Marc talks about his movie Open Sky and shows the trailer made completely with 3D generated images. He dissects the light and talks about how he achieved his look through careful observation of the flooding, spreading and reflecting of actual light in a space. He further explores shading, lighting, and rendering settings in projects for his students.
- Well, so let's take a look at one of the files. There was something really cool on your reel, which was the subway system. So let's take a look at that. That's from a larger piece, right? - Yeah, it's from a larger piece of me. It's called, it's, what we're now witnessing is a teaser from a movie of mine called Unter Freiem, Under Open Sky. In short, just briefly, it's a story about a young woman getting renegade in a fictional dictatorship. - Oh, okay. - So it's based on those stories of assassins during the Nazi regime in Germany, and perhaps you ever heard about Georg Elser the Hitler assissin? It's basically this story transferred into a modern world, and onto just a young woman.
And yeah, just take a look at the teaser. (thunderous chord) (funky electric guitar music) (woman speaking in German) (low, vibrating chord) - So obviously none of that was real.
Those were all 3D generated images. And one of the things that we spoke about earlier, that's remarkable about this project to me is that none of it is done with global illumination. - None of them. - And let's talk a little bit about that process. Like how are you getting that light? That much light? It looks like there's white bounce, it looks like there's color bleed. All of the things that you would associate with global illumination, but they're not there. - How did I get that? Oh, it's a good question. (chuckles) Um, basically by observing the real, real place I am depicting here.
We have in, in Dusseldorf we have this subway station, and the original set was just looking like this. This is me in the set, and doing some sketches, as well, and documentaries, measuring things up, being allowed to is an important thing. Yeah, and basically, that's the point, you have to do a good documentary, you have to document things before recreating them.
And not only the measurements of the hard models, but also the light. I took a lot of photos, and I studied the light, how it floods through, through space, how it spreads on the floor, on metal surfaces and something like that. And at that time, I already had a quite good experience with observing things, and observing light, and, and that helped a lot. So by taking all those images, I had a good basis for the work.
- So as you're taking those pictures, are you figuring out where to place the lights in the scene to get those kinds of effects? - Of course, yeah, definitely. - So you have a layered, or sort of a step-through of the lighting of the subway. - Yeah, I'll show you. Basically, every small sub-set in this overall set has its own lighting set-up. So the seats, the plants, the escalators, the tunnel entrance, the platform, the columns, the ceiling, the walls, the railways, and all of that, and step by step it becomes a continuum of light, not only some parts being put together.
It becomes a whole. Yeah, that's basically the workflow in that case. - So describe to me a little bit of the, the kinds of lights, for example. Let's take one element, um, let's talk about a wall over here on the right-hand side of the frame. - Okay. The wall has basically something like a light array. And that sounds complicated, but it's indeed very simple, because it's just a ray, let's say a procedural construct of single omni lights, point lights, basically, and I just define one point light and its fall-off, its spatially fall-off, and its quality, meaning intensity, color, the kind of shadow, and then I duplicate that procedurally with an array object.
So that's the way the light fall, this wall is working. Nowadays, because I did that back in, oh, I'd say, 2009, nowadays I would just use one single area light with an area shade, because-- - It was pre-area light. - Yeah, and area lights have become really fast and some are 4D, and yeah, I would do that in that way nowadays. - So are you using scene-based lighting then, so where the lights are isolated for the individual objects they're affecting? - In this case, yes.
In this case, yes, because it's quite, quite complex. Now the bathroom I just showed you prior to the interview has a much more easy light set-up. - Let's take a look at that real quick, here. - So this is from learning stuff I wrote for Maxon, actually. And for those lighting, shading, lighting and rendering courses I'm teaching, this is one of the practice projects I give to the hands of my students. So they can dive in, explore everything, every aspect of shading, lighting and rendering, settings, and have a look how this works.
And this might look more complex than the subway lighting, but it's exact the other way around. In fact, this is a very simple lighting we're witnessing here. You wouldn't think that because interior lighting is always something complex unless you're doing it the smart way. - Mmm, so, how many lights are in this scene then? 'Cause normally if this were being global, 'cause this is not global illumination. Global illumination, which would calculate the actual bouncing of light in the scene is very time-consuming.
And so what you're teaching is, and what you're espousing is the idea that you don't need to have that global illumination, you don't need to have that light box. - You're not depending on that. That's my message. And you should be able to do that even if your favorite render engine would be take away from you. Tomorrow you wake up without any Octane, V-Ray, whatever, and what about your lighting skillset? You should allow that question's being asked. - Sure, sure. - So I'm teaching it the hard way, but a very intense way, and in this case we have a sunlight coming in from outside, we have an area light sitting in the window simulating the light coming from the sky, the diffused light coming from the sky, so these are two.
