Don’t you just love motion pieces that make you stare at them endlessly, yet you still can’t work out if it’s all real paper/clay/wood and so on, or if it’s…CG?
Javier Leon is Hornet’s CG Art Director, responsible for those deceptively ‘real’ planets in British Gas spots directed by Guilherme Marcondes. Those spots, along with National’s ‘claymation’ Amex piece, are some of the most stunning examples that blur the line between ‘real’ and… well, ‘not’.
I find Javier’s passion for pushing the limits of his craft intriguing. In essence, it’s no different than that of the ‘old masters’, like Bernini perhaps, who made marble look like soft flesh or delicate fabric. Javier, for his part, made this living room set so convincingly ‘real’ you can almost reach in, pick up that porcelain doll and sell it for 55p at the charity shop!
Here is a short Q&A with Javier:
Can you tell us the scope of your responsibilities at Hornet? Does your role vary from one project to another?
I started working with Director Guilherme Marcondes on the British Gas campaign and then also worked with Director Peter Sluszka con AEP Gridsmart. My responsibilities at Hornet are Supervising and Art Directing the CGI on the spots. It also might include modeling/texturing and lighting or visual development, depending on the project. I try to focus on how the CG looks, more so than on pipeline stuff.
I must say this is a remarkable piece of work. Creating this miniature look which is unbelievably realistic, entirely in CG—-what brought you to this point in your craft? Why this specific aesthetic / technical pursuit? Did this piece have a specific commercial purpose, or was this a purely experimental outcome?
Thank you!. This piece really is what I have always wanted to do, being a big fan of traditional stop motion movies, especially of Wallace and Gromit, Corpse Bride and Coraline. I wanted to pursue similar results using CGI. It didn’t have any commercial purpose, it was just a test. Molinare Madrid helped me with rendering support and also compositing, but i did 100% of the design, modeling, texturing and lighting myself.
Can you share with us some of the unique technical aspects/challenges involved in creating this piece? What were some of the most unexpected hiccups in the process? What were the most important things to get right in order to create this miniature look convincingly?
The main challenge for me was to get away from a CG look, I think the look I had in mind really needed a realistic render.
As a way of inspiration I watched all the stop motion movies i had many many times, and after a lot of observation and talking to stop motion animators it was evident that the most important thing was scale. The objects that we can build with our hands and also the scale of the materials that we´re using are the keys to achieve a similar result. Also a similar procedure about how we would paint an scale model was implemented on the texturing pipeline. I must say DOF is also very important.
In our image-making industry, there are people who wholeheartedly believe in doing as much as they can, in-camera. So when it comes to creating something like this, they would’ve made an entire set, cowboy porcelain figurine and all, and then film it.
Do you have a specific opinion regarding that methodology? What do you think are some of the most unexpected advantages to taking the full-CG path?
For me this kind of look is clearly not a substitute for real sets, it´s just another tool. Depending on the kind of production it can be interesting and it can have some advantages like:
- There are no limitations in camera placement or movement.
- It´s easy to add effects like smoke, rain, mist….even digital seas.
- No limitation in set size, no need to store them. Multiple animation teams can work on the same set at the same time without building it again.
- No need for rig removal.
- Characters are easy to isolate from the background, and also character crowds are easy to add.
- Digital sets are easier to modify colors, textures and even geometry than real ones.
Could you share with us a little bit of your craft/career history: When and how did you first get your start in the industry? What were some of the most important artistic/technical/ milestones in your professional life?
I started 15 years ago, working for Cadiz University, we used to make multimedia software. Then moved to the games industry where I worked on games like Commandos, Galleon and the Worms franchise. I started to work on the advertising industry at Furia Digital in Barcelona, with clients like RSA. Also worked on the film industry as Lead CG Artist on His Majesty Minor from Jean Jaques Annaud, worked also on Camino, from Javier Fesser and Agora from Alejandro Amenabar, that just won the Goya 2010 for the Best Visual Effects.
Looking to the future, what are you aiming for? Specific career goals? Specific aspects of your craft that you intend to pursue? Do you see yourself pushing this miniature technique even further? If so, how?
I think this test is a good starting point but I should be looking into making things to appear more handmade in some areas, especially modeling wise. We´re already working at Hornet on a next step that will also include CG characters that look like real puppets.
Thank you Javier, we’re looking forward to seeing the next project from you/Hornet!