• Leif Arne Petersen

    In August 2003 Leif will graduate from The German Film School, Berlin, for digital production.
    At the University of Hamburg he received his "Vordiplom" qualification after studying media - and computer science for three years. He also worked freelance on several projects in Hamburg and Berlin.

    Alexander Hupperich

    In 1994 Alexander's first experiences began with autodesk 3DStudio r4. After graduation he worked as an internship at High Definition Oberhausen, a full service filmstudio near Düsseldorf.
    Thereafter he worked as a freelance artist for The LightWorks and Digital Renaissance. At Digital Renaissance he worked on the international co-production "Little Vampire". After he then returned to The LightWorks to help finalize the cinematic of a Ubisoft game. Soon after he moved to Berlin to study at The German Film School.
    Manuel Macha

    Manuel is currently finishing his studies at the German Film School for digital production. Before he studied media techniques for 4 semesters at the FH Düsseldorf and worked as a freelance graphics-designer for Tricus Systemhaus near Cologne. He also did several other freelance design-jobs, dealing with 3D-visualization,
    compositing and rapid-prototyping.

    Paul Dreisen

    After finishing his schooling, Paul began his internship at Cologne at the west Deutscher Rundfunk. During his internship he worked on a weekly soap (City Express) for German television. Currently he's in his fifth semester at The German Film School and will continue to finish his University studies which will grant him a diploma in August 2003.
  • Dronez: Behind the scenes
    By Tito A. Belgrave, 1 April 2003

    Tito A. Belgrave: Can you elaborate on the origin of "Dronez", how did it came to be.

    Leif Arne Petersen: We wanted to create a high quality, action-oriented animation. The main idea was to do some live action integration and to try to achieve better photorealism than in our earlier projects. One day we found some old military ruins that inspired us. The building that serves as the test center in the film really exists and was used in WW2 as a command post for the German artillery. We created a digital replica of the architecture and started with an animatic for the action sequence. Luckily, we were able to borrow lighting and camera equipment from a music video crew that were also using this building as a set. We could use all the camera positons and timings from our animatic to shoot all the background plates. We also shot a lot of photos to reconstruct the building for more elaborate camera moves.

    Alexander Hupperich: After we did some tests with our digital set we found out that it worked even better than the real footage because of timing and camera animation issues.
    We then used the digital set in even more shots. After comparing our shots with the real set, the difference turned out to be minimal. We ended up throwing away all of our live action plates and doing the whole thing in CG.

    Tito A. Belgrave: You all possess an immense amount of talent, how were the responsibilities delegated throughout the production of the film?

    Manuel Macha: At our school we are trained in all aspects of digital production. This means that everybody on our team could jump in and help out with various positions, doing animation one day and

    compositing the next. Most of the time we tried to split the work in a way that enabled everybody to do the things that they liked and did the best.
    I was primarily responsible for modeling the robot. I animated about half of the shots and also did some dynamics and texturing work. Beyond the 3D-related part, I was responsible for compositing all the live action elements and designing the animated computer screens and credits.

    Alexander Hupperich:
    I reconstructed the building, textured the robot and also modeled and surfaced all other sets. And the entire lighting and rendering. And I did all the concept art on the project. Normally Leif or Manuel would animate the robot and pass the shot on to me to render. I did most of the animation of the flying drones, some particle stuff and also setup the rendering passes. In addition, I was responsible for compositing the full cg-shots.
    Leif was responsible for modeling and texturing the flying dronez. He also rigged everything and animated the robot in many shots. But as outlined above he also jumped into several other positions doing dynamics, like the snow elements, compositing, creating the opening titles, and editing.
    Finally, Paul Dreisen worked on the corridor shots and the creation of cg fire. Moreover, he helped us with some animation and dynamics.

  • Tito A. Belgrave: Can you give us a breakdown on how the robot shown in the film was created?

    Alexander Hupperich: After doing some initial research on robots and mechanics, I started to sketch the robot parts in detail, keeping functionality in mind. It was designed to be a Russian answer to the US AMEE robot featured in Red Planet. Having finalized the design, Manuel modeled the entire robot using polys and NURBS. When the model was finished I began painting all the textures and working on the shading. At the same time Leif started to build the animation rig and did some test animations like simple run cycles. Afterwards we combined our work.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What I thought gave this production an edge over your other works was the fact that live action actors were used. Can you share your experiences with this aspect of the film?

    Manuel Macha: We wanted to try some live action integration. We shot all elements on Digibeta in front of a bluescreen. We had already prepared the lighting in the CG shots before shooting the actors to achieve believable integration. We didn´t shoot the smoke seperately, which turned out to be a really bad idea. A lot of rotoscoping was necessary in order to key the actor and smoke apart.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What animation methods were used to bring the Dronez to life?

    Leif Arne Petersen: The idea behind the animation was to create a highly agressive, acrobatic robot, that performs complex moves no human being could ever do. Having this in mind motion capturing was not possible. I did a quite complex IK-FK setup and added a user interface to make the animation a little bit easier. In several shots we used 360° rotations around the pelvis to give the animation an agressive, robotic touch.

    Manuel Macha:
    Another important aspect was to keep the animation consistent throughout the movie. Since Leif and myself have different approaches on how to animate characters, we had to compare our progress frequently.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What challenges did you face during production?

    Leif Arne Petersen: Having in mind that we are just a small team of students and also our time and resources are limited we wanted the best possible quality. We encountered the whole range of the problems we're all familiar with, like rendering times, rigging problems, file management, creation of fire elements.

