“The movie is about responsibility, your dream job and the sense of life,” says Kuczera. “Many people have jobs they don't like, but they do not even try to change their situation. Maybe its just because they do not know what else to do.” The main character, the Dragon Slayer, faces a situation in which he has to decide either to fulfill his job or follow his heart. He leaves his old life and routine job behind him and moves on to his dream job. He becomes a forger. He also takes responsibility for what he did, killing a mother dragon, and raises a couple of baby dragons.
Robert made out one storyboard, then another, and another. That's one thing he’ll do better next time, as, in his words, “Every time we finished the screenplay, we thought ‘this is the story’, and we’d make the storyboard, and get on with the animatic. It was a lot of work making the animatics over and over again, so you’re well advised to put a lot of energy in the storyboard and the animatic at the beginning of a production, otherwise you will waste a lot of time when you find out something is wrong with the story.”
The story was inspired by one of Robert Kuczera’s classmates at film school, Michael Sieber. “I know that similar stories exist, and there are similarities to the storyline of the film ‘Leon’,” says Kuczera. “The characters were designed by Michael Sieber and Klaus Morschhauser. There’s a bit of Asterix in there as well as Obelix, and the dragon turned out a little like the Shrek dragon.” The development of the Dragon Slayer story took some nine months. “One of the most difficult parts of making a good movie. Robert Kuczera brought onboard a few people to gather the material for story-telling, Gerd Schneider was an experienced storyboarder, who came aboard and pulled the project into line very quickly.
Each character has a low poly version built for animating in the blocked out stroryboard, and there is a similar but more structured high-resolution model for the final render. In addition to the blend shapes, stretch and squash deformers are used to achieve non-symmetrical and cartoon animation.
Rigging was a challenge that Kuczera particularly enjoyed, though the extra yards were run to make the rigs easy to handle and clearly arranged, for fast animation later. Jason Schleifer had set up the rigging together so there were minimal problems. In texturing the models, Kuxzera the crew used Projection maps and when they moved the characters, they used texture referenced objects so they could avoid the floating patterns. In the end, this slowed down the process quite markedly, so they went with UV-based texturing.
The animation was generated pose-to-pose, following the storyboard as an animatic. Giving themselves a day’s grace after completing the animation for each scene allowed the team to trawl through each move and finalize the moves and make sure they travelled perfectly. “For the additional effects like rain, dust, and the fire from the dragon’s mouth, we used the particle system of Maya and 3ds Max,” says Kuczera. “The dust was done in the compositing by using real footage layering over the images. For the rain we used a particle tool in Maya written by Mathias Zeller, with a very simple interface. The fire effects were done in 3ds Max. We tried to achieve a special look, something between realistic fire and comic fire. After that, the fire was composed in Combustion.”
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“We tried to render in 3ds Max (Vray) and Lightwave, because these renderers are famous for their high quality,” explains Robert Kuczera. Being in Maya and translating the files to Max and Lightwave format was a particular problem, as they would lose some data on each transfer.
“We used a freeware tool that exported the deformed objects on a per-frame basis as OBJ files,” says Kuczera. “We ended up importing them into 3ds Max as morph targets.”
After a lot of experimentation, the crew rendered with the “GI Joe Dome Light” using the standard Maya software renderer. The light dome was built of 80 directional lights with soft shadows.
These were used as ambient lights with a blue color. To simulate sunlight, a directional yellow light with a sharp shadow was installed as a virtual overhead. A raytrace shadow was also used to ensure that the sunlight shadow was sharp.
The light setup was divided in an upper and lower section. The upper section was used as primary light source casting depth map shadows. The lower section did not cast any shadows but brightened the scene.
“We used a Network render in the end, using 80 CPUs, with 2000 GHz each,” Robert Zuczera. “And to distribute the render tasks over the network, we used the render tool “Render Royal”.
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Director, Animator: Robert Kuczera
Production: Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg
Producer: Frank Siegmund
Screenplay: Philipp Koblmiller
Music: Julian Pesek
Sound design: Frank Casaretto
Voice: David Kehoe
Production Design: Michael Sieber
Character Design: Michael Sieber, Klaus Morschhäuser
Dramatic Advisor: Gerd Schneider
Editing: Gerd Schneider, Robert Kuczera
CGI Artists: Waldemar Fast, Oliver Nikelowski, Markus Schmidt, Arne Langenbach, Markus Plinke, Michael Sieber
Fire and Smoke: Steffan Hacker
Cloth: Oliver Finkelde
Compositing: Ando Avila, Steffen Hacker