Malus Navis

2021 – Short Film – Director and 3D Lead – CG Supervision, Clouds, Rain FX, Water FX, Atmospherics, Lighting and Rendering

Malus Navis is a short film worked on by a team of nine artists at Escape Studios over almost four months. As director I was responsible for the original concept and overall supervision of the project, helping to organise a the 2D and 3D departments to deliver four fully CG and two live action backplate shots. I was personally responsible for the animation and matchmove on the film, along with a range of FX tasks and the lighting and rendering of each shot.

The creation of two shots above and in the clouds presented a big challenge as our ability to render volumes with high ray depth to create convincing clouds was limited by our time and resources. Finding ways to achieve and optimise these shots was crucial for allowing time for iterations and changes based on feedback. The wide cloudscape was set up as a nodal pan shot such that the clouds could be rendered as a single frame with overscan, before being projected onto a card in Nuke. To keep the large scene file light and easy to work with, I created a library of cloud assets in Houdini, which were then saved as Arnold StandIns. These were then imported and scattered as instances using MASH. This allowed for fast iteration and changes which were visible in the viewport, with the loading of the volumes delayed until render time.

The interior of the clouds posed a real challenge for us as we tired to efficiently create the look of the inside of the volume. We experimented with rendering a traditional volume, finding the renders too noisy and slow and 2D techniques putting noise on translucent cards. We settled on using an aiAtmosphereVolume shader in 3D for the look. This simplistic volume shader was fast, but limited our control in comp with no support for aovs. To help mitigate this, the ship and volume were rendered as separate layers with holdouts. Layering up other effects such as the wingtip trails, heat distortion and rain particle FX helped to tie the shot together. I was able to work closely with our 2D lead to really refine the shot, with the particles from Houdini being multiplied over the lighting colour in comp to pick up the highlights and additional blur and defocus also being added.

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