  • Tito A. Belgrave: Your compositing and matte painting skills are extremely robust, please elaborate on your accomplishments on the helicopter shots.

    Alexander Hupperich: The helicopter shots involved no matte paintings, but I mapped real mountain images onto a highres poly plane which I deformed like the real rock structures in the texture. Indeed there were no real matte paintings at all in the project, but a lot of 'paint-overs' on rendered images as in the 'landing platform' shot. It´s a fast way to add more detail to a locked-off scene without spending way too much time on modeling and texturing.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What length of time did the production take to complete?

    Alexander Hupperich: We started with planning and shot the live action in August 2002. We also had a lot of lessons in the whole time of production and couldn't work full-time on the project. It's pretty hard to tell what the exact time amounted to, but we definitely spent some sleepless nights.

    Tito A. Belgrave: What software and hardware were used to bring Dronez to life?

    Paul Dreisen: Hardware: 4 single CPU Intel workstations for animation, up to 8 dual Intel PIII for rendering and 1 fileserver.

    Maya 4.5, After FX, Combustion*, Edit*, AVID Media Composer, Photoshop, DeepPaint and several plugins.

    We also used the Lenscare DOF plugin and were quite excited with the results. It really helped us a lot, in achieving a more realistic look.

    Tito A. Belgrave: In retrospect, would any of you change the work you have done on Dronez given more time or better yet more resources?

    Leif Arne Petersen: All in all I'd say that from the technical side there are a lot of shots that could certainly use some tweaking. But I think the main problem is that this short film would work great as a cinematic for games but there really isn't a story. If you do some action oriented stuff I think it is pretty hard to present a story that is worth being told.

    Manuel Macha: In each and every production you will find stuff that you would like to enhance. We learned a lot during the production and in retrospective we would do some things in a different way. I think that motivates us to keep trying harder, each time.

  • Tito A. Belgrave: I noticed your "R.O.B.O.T Zelection UI" slightly resembles Softimage|XSI's synoptic view in some respects. Which as we all know is very intuitive for character animations. Can you explain how it works? And also a brief description on how it was built?

    Leif Arne Petersen: I used Mel to create this window and it`s pretty fast to change the script for new characters. If you are using something like this you can select your controls through this window, hide everything exept your low resolution geometry and really focus on the animation. It also gets self-explanatory for other animators which character controls exist.
    For more complex user interfaces I often use attribute collection (a mel script by Roland Reyer, AW, he also teaches mel, dynamics and character setup at our school).

    Maya's Mel Scripting language used to create the "R.O.B.O.T Zelection UI"

    Tito A. Belgrave: With such a vast amount of projects between the four of you, one has to wonder if there's any future projects in the works?

    Leif Arne Petersen: I am currently working on my thesis project, it will be a 35mm animated trailer for the "International Short Film Festival Berlin". Moreover, I also do some freelance work. On my future personal projects I would really like to spend a lot more of time on story developing and design.

    Manuel Macha: I wish, there would be enough time to work on another short, but my time at the filmschool is slowly coming to an end. I`m currently working on my thesis, which is focused on motion-graphics. Besides that, I`m trying to find the time to participate in the CG-Talk challenges. They 're great for inspiration.

    Alexander Hupperich: Since I've just graduated, there won´t be further school projects for me to work on. Currently I´m looking for career opportunities. Maybe the team will come together again for a Dronez II IMAX version. :-)

    Tito A. Belgrave: Has being enrolled at the German Film school proved to be a rewarding experience? And would you recommend it to future anyone reading?

    Alexander Hupperich: The school is relatively new and this brings along a lot of positive as well as negative aspects. There are a lot of practical and theoretical courses that span the whole digital film making process. Most of the lessons are held in German. We really enjoyed our time here, and now we are all looking forward to getting back to civilization. The school is located 30 mins outside Berlin.

    Tito A. Belgrave: Now that you're graduates, what are your next steps?

    Dronez Crew: We'll send out some reels and are looking forward to join a creative and talented team somewhere on this planet.

  • Tito A. Belgrave: Will Dronez be submitted to the upcoming 3DFestival 3D awards or any other film circuits?

    Leif Arne Petersen: The short film is already submitted to 3DFestival and the Animago award. We will also be in Copenhagen and are looking forward to presenting the animation on a big screen and hope to meet a lot of people from the CG community there.

    The Drone perched on a snowy cliff reflecting back on the destroyed Lab.
    Tito A. Belgrave: It has been a pleasure speaking to each of you, and everyone here at 3DFestival/CGNetworks wishes you the best of luck in your future.

    Dronez crew: Thanks a lot for everything, also many thanks to the community for their support and we hope to meet you at 3DFestival, also many thanks to David Maas who helped us with the interview, thanks a lot.

    Discuss this article on CGTalk - Digital Visual Effects Professionals >>

    Related Links:
    Download Dronez
    Dronez Official Website
    Leif Arne Petersen's homepage
    Alexander Hupperich's homepage
    Manuel Macha's homepage

    Paul Dreisen's homepage

    From the Director of Community Development, Tito "Lildragon" Belgrave
    It has been a pleasure to watch these students of The German Film School grow in experience in the past months. Ever since their debut of "Dragons" they have continued to increase their skills to a level of professionialism that's quite rare for young film Students.
    All the best to you and I'm sure they'll be big things in your future.
    Until our next feature this is Tito "lildragon" Belgrave.
    - Lildragon -


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