Je Suis Un Caillou

Interview: I am a Pebble, a touching and stylized French short featured

Reading time: 11 minutes

3DVF: You also created other animals : birds, insects, frogs… Which ones were the most challenging, and why ?

M. Berteraut, Y. Bresson, L. Coulombier, N. Grondin, M. Le Chapelain & L. Massé: We created them to add life to the universe and serve the scenario, to stay in the theme of the family, bring joy and lightness, but they were all less challenging than the otters. We wanted them to be as simple as their appearing personalities so that we could spend more time on the main characters.

3DVF: You explain on your Instagram account that you used 2D effects to create the rain. Can you tell us about this part of the movie ?

The movie required some special effects because we wanted to portray the lively life of a river with everything natural this includes, going from splashes, ripples, wind and that bring us to rain and snow, used during the long shot with the pebbles to show them as real characters going through bad times. At first, all this FX represented a technical challenge but at the same time we also had another big one with the RnD for the painted effect so we found the most effective way to use our research time and choose a simpler way to approach the FX task by choosing hand drawn 2D FX and other tricks, moreover it was more in line with our desire to have something close to a 2D illustration.

Therefore we used particles in Nuke and we also made 2D animation with Krita, thanks to that, we only worked two weeks on the special effects for the whole movie.

3DVF: You managed to create lush backgrounds, full of plants and life. How did you approach this part of the project ?

During the pre-production, we designed and coloured each shot like an illustration, that is why we didn’t build a big forest set but almost had a set dressing by shot (and some shots also had seasonal variations). It was manageable, due to the non-realistic style of the short, but it made the lighting a bit tricky since the setting was not always reacting as a realistic environment. Also, the luxuriousness of the backgrounds was a way to contrast with Bulle’s dream, where she forgets the world and focuses on her feelings.

3DVF: Changing seasons, switching from real life to the inner mind of the otter, sometimes in the same shot, was probably quite challenging ?

Indeed it was a big challenge in compositing because the switches were made in Nuke (color transition, rain/snow transition and vignetting for the imaginary part). The part into the mind of the otter was the biggest challenge because in Maya it was several long shots and in Nuke it became one single very long sequence shot with transitions between shots, with really different colometries to go from reality to Bulle’s imagination. It was one of the hardest parts to work with.

3DVF : The movie was rendered using RenderMan : even though this renderer is mainly known for its use on photorealistic movies, it also provides some Non-Photorealistic Rendering features. How difficult was it to learn how to use RenderMan, and to give life to the style you had in mind ? And by the way, can you give us some numbers about your render times ?

We took RenderMan as it is, a tool. So we can do multiple things with it and use it for the result we want. The painted effect on our film doesn’t really depend on RenderMan, it could have worked with another render software because the painted textures and the work on Nuke in compositing have been the most important part to reach the style we wanted. We learned RenderMan during our studies through realist projects, so we already knew the software, moreover in our production, the 3D part was quite classic, and so was the use of RenderMan. We didn’t use the reflections as usual for example but the tool stayed the same.

The render times were lower than the average. At the beginning, we put super low sampling as we counted on the denoising and our compositing process to make it clean but unfortunately we still had flickering in the final result so we changed the sampling to obtain what we needed for the compositing process. On a same computer our render times were sometimes twice faster than for a realistic short film, but after denoising our frames we were making 2 differents renders in compositing ( the first one was a classic compositing and the second one was for the painted effect) so it was more goings and comings than in a classic production.

Up next: how the team managed to work despite the Covid-19 pandemic, SIGGRAPH, and what the team has been up to since they left the school.

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