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Interview: how 4 students created a Treasure that will be showcased at SIGGRAPH 2021

3DVF: The seagull & sardines gag is quite interesting, especially since, at first, it doesn’t seem to be connected to the main storyline. How difficult was it to tie both storylines together, and to find a good rhythm when going back and forth between those storylines ?

Alexandre: The story between Charlie the seagull, the sardines and the captain (Bernard) was a story we wanted to tell from the start. We really liked the idea of a film with an alternate reality for each character.

The seagull was designed to be the thorn on one’s side. Based on this idea we had to think on how to smartly split the main storyline into two new distinct stories. That’s why we had to really give background and personality to our human characters and the seagull which helped us to define the way they act, their objectives and motivations.

Both timelines were written as separate sequences, to make sure that each of them worked on their own at first.

The alternate editing between the two stories was like a big puzzle. We wanted to keep rhythm first, and to give the feeling that both of these stories unfold at the same time for the characters.

The last point was that we both wanted them to be connected to the main storyline. With that in mind we went through a huge part of the editing process, we even scrapped some final shots. Telling two different stories at the same time came with a very demanding thought process, but we didn’t want the public to anticipate the link between them, even more so for this sequence. With each test screening, we’d keep a close eye on the editing and try to feel the rhythm as if it was the first time we were watching it, to remain objective and find the best solution.

As for the anecdote, even after a year, it’s still a subject of discussion among us, because, finally, we learned there is more than just one way of working with parallel storylines.

3DVF: Underwater scenes are always tricky : can you walk us through the lighting, rendering and compositing of those scenes ?

Alexandre: The lighting was a nice challenge. We had to light the scene through a volume shape and most of the time from above, to give an underwater sensation.

We used shaders in our light to project caustics in our scenes and point clouds in Houdini to scatter some floating particles. We split the volume and the main scene into two different layers to keep both lighting and rendering under control and thus find a right balance between the rendering time and the look we wanted to achieve.

In compositing we had the opportunity to fine tune the lighting by playing with the intensity of the AOVs and merging the volume and its lights back above the shot.

When we found an efficient process that gave us the look we wanted, we banked a compositing file reference and we used it for all the underwater shots most of the time.

3DVF: How did you create the surface of the ocean and the water simulations ?

Guillaume: All effects and simulations for the film were created on Houdini. For the ocean I worked on an animated noise deformer applied to the surface of a mesh.

The water simulation was divided into three parts: First, I created the main shape with particles, next I transformed them to a mesh for the rendering software (Guerilla Render). Lastly, I worked on the foam, which is a particle system in itself.

This was my first production using this software. I had never created a water simulation before this year. Translating cartoony and stylized ideas in FX was a real challenge!

3DVF: Between the wooden figurehead and the ship, you created several worn-out materials. How did you create them ? Was it hard to find the right balance ?

Alexandre: The shipwreck was a huge asset but we kept its texturing quite simple with a low resolution, as we knew we would be using the fur system in Guerilla to cover it with submarine flore.

Rendering the whole ship in a single shot was expensive without optimization, so we cut out the off-screen fur and used LOD to reduce our render times.

The most difficult shot we had to render was the “Treasure Chest” shot inside the wreck : there were grains of sand scattered on the ground, hair and fur, particles, and a volume light that came from above the whole, which cast rays in the volume.

This shot needed a lot of optimization and became one of the first few shots we decided to render. The Guerilla team at Mercenaries Engineering helped us a lot for the rest of the shots to render in terms of optimization and workflow.

Up next: How the Covid-19 pandemic affected the production, first steps of the team in the CG industry.

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