What does the world look like when it has become so bleak and frightening, people just want to grab their car keys and race to the nearest grocery store to clear the shelves of bottled water and batteries? That’s the question Ubisoft put to Antibody (http://www.antibody.tv/) when tasking the Sydney, Australia-based design house with the creation of a trailer for Tom Clancy’s, The Division, an online, role-playing game scheduled for release in 2014.
After working closely with Ubisoft and their studio, Massive Entertainment, on a script, Antibody brought on motion graphics and 3D animation specialists, Luxx, to produce all of the trailer’s 3D elements using Cinema 4D and After Effects. The result is just what Ubisoft asked for to set the scene for the unveiling of the game. “They wanted something memorable that would give audiences some key facts about the risks of social breakdown while scaring them in the process,” recalls Patrick Clair, Antibody’s creative director.
Inspired by real-life events, including Operation Dark Winter, a simulated bio-terrorist attack conducted in Washington, D.C., in 2011, The Division blends fact and fiction as the U.S. crumbles following the breakout of a deadly flu pandemic on Black Friday. Players belong to the Strategic Homeland Division (The Division, for short) and their mission is to do whatever they have to do to “save what remains.”
Taking cues from the game, the trailer’s aesthetic is grimy, chaotic and terrifying with visual elements becoming a world of typography built from things like virus cells and shredded U.S. currency. Pacing and direction of the visuals are guided by the voiceover while 2D and 3D elements blend together to help enhance the story. “There was a desire on all sides to tell the story in the shortest form with the most impact,” Clair explains, adding that Antibody and Luxx worked together to ensure that visual development didn’t overshadow the team’s ability to fine-tune the narrative as needed.
Tim Clapham, Luxx’s founder and creative director, was the lead 3D artist on the project. In all, he had a little less than three months from concept to delivery to complete all of the 3D elements for the 3-minute trailer. Having never worked with Antibody, Clapham says his goal was to produce each shot in a way that was as true as possible to their style frames.
“Of course, when you design frames in Photoshop and then translate them into 3D, there are elements that will naturally evolve,” Clapham explains, “so we worked directly with Patrick Clair and Phil Robson, the design director, to ensure the vision they created wasn't blurred as the concept artwork was developed into 3D scenes.” All scenes were built with flexibility in mind so that changes could be made quickly based on client feedback.
Though deadlines were tight, the project ran smoothly from the start, Clapham says, citing “fantastic” creative direction from Antibody. “To create the final shots in C4D, we built on the detailed animatic and many polished style frame that Antibody created,” he explains. Because much of the early production work had been created in After Effects and Photoshop, he had plenty to work with as they experimented and expanded upon elements such as the virus and the evolution of the organic typography.
After creating each scene in 3D, Luxx passed still renders to Robson who took them to a whole new level in After Effects, essentially refining the look of the style frames and building the foundation for the final grade and composite. “The goal was to ensure a smooth workflow,” Clapham says, “not only in Cinema 4D, but also bridging the gap between 3D & 2D by integrating the graphical and atmospheric elements in comp.”
Much of the mayhem surrounding the pandemic is attributed to our country’s complex yet fragile state. In the trailer, this reality is brought home in challenging scenes in which typography comes to life and evolves in 3D. Clapham describes the word “complex,” for example as consisting of a series of mini worlds, each representing areas of society that would be at risk in the event of a pandemic.
To create the effect, each letter was built as its own scene file and then merged into multiple master scenes as Xrefs. This allowed Luxx to use the same model many times while requiring updating in just one place. “The scenes showing “complex” as a complete word or several letters at a time were tough because of the number of animated elements required and their huge polygon count,” Clapham says.
Importing each letter as an Xref allowed them to disable the Xref and work on other elements in the scene, effectively reducing the letter and all of its objects to a single null. That strategy, combined with an extensive use of layers, focus their attention on single elements while continuing to animate and ensuring smooth playback. MoGraph was used to create all of the letters, allowing the team to use procedural animation whenever they could while having the flexibility to adjust and adapt scenes based on design and aesthetic decisions.
In addition to the typography, Luxx brought the virus to life, depicting its birth and its multiplication. To do that, they went with a look that was similar to the one used in many of the typographic shots where the letters appear to be spreading pathogens. Clapham explains: “We used a combination of fracture objects inside metaballs along with hand keyframing, and that allowed us to use effectors for much of the secondary motion while still having ultimate control over the manually animated elements.”
For the materials, his team used sub-polygon displacement created with animated noise to add another layer of organic motion. “Because sub-polygon displacement is calculated at render time, we could crank up the sub-divisions if we required more detail without any hit in performance while working in the viewport,” he continues.
Clapham credits procedural tools like MoGraph with helping Luxx meet their tight deadlines because they were able to respond to client requests quickly. Cinema 4D’s powerful multi-pass system also played an integral role in streamlining the project by allowing Luxx to render out only the elements they needed, which saved time.
Luxx is currently working on a range of products for global companies, including broadcast identity packaging, inflight entertainment branding and building projection projects. Luxx also offers a website dedicated to training resources that was relaunched recently (www.helloluxx.com).
Past visitors will notice that what began as a blog has broadened to include the voice of worldwide industry experts coming together to offer free and commercial training. Luxx also offers boutique tools designed by independent developers to facilitate workflow and encourage creativity. The goal is it to create a community of artists sharing knowledge and inspiration, Clapham says.
“This industry is constantly evolving with techniques and methods becoming more elaborate and complex as software advances,” he explains. “Helloluxx.com is our contribution to the community, and we welcome artists to visit, expand their expertise, share their skills with us and be inspired. Let's learn.”
Creative Director: Patrick Clair
Design Director: Phil Robson
Lead 3D: Tim Clapham
Motion Artist: Eddy Herringson
Motion Artist: Raoul Marks
Additional 3D: Matthew Grainger
Compositing: Daniel Symons
Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.