Up-and-Coming Talent Shines at the 15th Annual Visual Effects Society Awards

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VFX artists gathered at the Beverly Hills Hilton in Los Angeles Tuesday night to honor their peers and craft at the 15th Annual Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards. Hosted by comedian Patton Oswalt, the black tie awards ceremony celebrated 2016's most exceptional visuals across film, TV, games and commercials, and the artists behind them. One of the evening's main highlights was the stunning display of talent in the nominee reels for "Outstanding VFX in Student Project".

Created by Autodesk and the VES in 2009 to recognize future filmmakers in response to a challenge by Director Steven Spielberg, the VES Student Award spotlights emerging talent from educational institutions spanning the globe. Since its inception, it's given rising artists an opportunity to showcase their work in front of their peers and industry influencers.

From "BreakingPoint" to "ELEMENTAL," "Garden Party" and "SHINE," this year's nominees showcased amazing artistry and talent, with "BreakingPoint" ultimately taking home the win. The filmmakers - Johannes Franz, Nicole Rothermel, Thomas Sali and Alexander Richter - graciously accepted the award on-stage and took a moment to catch up with Renderosity after their win.

"BreakingPoint"

Check out Martin Lapp's Vimeo page here.

Tell us about "BreakingPoint."

"BreakingPoint" is our Diploma Project and a graduation short from the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg, Germany. It witnesses a mother giving birth to her child. Rather than seeing the events of birth on a realistic level, we follow things happening from a metaphorical point of view. The focus of the action is the challenge of birth, which presents itself as an extreme situation that becomes a matter of life and death.

What was it like studying at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg?

In the first year, we get a general overview of every part of the filmmaking process. Then we specialize in one region - for us it was VFX and animation. The concept is project-based, so learning by doing is the way to go here. Because Filmakademie teaches every part of the filmmaking process, it's easy for us to collaborate with students from other tracks (like production/music/sound design/cinematography). Also, Filmakademie is known for providing state-of-the-art technology, hardware and software that students can use for their projects.

Which technology did you use on "BreakingPoint?"

We mainly used Autodesk Maya and Houdini for all the FX work. We also used Autodesk Mudbox for texturing, ZBrush for modeling and PhotoScan for photogrammetry. We composited in Nuke, and we used Nuke Studio to assemble everything together. Our main renderer was Arnold and Mantra for all the fluids.

How did the techniques you learned at Filmakademie play into the making of "BreakingPoint?"

We had to level up from a technology and art direction standpoint. We knew we wanted to create something big and challenging in terms of quality. The first half-year, we created an extremely accurate previz, with scanned environments, actors and everything in real scale. It became a virtual production tool that showed how the film worked, what lenses we had to use and where the camera had to go; we couldn't have managed the shooting without it. Post was intense and took us nine months to finish.

Tell us about the size of your team and how long it took to finish the film?

The core team included three producers, the director, cinematographer and our technical director. When shooting on-set, we had between 30-35 people, and in post, a team of three. We also had a bigger post team for rigging, pipeline and additional modeling, which included seven to eight students. From the first idea to the final day of post, making it took almost 1.5 years.

How did you come up with the idea for "BreakingPoint?"

From a visual standpoint, I was blown away by "Inception" when I saw it in theaters. And other superhero-movies like "Man of Steel" had scenes that I wanted to mimic in the short film. On the story side of things, it's more personal. I was always fascinated by stories of mothers who lift cars to save their children and similar reports. I did my research and found this phenomenon called "hysterical strength" - which is described as the ability to get superpowers in life and death situations. It's like an intense adrenaline rush. Also, my sister had her first baby in 2014 and almost didn't make it because the birth itself was so challenging. That was one of the biggest personal impacts for me at that time and led to "BreakingPoint."

What did you enjoy most about working on this film?

Shooting was fun, but I can safely say, that post was the most fun. Once we had the plates, we could get hands-on and start doing what we wanted to do all along. Because everything was carefully planned in previz, post ran pretty smoothly. We had some technical and artistic challenges to solve, but it was a very fun process overall!

Which scene sticks out most to you from the film?

One of our favorite scenes is when the mother gets hit by a car and crashes through an enormous truck. This sequence of shots was the most challenging; it required tons of custom simulations - smoke, dust, flying debris, shattering glass, tearing cloth and also a ton of animation and blend shapes. At the same time, it was also the most fun to work on, because it was amazing to see everything came together and to realize it worked.

Were there any shots that were particularly challenging to create?

The shot when she crashes through the truck and lands on the ground. It's a time-ramped shot, which is always difficult because of simulations, but this one also had a ton of different animation and effects that had to blend in seamlessly. We also had to blend from the actors Digi-Double into the green screen plate of her, which we shot in the street from one frame to the other when she landed in front of the camera. The environment was first projected, and then heavily relit to match with our plate reference.

What and who inspired your interest in the filmmaking business?

For me it was the DVD Making of Shrek when I was a kid; I've also always been a big fan of the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" movies. I think we all just love amazing VFX Hollywood Blockbuster movies, and when great VFX meet a captivating story. That's where we were heading; "BreakingPoint" is just the beginning. So although "BreakingPoint" is a short student film, you could probably say that we look up to Hollywood Blockbuster movies. "Inception" was certainly one of our main influences when we were finding ideas and I think it's obvious when you see our film. I personally found "Monsters" from Gareth Edwards very inspiring since he did all the VFX work himself.

What do you think the future holds for you and your team?

Currently, a big portion of our team has already started working in the VFX industry.

We got jobs at Axis Animation in Scotland, Iloura in Melbourne and ILM in Vancouver.

We're super excited to work on our favorite franchises and I think the big goal in the long run is, to play an important role in one of them.

"BreakingPoint" Credits:
Director: Martin Lapp

Cinematographer: Chris McKissick

Producer: Anica Maruhn, Tobias Gerginov

VFX Producer: Francesco Faranna

Music: Petteri Sainio

Sound Design: Tobias Scherer

VFX Supervisor: Martin Lapp

Lead Technical Director: Johannes Franz

Cutter: Raquel Caro Nuñez

Szenbild: Tonia Hochsieder

Production: Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg GmbH

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