We had the pleasure to talk to German director and character artist Can Erduman about the production process of the short film L’Artista.
How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Let’s first talk about the contents of the story.
I wanted to create something humorous that shows an artist battle with his art. With that idea I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a spin on our modern CG-Artist behaviour. Learning new technology, comparing us to others and feeling bad about it. Not realizing we are looking at the world’s finest artists. So what I wanted to show is that it’s okay to be bad. Don’t compare yourself too much. Enjoy your creations and see errors as possibilities to improve. On the technical side, I wanted to simplify my character creation process so anyone not involved in 3D could understand it. I wanted to show the moment when you finish the rig and the character comes alive.
I first thought about having the short film take place in current time.
But while thinking about it, I realized that taking the sculpting out of
the monitor and setting it in relation with the old masters, would
improve the short a lot. I love the Renaissance, as it marks what
separates us humans from mammals. Preserving and relearning knowledge
over generations. So many millions of engineers, scientists, artists
dedicated their life to their fields. And we have access to it all,
bringing us as a species forward. Basically, that’s what happened during
the Renaissance. Rediscovering Roman, Greek and Moorish knowledge at the
beginning of the 15th century and transforming Europe slowly. So I settled on creating a goofy Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. His name is Antonio Riggertoni. Like the pasta…but with rigging. This is an oold joke we always tell in our freelance office when I start rigging a character with spaghetti (bendy) arms…so I like Riggertonis.
We grew fond of our wordplay jokes. There are plenty… :D
So, our story begins with Antonio being poor, but super hyped. Not having enough candles to light his one room apartment doesn’t stop him from learning.
However, the museum part shows the success of the Artista, with a mistake that marked a turning point in his career. Besides a future sculpture that can be barely grasped due to motion blur, you can see more of his paintings at the beginning of the sequence, some even showing him in a palace. So he made it. At one point you see a statue of him blurred out in the foreground, blinking shortly. This means he is sort of still alive, through his art.
And that’s why the museum also resembles our current situation with social media as ArtStation, Instagram and Facebook. So much data is conserved. To give another nod to Instagram, we made the frames square and added some fitting images of our team, and of our friend Silverwing a.k.a. Raphael Rau. Those frames being Instagram-Square is probably a really nice nod.
Another interesting aspect is that art is absolutely subjective to the observer. This means some may like it and some may hate it. That’s why we added this concept to all the voice-overs of our team. Simon Fiedler, also working in our Freelancer Office mimicked a child saying “to be honest, I don t get it”, Andi Wenzel can be heard saying “booooring” in German. These are just a couple out of many voices.
Please tell us a bit about your aesthetic choices.
For the main character, I settled with a mix of Belgian / French comic artists and Cartoon Modern style of the 50s. I was very tempted to try out a Fortnite Style. But for this, I stayed on the style I’m trying to hopefully evolve into my own style.
For the lighting, I wanted contrasty, moody light. My first goal was to have just a spotlight on top that lights the table. The rest should be dark to pitch black, creating a natural vignette. Strong rim lights were also a part of the process. But the set dramatically changed when Alex did the set dressing with all the models I bought at Turbosquid.
What main ideas did you have in mind when directing the film?
The first thing I had in mind was: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! This regarding both the camera position and how we progress through the shots. Basically, we had three cameras for the entire short. That allowed us to copy both lights and compositing settings from scene to scene. We actually were very lucky with that. With all the time we had, it was quite close at the end.
For the camera movement, I wanted to have it minimized. As this is also a showcase of animation, I wanted the observer to be able to see everything. Like on a stage in the theater. So we made every cut recognizable, but often blending between movements making cutting get more into the background in a sense of visibility. Some cuts tend to have double actions. This means you see an action, we cut to another camera, then repeat exactly that action. That’s something I learned from Jackie Chan! ‘:D
The end result is highly polished yet it has a lot of playfulness. What was the production process like?
Thanks to keeping things clean and simple, we had a flawless production. This was also possible thanks to Maxon. They let us do our stuff and were happy from the get go. Paul Babb [Maxon’s Global Head of Community and Customer Experience] is great and had a lot of faith in us.
We planned everything and did it the traditional way: rough storyboarding, live cam reference shoot with acting, blockout. Our editor, Alex Bootz always gave us daily versions of the short. So we saw it slowly transform from a crappy live action featuring two dudes into an Open GL version, raw rendering and composited rendered final film. And with those daily updates, we had a good feeling for fine tuning the shots. We had a production document where Alex could give us new frame ranges. We also had one reshoot, for the part where the character opens the Rigging Box. That was not detailed enough in the first cut. The communication worked in both directions. Animators could communicate when they needed more frames.
Regarding production times, I needed 3 weeks for the characters, animation was 3 weeks and rendering / compositing took us 2 weeks. This is where the three cameras saved us A LOT of time. If we wouldn’t have done that, it would’ve definitely been longer there. Bernd Kopf, who did the sound effects and music, produced the sound in about a week.
L’ Artista was met with a really great reception from the audience, especially from fellow artists. What message would you like younger artists to take from the film that could help them?
Enjoy the creation process. Do your stuff, learn and don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t compare yourself to artists on the internet. See it as something positive and motivating. Treat your art as a snapshot of your knowledge at this moment on your journey. It doesn’t need to be perfect or precisely what you envisioned.
You have plenty of experience with character sculpting, rigging and animation. What digital modeling tools that you use on a daily basis do you think the old masters would’ve enjoyed especially?
I learned 3DS Max and Maya first and then switched to Cinema, because most jobs offered were for Cinema. I always had a strong motivation to work with characters, so it was just a matter of time. I did a lot of animation in Maya, but I have to say that the animation tools in Cinema came a long way since I switched. I also use some scripts by Tetsuo Animation. You can find them here: https://tetsuoanimation.com/downloads/
For sculpting, I have a lot of fun using ZBrush! It’s a great tool for stylized character creation.
Images provided courtesy of Can Erduman. All rights reserved to their respective authors.