A Battle’s Toll - VFX
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A Battle’s Toll - VFX

Pablo Díaz de León Hicks
by pdlh1998 on 26 May 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

In this rather dystopian depiction of ''a'' future. Two spaceships have an epic battle against a rivaling trio of terrorists through their capital. They will learn what the cost of war really is. This was a personal project.

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This was a 2021 personal short film. The total production time was about six months. I am responsible for all visuals, story and editing.

This is the biggest project I have worked on to date. So, I had to do a lot of tests, the biggest one being the one above. In which I wanted to see if and how everything would look and work before the final render.

To get the capital's somewhat dystopian, but mainly futuristic look, I studied many architectonic styles for reference. Such as, HBA Architecture, Dynamic Architecture, Neo-Futurism, as well as architects with futuristic design work like Vincent Callebaut and Dr. David Fisher. Of course, classic sci-fi films were a big influence too.

A great reference for the spaceships, aside from classic sci-fi designs, were both Hyundai and UBERS's UAM concept for a flying car, and Jeff Allen Case's 'Hammerhead' prototype.

The process for getting the capital to feel diverse and populated involved having 3 different city bases; as well as combining around 15 to 20 unique building models through nested particles systems. This helped me get a total of around 30 different buildings and clusters that I then spawned along my city bases with another particle system. A similar approach was used for the traffic.

As a side note, just like they did in the original Star Wars, I tried to have all my shots be long enough that you could process everything important that was going on; but not so long that you could stare too much at secondary things and pick up on minor details. Also, none of the shots are completely static.

For the explosions I used JangaFX's real-time fluid simulator ''EmberGen''. And I also added spark and destruction simulations for the ships to actually look like they fall apart.

For shading, almost all my materials were procedural. Most of them were done inside Blender, and only a few of the more complex ones in Substance Painter. Furthermore, given that I used an HDRI that also served as my background, a certain level of realism had to be attained for everything to feel integrated. Additionally, lighting was animated throughout the film to seamlessly transition from sunset to night time.  Everything was rendered in real-time using Eevee.

I used premiere pro for editing. And for sound and music I had to do a very thorough research. Because I needed to find material that would not only match the tone I had planned for the film, but also heighten it; while at the same time being free to use.

All this, of course, was made to serve the story I wanted to tell, which was that of the sacrifices of war, but also the perpetuity of it. This can be taken literally; but also, we all know we have our battles to fight. And often, after we've come through a difficult time, we tend to feel as if the hard has passed. Only to later realize that ''surprisingly'' the next battle may not be so far away, if it's not already there.

I know this is a harsh truth of life, and a peculiar way of showcasing it. But what I ultimately want to say is that the battles we fight and how we come out of them, are what end up defining our life's journey. And in that sense, life has some similarities to war. But it's really not worst because of that; if anything, it makes life more meaningful and each of us all the more valorous for it.


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