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Niklas Wolff - VFX Entry 2021

Niklas Wolff - VFX Entry 2021

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

Hi everyone! I am excited to show you my work on the film Sprout!

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Hello everyone! I am excited to show you the work I did on the project Sprout. It is a film that I worked on in my second year at Filmakademie Baden Württemberg. I hope you enjoy it!

The project has a seperate Film Of The Year entry, where you can find more detailed information on the project as a whole and watch the full film:

I was part of a great team that worked on this project! This was the VFX Team: Isabella Braun (Producer), Jiayan Chen (Producer), Harald Dieterichs (VFX Supervisor), Elina Eskelinen (VFX Artdirector), Paul Golter (Technical Director), Tom Tolle (Previz & Modeling Lead), and me as the Director.

VFX Breakdown


One of the big challenges with this project was to fill the huge cave with all the detail. Tom Tolle did a lot of that by creating procedural tools that allowed us to quickly propagate the cave with a lot of pipes and staircases. On top of that we needed a lot of other objects that could be placed around the cave to fill it with life. almost everyone in the team helped by modeling all kinds of tanks, valves and so on. You can see two of the assets I created as turntables in the VFX Breakdown: The monorail cart that is placed throughout the scene to hint at a past transportation infrastructure and the big turbine that sits at the top of the cave. I modeled these in Blender, textured them in Substance Painter and did the shading in Houdini / Arnold.

Here is a collection of some screenshots of my assets:


To be able to quickly apply textures and shading to the procedurally generated geometry I built some materials with a lot of exposed parameters. I primarily layered various materials from Megascans with masks based on noises and attributes. We could then apply these materials to the geometry and tweak all kinds of properties, like if there was paint on the metal for example and how far it had peeled off.

Surface Environment

For the surface environment I started off by sculpting a rough version of the environment in Blender, that I then imported into houdini to use as a base for doing some heightfield erosion. Paul Golter and I dressed the scene with a lot of Megascans assets and I made this white sand/ash material by layering, grading and tweaking some Megascans materials.


The film has a lighting progression from very dark low key lighting to a brighter high key lighting. Paul Golter, Elina Eskelinen and I did the CG lighting. We used Arnold in Houdini for lighting and rendering. These are the shots that I lit:


With the goal of the film being to create a believable set extension, compositing was a very important part.

Every teammember worked on the comps. We also switched some shots around based on task priorities. That is why on some of the vfx shots someone else might have done the roto / key or even the first comp versions, before another artist took over.

I was the main compositor of these shots, but did not do the roto/key on the second one:

Matte Painting

The big shot at the end of the film was a great chance to use matte painting. It shows the same landscape that is on the postcard in the beginning of the film, just many years later. So I needed to roughly match the proportions of the mountains present in the postcard. It was the first time I did a matte painting and was a great learning experience. I started off with the HDRI that I also would light the scene with and then photoshopped all the mountains and some clouds on top of it. I exported all the layers seperately and put them onto cards in Nuke to get some parallax movement.

Title Design

I thought it would be nice if the films title also fits into the aesthetic of this huge factory cave that it is set in, so I created this title made from rusty metal and lit it in the color palette of the films lighting.


I wanted to create a cool poster for the project, so I decided to make a distinct render for it that shows the view from the bottom of the cave up to the huge turbine.

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