We have a bounce light sitting on the floor simulating this area bouncing back into the scene, so have three. And there's a fourth light sitting at the opposite wall to the window, simulating a bounce back from the view skylight. And besides those four main lights, there's just, let's say, one or two hands of manually placed lights in there. You wouldn't need them, actually-- - By one or two hands, you mean, so you may mean 10, - Five to 10.
- Five to 10, I see, uh-huh. - I call those luxury lights. You wouldn't need them really, but they're good to have. So the basic light is just four lights, and about five, six or seven extra placed lights to simulate something like this. You notice here the color bleeding and the shimmer you have. This is basically just a point light placed here, - With a little bit of yellow tint to it? - A purple point light, would you think that? - Oh, no. So where, so, - It's purple because it has a negative intensity to work in shadow areas. - Oh, gotcha.
- And with negative intensity, you substract light, and you substract color, using the complementary color value. - From the other side of the wheel. - Therefore it's in purple, right. - Mm-hmm. - For a pink or a orange-ish coloring in shadow areas. - Wow. Let's assume now, going, so you're teaching lighting the hard way, which I absolutely see the value in that, so do you use global illumination ever, or do you-- - Yeah, for still imaging. Just for stills.
- Yeah, just for stills. Not once for animation. - Wow. - I don't need it. And I don't get a hard time without GI, I just don't need it, I'm not depending on it, and I am faster, I am more elegant, I am more robust, and I'm more reliable without global illuminations. I can sleep well because I meet my deadline. (Rob laughs) So without hassling around with, oh, my god, flickering at the last frame. And if I fix that, there's flickering at the first frame. - We hear you, yeah. (laughs) - And if you don't use flickering algorithms you're depending on let's say brute force mechanism algorithms, which take just a bit more time to render.
- Yes, a lot more time to render. - We have really good GI solutions on board with Cinema 4D. We have QMC as a bullet-proof method, being accelerated by lightmapping as a secondary method, being accelerated by producing radiocity maps, at the top of that. So there are some really good solutions, but they're just slow in comparison with what you can do, especially when it comes to full animation. If you're moving objects, you're having a hard time with global illumination.
if you're just moving a camera, it can work. It can take a bit longer, but it can work. In this case, it could work. But if you're moving like this, with the leaves in the background, this scene here. We just saw those leaves in the background, and the client wants those leaves. What do you do about it? You can't tell the client no, (laughs) we can't do that because it's GI. So this is also from, from the learning stuff from Maxon, and can I ask you the question, what would you propose? Is this GI, or the second version I am showing you? - Yes, okay, so let's see them both side-by-side.
- Not side by side, after one another. (laughs) - All right, okay, one after the other. Okay, show me. - This, the first one. - Okay. - And the second one? - Mmm, it's really difficult to tell. So-- - Thank you. - (laughs) It's very, very difficult to tell. Now, I will admit on camera that I found out earlier, so I can't, I can't fake it, but I do know that this is the GI one.
- This is the GI one, yeah. - But, the only reason I knew that, it was because you told me. - And the interesting thing, just look at the stairs. The interesting thing is, the non-GI version just looks more like GI in this, doesn't it? - It really does. - So it's all about not being correct, just looking correct. - Mmm, mmm, there is a lot more color bleed in that area. Can you park it on the same two frames, roughly? - So basically this is the emotionally real version, which has more emotional realism.
Instead it has no actual, not more actual realism, because this is the GI calculation, that should be more realistic in terms of algorithms. But it's not more realistic in terms of emotional perception. - I think you bring up a really interesting point that's relevant in photography, it's relevant in 3D rendering, which is that there's a quality to certain things that sometimes you can't you know, actually document. You can't put a number value in a box to get, and that's that subtlety that I think you develop over those years of working your lighting kung fu that doesn't, that there really is no shortcut for.
- No. You really have to go through hard times, sometimes, and learn it that hard way, and it really helps to have an academic background like studying design, or studying fine arts to have a right sense of perception to that things. - Mm-hmm. In the future, do you ever see a time where I think I know the answer to the question, but do you ever see a time where you're going to become reliant on global illumination and maybe augmenting it? Like you know, for example, computers get much more powerful.
