When Gimpville co-founder Alf Lovvold decided to make a trailer in his spare time aimed at experimenting with complex scenes and GPU rendering, he started documenting the process. The Norwegian artist would upload test shots to his Vimeo page and receive and review comments. Then, boom, about a month ago he posted the finished trailer online and called it Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid. That pretty much sums up the action in the trailer, and it certainly resonated with other artists worldwide, quickly amassing hundreds of thousands of views. fxguide thought we’d find out more about Lovvold’s seven month approach to the work.

One of the artist’s initial desires was to see how much geo GPU renderer Redshift could handle. “It turned out,” says Lovvold,” that I could pretty much throw whatever at it and once the initial previz was done, I crammed a lot of details in there to, hopefully, get some interesting looking shots. As work continued, i developed the concept side-by-side into a fictive film trailer.”

The first shots for Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies were ‘one-offs’ done without storyboarding or animatics, but later scenes of the car chases involved more planning. “I roughly storyboarded the sequence and also made a map in terms of city layout to plan ahead in terms of witch way the car was actually driving and so forth,” explains Lovvold. “My main area of expertise is fairly quick animatics so it was natural for me to previz the whole sequence and lock in all camera work and rough animation before moving on to adding 2nd animation and detailing it up. I would also do rendered ‘ dailies’ as often as I could when I did updates to the sequence.”

COMP_EXPORT_FINAL-(0-00-50-19)Some live action would inform the CG animation, but not a great deal. “The only live action used, besides a lot of FX plates, was the guy on top of the Humvee,” says Lovvold. “Originally, I tried to hide him away as much as possible due to a fairly simple stock character from Mixamo. Though, I got contacted by some nice people from Sweden (Stiller Studios) who offered to help me out with some plates. I said yes, and next thing I was off to Sweden shooting plates for it in their awesome studio with motion control gear. To match up the placement of the camera and actor / vehicle – I sent Stiller some of my Maya scenes for data extraction. They matched up nicely.”

Since Lovvold was working as a one-man team, he looked to stock assets for things like the vehicles and aircraft featured in the piece. “I used sites like 3D02, TurboSquid and Evermotion,” he says. “Once cleaned up and optimized, I would do some custom work of most assets – and for assets like the Humvee / Heli, rig them for animation.”

AO_BG_02Digital characters were Mixamo assets with various running cycles. “Since they are fairly low poly,” notes Lovvold, “I kept most characters small in the frame and dynamic to, hopefully, get away with it. For the crowd itself, I used Golaem Crowd Sim to make them chase a target – and from there, exported all characters into Alembic keeping most tech and fuzz away from the main render scene. Some characters where also manually placed out.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies includes an unusual array of plant life, which was created from “foliage exported from Ivygen, Maya`s native PaintFX, a lot of custom modelling and some optimised trees from Evermotion,” says Lovvold. “I tried to really be effective in terms of scene load, and hence render time, so most foliage assets was imported as Redshift proxies.”


As stated, the intention of the piece was to test out GPU rendering in Redshift, a tool Lovvold says handled the work incredibly well. “Rendering on GPUs was really no issue. Though to be able to do chew out frames and updates frequently I would optimise assets in terms of poly count, combining objects, using a minimal amount of reflective shaders, using RS sprite shader for transparent objects, keeping it low poly and as clean as possible and using proxies for all heavy geo. This way, I was able to do the whole project on a single workstation with render times ranging from 2min to 15min in 1440p with full brute force GI and Motionblur / DOF. Deadline was also used to stack up jobs so my workstation would be busy around the clock.”

The CG renders were composited in Fusion. “I’m an old Fusion user,” states Lovvold, “and I’m still sticking to it even with all the NUKE hype. NUKE is great, but for my kind of work – I haven’t run by any job I couldn’t do in Fusion just as fast or as good. I really hope Fusion, with Blackmagic as a backbone, regains traction in its field. And, if your’e a small studio not doing overly complicated stuff or some fancy pipeline integration, Fusion is currently free with very few limitations vs. NUKE’s hefty price tag.”

The score was composed by Lovvold’s friend Ådne Lyngstad Nilsen, with SFX done in After Effects based on stock from Pond5 and VC. “I did basic mastering before final output was done in Audacity,” says Lovvold. “It was quite an amount of work since there’s a lot going on in the 44 shots.”

Lovvold created the piece on a single workstation from his home in Norway. “Nothing too special,” he admits, “except four GTX780TIs for the GPU rendering. You could say the last generation top-end cards – I would go with GTX980TIs or TitanXs if i where to build a new system now a days. My workstation also doubled as an oven in my tiny cellar, with each GPU card running at 83C!”

Find out more about Alf’s work at his website: http://www.alflovvold.com

3 thoughts on “How one VFX artist made these 3 minutes of madness”

  1. 4xGTX 780ti…Must be quite a costly machine for a freelancer. How about memory limitations? Going more in depth on the technical side would have been great.

    1. Redshift handles memory quite nicely, with the out of core/off to CPU thing if VRAM is exceeded.

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