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Artist Portrait: Humberto Rodrigues

At his Petit Fabrik studio, this very talented artist uses Cinema 4D to create impressive character animations for adverts and industrial projects.

By Meleah Maynard

As a partner and head of CGI at Brazil-based interactive studio Petit Fabrik, Humberto Rodrigues is well known for doing exceptional character animation. Recently, he and his team wrapped up work on a new app called 18 Histórias [18 Stories], an interactive book of bible stories for the South American Division of the Seventh-Day Adventists. 

Several animated, 3D trailers were created to promote the app, which took nearly two years to complete and features more than 180 images made and rendered in Cinema 4D. Here Rodrigues, who has worked on many international projects, including leading a 3D team for Samsung’s first game, Galaxy 11, explains the making of one of the most ambitious trailers about the story of David and Goliath.

Describe Petit Fabrik and how you got involved with the studio.
H.R.: We are a small company that has five partners, including me. It was started about seven years ago and I joined in 2011. All of us work together on the creative side, but we also have our specialties. I met my partners when I visited the studio to say hello and they asked if I wanted to work on a 3D project. It was a message about the important of organ donation, and one of my professors saw it and told me that she’d lost her nephew that week and the video helped her see the need to donate his organs. People often think the work we do is just for entertainment, but I think that we can do much more.

How did you become an animator and director?

H.R.: I’ve always liked art. I grew up on a small island in the Amazon called Parintins. There were no formal art schools there, but there was a folklore festival every year and artists who lived there taught each other. I learned a lot from those people, including a few artists from Italy who had classical art training. I got my interface design degree from FUCAPI Technical College in Manaus in 2008 and then went on to do post-grad work in animation at Pontifical Catholic University in Rio. I got into CGI because of my relationship with one of my professors, and I went to France for an intensive, two-week summer program at Gobelins, a great school for animation.

That experience really changed the way I saw my work and CGI. It’s easy to get very technical with computer graphics and worry about how to achieve things. That is important. But I realized how important it is to let ideas mature and understand the feelings that need to be communicated. I saw how movement communicates feeling and how colors and shapes can be feelings—like angles are more aggressive than curves. That’s been really important in my work.

How did Petit Fabrik get the job of making the 18 Histórias app?
H.R.: We’ve worked with Adventist Hospital in the past, including an animated film that tells the story of how the hospital started out as a boat with doctors on it before they moved to a small house and grew from there. We actually proposed this project to them, explaining that we would make 3D illustrations that would behave like e-books for an app.  They thought it was a great idea. At the time, we didn’t know it would take two years, but there was a lot of development time involved with making hundreds of 3D characters and working with illustrators to paint over everything in 2D to make things look more organic.

The characters in the David and Goliath trailer are very striking. Talk about how you made David.
H.R.: This trailer was very special. We really put a lot of time into modeling and texturing the characters. David is the most human character we’ve ever made, and it was very challenging. Our modeler gave me the mesh he made of David in Cinema 4D and I used the sculpting tools to create the details. I gave him the look I wanted by painting dirt layers over his skin and creating a lot of hair on his face, head and chest. Even his pores are showing sometimes.

How did you create the bear and the lion?
H.R.: The animal characters were challenging too. We did a lot of testing for every aspect of the bear. Its teeth have a little bit of reddish yellow in them, and you can see they are also translucent. The rig we made was very good because we needed to control the tongue and lips. Bears have very squishy lips.

I used C4D’s Hair for the lion and I had to get the physics right and really style its hair so it points in different directions and out and away from its eyes. The design is very unique and beautiful, and we used reflections inside the eye to get that red, cat’s-eye effect.

Cinema 4D is not often used for character animation. What was your experience like?
H.R.: I have a friend who works at ILM [Industrial Light & Magic) in San Francisco. He says that when people say C4D isn’t usable for characters, he tells them about me. I would say, though, that C4D is fast and easy for character animation and would work for anyone because the tools are all there whether you are working in Cinema or using a pipeline that includes other software. I like how you can watch what’s happening in real time when you’re animating rigs. We optimize our rigs so we can have many characters in the viewport and still have it play smoothly when we are animating. And it was easy to teach to animators who were working with us.

What is Petit Fabrik working on now?
H.R.: We’ve got a few different things going, but one is a longer-term project, a show called Lupita. It’s about a little baby girl who is discovering the world of grownups. It’s a challenge because the budget is low and we are doing 13 episodes, each is seven minutes. Our goal is to keep things simple but they still look very good. She learns something about how the world works in each episode, and it will be on the public education channel in Brazil in the spring.

Humberto Rodrigues is head of animation and CGI at Brazil-based Petit Fabrik. A skilled and versatile artist, filmmaker and director, Rodrigues has more than 10 years of CGI experience. Throughout his career, he has worked on many projects for international clients, such as Petrobras, Oi, Seagate, Philco, Vale, EdgeMakers, Facebook and Samsung. In addition to leading his animation team on projects ranging from creating digital content for TV series and games to AR and VR content, he also makes his own films.

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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