- Yeah, maybe. I witnessed a talk of Pixar back at SiggRaph 2013, and Pixar is one of those lighting masters. They use global illumination in a very, let's say ethical way. They showed before and after frames from the movies Up and Toy Story 3 at SiggRaph 2013, and at that point they developed the point cloud based illumination, some kind of global illumination. And they introduced that, and they showed before and after frames, and the frames before using that GI method already were masterpieces of lighting.
Instead, they were done manually. The hard way. And I think this is the point where GI is used ethically, in some kind, and, but they also noted render times more than doubled with using GI. And they just use it as a last whip cream with cherry on top on your already brilliant lighting. But it's just a subtle touch of color bleeding of lighting atmosphere, flooding through space.
They use it just that way. And the unethical use of GI is, well, I've got a kitchen, I've got a bathroom, let's throw in GI and (claps) we're done. So that's no lighting skill. That's just using presets. So. (chuckles) - Getting back to the, sort of getting back to the product world then, where you're being tasked by a client to make something look like it does in the real world, you get hired by that toothbrush company, and you have to make this toothbrush now. Are you going to be, do you ever find yourself constrained by that desire to make it look amazing the hard way? Does that seem, that may seem like a strange question, but you know-- - Where do you find that? - Well, you have, you have an artistic sense, and you also have a deadline.
And so, I sort of asked this a little bit earlier, but you know, you have a time budget and you have a deadline, and that, that deadline kind of constrains you to your, to the thing that you can make in the end. But do you ever find yourself going, "Man I'm just gonna put that much more into it, "even though the client's not paying me for it." - Yeah, of course, of course. All my products I'm really happy with are done with 100% effort. Otherwise I get in a bad mood. And I'm not happy with that. (Rob laughs) So deadlines are just the daily business.
It's nothing special, so I know what I'm doing, I know my techniques, I know my kung fu, and I know how much I can put into it to get ready to meet the deadline. So um, and beyond that, I always want to give it just a bit more than it just should be. So that's my point of quality assurance, and that's my reputation as studio and of our own. - You spend hours and hours a day working on this stuff.
How do you develop new skills? Do you find inspiration? You know, free yourself of the constraint of these things that are right in front of you? - Well, basically, it's just events like that, like SiggRaph, I've got the great opportunity to present with very talented guys, side-by-side at Maxon booth, and this is always a real trigger (snaps) of motivation, to see those great works from all over the world and in the national framework we have that every Autumn in Germany, with official Maxon user meetings in several capital cities, and this is also every time a great motivation.
And instead of getting jealous, I'm highly motivated to get just a bit better. It's just like a spot of competition. - Yeah, yeah. Any particular website that you frequent to, like for lighting inspiration, is there? - No, there's a particular book I frequent to, yeah. Just a book, it's from Jeremy Birn, the great master of light at Pixar, technical lighting director at Pixar, Lighting and Rendering, the standard book for Lighting and Rendering. - Wow. So is that book, well that book is fairly old, though, so I mean, old by computer standards.
- Not now. Right now it's being translated in the new version, just translated into German. - Oh really, oh. - There's a new edition on that. Right now, coming out. - Excellent. Wow. So, and then that's a great technical, and probably quite a bit of artistic inspiration in the book as well. - Of course. - So are there purely artistic websites that you go to as well? Or are you strictly, are you very much a book person? - I think I'm a book person.
And what I love is to witness fine arts and perhaps in a museum, or in photography, just daily inspirations coming from, and most of the time, I got my inspiration from really normal, boring stuff. Running through the street, seeing how light is flooding, this light box here, how it's creating this beautiful area light at the ceiling. And this is interesting to me.
I'm just beginning to analyze what's going on there, and how could I recreate that in Cinema 4D. That's my inspiration, my engine of motivation. - (laughs) That's a very good, a very good engine of motivation, though. It doesn't seem like that would, you know, are you ever able to turn that off, or maybe you don't want to? - No, I'm a nerd. I can't turn it off. (laughing)
- Nick Campbell, motion graphics artist, photographer, and entrepreneur
- Marc Potocnik, designer and 3d artist
- Tim Clapham, VFX artist and educator
- Alan Torres and Stephen Morton (Cantina Creative), design and visual effects artists
- Aaron Limonick, concept artist
- Mike Lowes, 3D animator and technical director
- Lorcan O'Shanahan, motion graphics artist
- Scott Keating, 3D artist and illustrator
- Clear Menser, visual effects artist
- John Robson, motion graphics artist and filmmaker
- Grant Miller, VFX supervisor
- Tomasz Opasinski, creative director and movie poster artist
Watch for fresh insights into the careers and creative processes of these working professionals.