Building The Ark

Grzegorz Jonkajtys directed the short film Arka (The Ark), which makes heavy use of miniatures and won Siggraph Best of Show this year. The beautiful, yet deeply sad film is the tale of an unknown virus has destroyed almost the entire human population. The title refers to the attempted escape by the only remaining survivors in a flotilla of huge ships, in search of uninhabited and uncontaminated land.

Director Grzegorz Jonkajtys

fxguide caught up with Director Grzegorz Jonkajtys and producer Marcin Kobylecki in the USA and you can see some of that interview as part of fxguidetv episode 16.

Paul Debevec, chairman of the Siggraph committee, told fxguide that not only did he personally love the humanity of the film, but that the Ark was the unanimous choice of the committee to win Best of Show at the Electronic Theatre at Siggraph 2007. While technically beautiful, the film’s story really tugs at the emotional heart strings.

The Arka

The opening shots of the film are a matte painting, the last shot (which we can’t discuss without spoiling the film) was fully 3D, and the majority of the rest of the film is CG combined with miniatures.  The miniatures were filmed on a milo motion control rig in Poland, with a Nikon D70 digital stills camera at 3K resolution, in stop motion style. This allowed for a large depth of field and extremely large capture size compared to traditional 35mm.

The Milo Motion Control Rig

The whole project took two and a half years, working after work at Jonkajtys’ regular job at CafeFX. He has been at CafeFX since 2003, working on such films as Sin City and Pan’s Labryinth. Producer Marcin Kobylecki, who works at the Platige Image studio in Poland, was simultaneously working on trying to set up the various shoots and elements.  It was at his Polish studio where Kobylecki works that was the base for the live action motion control shoot. Materials were then taken back to the USA for animation and compositing.

To work out the correct scale, Jonkajtys went to a toy store and bought a Spiderman action figure. This was then placed in the sets for scale and lighting reference, building the miniatures around the figure.

Transporting a section of the cargo hold
The cargo hold on set

In one epic scene in the interior of the ship, the team changed scale to 1:35 and mixed a 4 foot high miniature cargo hold with CG cloth sims and of course CG characters, all with matte painting. One of the advantages of the milo rig was that Jonkajtys could film multiple passes of the miniatures and move panels and elements to both allow the milo rig to move through the set, but to also reuse elements, flipping walls and panels to reuse and extend the sets. This way, the same miniature was used in the same shot but at different scales and on different sides of the frame, in a way simple post production manipulation would not have allowed.

Spidey reference
The walls were kept white for detail in the shadows

The digital stills were comped in Digital Fusion at 3K, where “the first compositing, retouching were done at 3K. I would then downres to HD, which was the film’s final resolution”, explains Jonkajtys. To allow for the later post grade, the miniatures were shot white, allowing a lot of detail in the shadows. The initial colour correction was in Digital Fusion. “We then went to DI to add some final touches but we really didn’t need to. It turned out that somehow my LCD monitor was perfectly calibrated- It was just luck – and so we managed to 2 or 3 shots in DI but everything else worked out exactly how I wanted”.

On set

Movie Links

movielink(07Oct/ark/, A movie of the character development)

movielink(07Oct/ark/, A movie of the reference for animation)

movielink(07Oct/ark/, A movie of a background development)

movielink(07Oct/ark/, A movie of a shot development)

Shot progression

The animation was all done in XSI. All characters were rigged and animated in XSI, but a few models were designed in 3DS or Luxology modo. In particular, the only fully CG sequence at the end was done entirely in XSI. This placed some demands on the app, since the fully CG sequence needed to perfectly match the rest of the films cg/miniature approach, but the end sequence is a perfect match as a stunning final render. As mentioned earlier, we can’t publish images from this without spoiling the story. Just as with Pan’s Labryinth at CafeFx, the final rendering was done in FPrime. The renderere was chosen as it is fast and 90% of the project ended up being rendered at 1920×1080 on Jonkajtys own laptop.  Even with the constraints the film shows the subtle motion blur and ray tracing quality that first brought the render to the public’s attention.

The character design began a long time before production. Initially the characters were designed to ” have very animal characteristics” but the designs evolved into something “more like Captain Spock!” he jokes.  Still the characters retain some of that initial design, especially around the eyes. ” It is a strong design – some people really dont like it but I think it is a strong design”.

Director Grzegorz Jonkajtys wants to next move into large scale narrative drama…something that is not effects heavy but – like The Ark – has strong story and emotion.

2 thoughts on “Building The Ark”

  1. Pingback: Ark (Grzegorz Jonkajtys) – Geeky Minimalist

  2. Pingback: Ark (Grzegorz Jonkajtys) – Lewis Christian: Archive

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