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Niklas Wolff - 3D Animation Entry 2021

Niklas Wolff - 3D Animation Entry 2021

Niklas Wolff
by niklaswolff on 1 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Hi everyone! I am thrilled to present you two awesome projects I have worked on during the past year!

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Hello everyone! I am thrilled to present you two animation projects I have worked on during the past year. Both projects have been created as part of my Animation studies at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg.

Into The Cutezone

The first project I want to share is called Into The Cutezone. It is a 5 minute 3D animated short film that I directed last year. I wrote the story together with my friend Julian Schäfer and created the animatic and previz in close collaboration with the editor Frauke Tietjen. Isabella Braun is the producer of the film. The film is a parody of classic 80s action heroes. 

You can watch the full film on its separate Film Of The Year entry page:

Teaser Trailer

Character Creation

Since there was only very limited time I decided that all the soldiers should share the same body and would be customized by blendshapes, textures, and other features, like different beards or haircuts for example. For the modeling of the characters, I started with a concept sculpt, that Oscar Jacobson, who did the character concepts for the male soldiers, created in ZBrush. It was basically a naked high-poly version of the character. From there I created the clothing and various individual features of the characters in Blender and did the retopology and UV maps. For creating the character Amanda Paul Vollet helped me out, by modeling a variation of the male soldier based on character concepts by Eli Weinberger. The texturing of all the Soldier characters was done by me using Substance Painter. I tried to make them look a bit like action figures, by intentionally making the skin look like plastic and adding details like scratches.

The Antagonists of the soldiers, incredibly cute Aliens, have a way simpler character design. They are basically pink spheres with huge eyes, some simple arms, and ears that look like wings or antennas. The Alien Queen has more features than the small Aliens since she should be some more advanced life form. She has a third eye, is slightly heart-shaped, and has 4 arms. Also she floats instead of jumping around. I just subdivision modeled both in Blender and shaded them directly because there was no need for painted textures. I kept elements like the arms and ears as modular parts that could be hidden based on the shot.

The Interrogator character, which is visible for 2 shots as a silhouette was a premade character from Mixamo that helps to show how a normal non-action-hero human would look like.

Assets & Environments

The environments were built to have a bit of a miniature feel. I sculpted most of the ground and bigger rock formations to specifically suit the setting of each sequence. Smaller assets like grass and rock, but also the trees, were reused across almost all the shots to save time. These were usually scattered procedurally and then tweaked on a shot-by-shot basis.

The minigun that the character Amanda is carrying was modeled by Dominik Girod and Caroline Keulertz.

There are a few premade assets present in the film: The guns of the male soldiers are bought assets that were adapted to look more over the top. The grenade the Seargent is using in one of the scenes is also a premade asset.


To make the differences between the soldiers and aliens more severe, they also have different animation styles. The Soldiers are always either in slow-motion or change between very strong poses instantly. This also helped to make things a bit easier to animate and more manageable in our short time frame. Only the Aliens are very smoothly animated. This further emphasizes the extremes that the film is playing with: The brave and hard soldiers also have hard animation! And the soft and cuddly Aliens are animated smoothly. 


For the lighting and rendering I also used Blender. Since I did not have access to huge rendering power I could not afford to render everything in Cycles. Therefore I decided to only render the daylight scenes in Cycles and use Eevee for shots at night, which would have been way more intense to raytrace. In some cases, I even mixed both render engines within one shot, by for example rendering supporting stuff I wanted to use in compositing with Eevee. Also the Aliens did not look as good in Eevee, so I rendered only them in Cycles and kept the environment in Eevee on some of the night shots.


In Comp I put it all together, fine-tuned the look, and added many effects like depth of field, lens flares, or film grain. I also tried to recreate the look that anamorphic lenses give to an image since they were used in many of the films I am referencing. Another thing that I created in compositing are the glowing action lines that are used in certain situations to highlight very intense moments.


I really enjoy creating film posters for my projects and so I also had to create one for this film:


Some more stills from the project:

Fish Or Chips

Another project I was involved in at Filmakademie Baden Württemberg recently is Fish Or Chips. The project consists of both a game and a narrative Instagram account. Both will have separate Project entries that you should definitely check out! I was the DoP / Co-Artdirector on the project but was also mainly responsible for some of the character and asset creation, lighting, shading, and compositing.

For more information on the project you can check out these pages:

Film of the year entry:

Game of the year entry:

Fish or Chips Instagram:

Character & Asset Creation

I did the character creation in close collaboration with Julia Skala, who did the character concepts and sculpted and textured some of them, and Vanessa Schneider, who rigged and animated them. Sculpting, modeling, retopology, and shading were done in Blender. Texturing was done using Substance Painter.

On the ordinary Seagull, I did the sculpting, retopology, UVs, texturing, and lookdev. The ordinary Seagull is also the playable character in the Fish or Chips game. To make the characters of different players differentiable I also created color variations of the original texturing.

For the younger Seagull Maude, I did sculpting, retopology, UVs, and shading. A variation of Maude is also used in the game, as the NPC Baby Seagulls. For our main character Sully, I did retopology, UVs, and shading.

For the assets, I helped a bit with modeling but was mainly involved with texturing. The turntable video includes two assets, the chip shop and the ferris wheel, that were modeled by Benjamin Gätzschmann and textured by me. These were used in both the film and the game.

Look Development

We wanted to create a 2D Look in 3D. At the beginning of the project, I experimented with creating such a look in various render engines. We tried both Arnold and Redshift in Houdini but ultimately decided to use Blenders Eevee real-time renderer, because it was way easier to create such stylized shaders in there. I then built a set of shader node groups that could be stacked depending on what features we needed on a given asset. They also have exposed settings for various properties such as the rim intensity, the roughness of the edges, or blending some smooth shading into the flat look.

I also added custom AOV outputs that allowed us to rebuild the beauty pass of our NPR renders in Nuke, just like we would normally do with a PBR workflow. This was super helpful in compositing.


For the lighting of the Instagram stories, I started with key visuals, created by Julia Skala, as a reference of the mood we wanted to achieve.

For lighting all the Instagram posts in a short amount of time I created a set of 6 lighting templates for different moods. These included not only my lighting setup but also matching sky matte-paintings by Alexia Mokry. We could then just import these templates into the lighting scenes and adapt them to reach the desired look. Our Pipeline TD Paul Golter helped me with setting up the scenes for the posts and also lit a few posts, since it was already quite late in the project and time was running out.

Here are the posts I lit for the project. You can check them out in full resolution on the Instagram page.


In compositing, I pushed the style even further. I added lens effects, tweaked colors, or even painted out or added additional shadows or rim lights. In some of the stories I also added 2D animated FX elements, that were created by Julia Skala, into the shots. One example of this is the ketchup and mayo in the last story. The compositing was again a close collaboration with our TD Paul, who also comped some of the instagram posts.

Here you can compare the stories before and after compositing:

Thanks for reading and have a nice day! :)

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