At the recent Trojan Horse was a Unicorn digital artist event in Portugal, one of the stand-out pieces on show was the event’s official spot by Techno Image. We talk to company partners Guilherme Proença, Lucas Leibholz, Pedro Conti, Tiago Hoisel and Rodnei Bassani about how it was made.

- Watch the spot.

fxg: What was the story you wanted to tell with this piece? How did storyboard and plan it?

Techno Image: Well…last year, some of Techno Image's artists were invited to speak in Trojan Horse was a Unicorn first edition. At that time, the mascot was only the unicorn, but during the event we noticed all attendanees and speakers were called Warriors. For that reason, when we were invited to create the poster and animation for the 2014 edition, we decided to add the warrior as a mascot as well. Our idea was to have him representing the artist.

Storyboard.
Storyboard.

The story is pretty simple. Artists usually wake up everyday, trying to improve themselves and that requires a lot of focus and determination, so we thought of this relation between art and battle. We made the warrior's spear as a nib so everybody watching the spot would think it’s about a battle, and in the end, we made this twist and revealed it’s about art. The horse is representing the audience watching the spot. During the entire film, he is so sure there’s a battle happening. Only in the end he notices the battle was in fact about the creation of an art piece. We started with a storyboard to define the main shots. After that we started blocking the animatic, for that we produced some rough animations and used references from other movies, to check how the idea was working.

Warrior character design.
Warrior character design.

fxg: Can you discuss the character design process? What were some of the aspects of the man and unicorn that helped sell the humor?

Techno Image: The character design was based on the style we usually try to print at Techno Image. It comes from our references and background, studying caricatures and cartoon. We believe what makes Techno Image’s work different is this mix of cartoonish proportions, some caricature look and realistic textures. Also, in this case we inspired ourselves a lot in Sebastian Kruger´s work. He's an amazing caricature artist from Germany and we always loved his work. For that reason, the warrior’s face has some similarity with Kruger. It’s a kind of tribute.

Animatic.

Usually the distortion of a caricature is indicated from the anatomy of the face and head. We tried to hide that aspects when the characters are first introduced in the spot using close ups. The first impression we wanted from the audience was that there were no distortion and it would be all about realism. A bit after we open the camera revealing the stylization, so this contrast was the first glance of fun. Humor begins with these choices of design, added to the animation style and the storytelling.

Character turntable.

fxg: What were your design/modeling/rigging/animation tools?

Techno Image: For design we used Photoshop and Zbrush. It was a collaborative work between 2d and 3d artists. We tried to push the quality as much as we could, so during the whole process we used all the tools available to make things look better: Models were done using 3D Max for the base mesh and ZBrush for details. Rigging and animation were done in Maya.

Shot breakdown.

Techno Image has a pretty recognizable identity on the illustrations we produce. We reached that because each artist in the studio does lots of personal illustrations and with time, people started reaching us to produce commercial projects that have the same mood as the personal work they saw. For animations, we are trying the same approach, to produce spots that have that identity. Hopefully, we will be able to print that as part of our brand, so when someone reaches us, it’s because they want to produce something that looks like the work we are doing. About the animation approach, we were looking for a more organic and fluid style.

HDR.
HDR.

fxg: You rendered this in NextLimit's Maxwell Render - what benefits did Maxwell provide you? What were some of the features of the renderer that you used?

Techno Image: The lighting solution was really simple. It's basically a HDRI with some retouch to push the light the way we wanted. Maxwell was just perfect in this project, as it has an outdoor environment / lighting, it didn't take long to render the sequences (from 2 to 6 hours per frame), considering that we had more than 8 million objects on the scene. We used Multi-Light feature for the lightning shot. By using that we had all the control in post work to animate light while still having the physically correct shader behavior. The renders delivered by Maxwell are almost what you see in the final movie. Basically, we added a dust/fog pass and did some color grading.

Animation and shading dev.

fxg: What’s next for Techno?

Techno Image: We love producing still illustrations and that’s the main activity at Techno Image nowadays. The idea is to dive into the animation market to have at least a 50/50 split on these two fronts in the studio. Our pipeline is refined in each animation we produce, and our aim is to have it ticking as clock, the best we can. The final goal is to produce our own content. Maybe a feature film in the future.

Shot progression.


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