sequence, camera projection is used to create 3d shots from still photography. Raoul used this same technique in his work on the opening titles for ‘True Detective’. Cinema 4D was used to create impressive visuals using photos by Richard Misrach amongst others. “We really wanted to use these images in the titles but we wanted to push them beyond being purely stills. I did some research into the camera projection technique. This allowed us to build some low-resolution geometry and then project Misrach’s shots onto it in 3D space. We could then move a camera through that environment recreating an equivalent to a crane-style shot. There’s a little work involved with painting in the occluded surfaces so the camera doesn’t see double images but it’s an extremely effective way to add life to a still image.”
The images in the final sequence of the Semi-Permanent titles were supplied by a colleague of Raoul's who had just returned from a vacation in Iceland. Cinema 4D's Camera calibrator feature was used to help create the shots. “I used to just do the projections by eye, which took a lot of patience and guesswork but since the introduction of the Camera Calibrator, it’s super simple to set up this type of shots.”
After the modeling and animation had been completed, the opener had to be rendered. “The usual trade-off with render engines has been between speed and lighting accuracy. Unbiased render engines would give you beautiful photorealistic results but would take hours to render, while fast renders could be achieved with the biased renders but often couldn’t quite capture light in the way I wanted. Octane for Cinema has found a way through that conundrum and given us the best of both worlds. By tapping into the relatively unused power of modern GPUs we can now render beautiful unbiased imagery at speeds much faster than the purely CPU-based solutions.” explains Raoul. “The apparent limited quality settings on an unbiased render are actually a complete blessing. In the past I found working with GI problematic. You’d spend a lot of time dialing in quality parameters. You’d hit render on a sequence, come back a few hours later and find a level of flickering throughout the sequence that you hadn’t noticed in the tests. You would then need to up the quality and start again, hoping you had pushed them up enough. Because Octane is unbiased there is no flickering, there are no AA settings; it’s actually a very pared-back set of controls for the render.”
When asked how Raoul finds the right settings when using the Octane renderer, he replies: “There’s really only one setting to be concerned with: samples. The image starts very grainy and resolves over time to remove that grain. So you would set one image to render to a high level of samples and after it’s reached a level of noise you’re happy with you make a note of the sample count and set the entire sequence off to render to that number.“
The response to the Semi-Permanent opener has been overwhelming. “The titles seemed to have been doing pretty well online and getting a fare bit of exposure, which is nice. Interestingly, a lot of people have been in touch about the prospects of VR in relation to the titles. There really seems to be a buzz out there for all things VR. A number of studios and software developers seem to be racing to create tools and experiences for the new medium. That excitement and enthusiasm is creating a really great atmosphere around the new possibilities in storytelling, visuals and a whole gamut of applications we haven’t even thought of, yet. So I’m quite excited to start exploring what can be done out of Cinema 4D for VR.”
Semi Permanent Break Down:
Raoul Mark’s website:
Semi Permanent Credits:
Designed and Produced by Raoul Marks
Titles kindly supported by Maxon
Iceland photography kindly provided by Jake Sergeant
Music and SFX arranged by Raoul Marks
Additional artwork by Stanley Donwood & Noah Taylor
True Detective Credits:
Opening Title Sequence: Elastic
Director: Patrick Clair
Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall
Senior Designer: Raoul Marks
Animation + Compositing: Raoul Marks
Animation + Compositing: Patrick Da Cunha
Production: Bridget Walsh
Research: Anna Watanabe
Additional Compositing: Breeder
Compositing: Chris Morris
Compositing: Joyce Ho
Production: Candace Browne
Production: Adam West