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Sebastien Puiatti
by spuiatti on 21 Apr 2024 for Rookie Awards 2024

Please find my CG Generalist Demo-Reel. I love to give a new twist to existing properties while staying true to the originals, and produce a lot of things quickly!

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Hi folks at The Electric Theatre Collective! I'm Sebastien, a CG Generalist from Switzerland, finishing my bachelor of arts in July. Without further ado, here is my CG generalist demo reel. Also: keep reading until the end. There is a twist.

My aspiration is to work someday in VisDev for animated series; however I think there is a lot to learn from marketing and advertisement studios, where you have a very short time to produce a very short but meaningful and impactful story. And that's why I think this is the best place to start my career. Being a CG Generalist is also about understanding better the whole production process, and getting the knowledge to make other peoples life easier during a production.

Each project in the demo-reel was produced in an average of 4 weeks; I was responsible for all aspects except the concept. Let's walk them through together: 

I love the art and animation of the original Metal Slug games, and wanted to translate it in a hybrid cartoon/claymation style, with all the rich secondary animations and overlaps that give the series vehicles so much charm and personnality. Modeling was based on an ortho released by SNK Coporation, mainly done in Maya, with Zbrush used to break edges and give it a claymation feel, surfacing in Substance 3D Painter, Animation in Maya, rendering in Arnold, and compositing in Nuke. This asset was done in 3 weeks.

A functional analysis of the tank was made before modelling, by looking at several concept arts and model sheets, as well as play through videos. The SV-001 tank is more a character than vehicle. The way it moves, its unusual range of motion and poses, all would define how its modeled and the 400+ elements are put in place and interact together. Reference were taken from Metal Slug games, as well as claymation works like Wallace&Gromit, and the new TMNT: Mutant Mayhem.

The model was broken in four parts and UVs organised so it could would be manageable to texture in Substance 3D Painter. To give it a claymation mixed with 3D/2D animation vibe, several layers of painted texture, curvature, OA, world space gradient and colors were added on top of each other, and saved as a smart material to be consistent on all the parts.

To give it a believable 2D/3D style that would not break the illusion when animated, three shaders were mixed using a Fresnel effect; a hand painted base material, a purple to green gradient to give some extra shades, and a coat for subtle indirect reflections and overall punch

And now, the rig! The challenging part was to have the SV-001 rolling like a tank, but also being able to jump and crouch like a wild puppy to reflect the character personality and traits seen in the games. It also had to have a piston system that is interconnected so its silhouette cand squash and stretch without deforming the individual parts.

Next project is Jazz, from Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, based on the concept by Billy King.

For this one, the pitch was "Translate and existing Transformers concept into an asset for a 2D/3D hybrid animated series". It started with a functional analysis of the concept. the priority was maximizing range of motion while avoiding clipping or bending of hard parts, and staying as close as possible to the model sheet. The character was delivered in 5 weeks, and I was responsible for all aspects except concept.

With the pain and collision areas identified, as well as a good overall idea of how the character will pose and move, modeling started with the outer shell in Maya, and the organic, bendable parts done in Zbrush. The model was then split in 6 groups, and UVs organized accordingly so it could be textured easily in Substance 3D painter. 

While the character was pretty close to the original concept by Billy King (right) both in shapes and colors, at this stage it lacked some heaviness and metalness. 

To get this, a hand painted metallic shader was mixed with the hand painted base color; this way the model would get metal reflections and shine depending on the camera angle, while maintaining it's hand painted feel.

The rigging was done with a single skeleton using IK for the lower part and FK for the upper body. Basic but functional for what was planned for the character; posing and a simple idle animation.

Finally, here is Fall of Cybertron, based on the concept art by James Daly III. Here is the plot twist; there has been a retake on the project compared to the demo-reel, with the addition of an atmosphere, correction of compositing mistakes and new color grading to get closer to the concept art.

Once again, the pitch was to translate a 2D concept into something for hybrid 3D/2D animation. This time, its an environment, where the camera had to move from a close-up to a wide shot. I was responsible for all aspects except the concept. The initial project was done in 4 weeks, plus and additional 3 days for the retakes.

The biggest challenge was organisation and prioritisation. First, an animatic was done in After Effects using the concept art to get a feel of the timing, and categorise the assets into Hero, Scenery, Background, and Matte. Hero assets would be used for close-ups, and had 4K textures with details added with subdivision at rendering and displacement maps from Zbrush. Scenery assets would not be subdivided at rendering, and have 2K textures, same for Background assets that would be further away from the camera wit 1K textures. Matte painting would be made in Photoshop for elements in the horizon, and projected on a simple 3D blocking in Nuke to keep the parallax effect during the cam travelling.

A mood board was created to get further inspirations, using Transformers art and Urbex photographs of abandoned steel factories.

To align as much as possible the layout with the the concept art, the latter was projected on the blocking, with a camera focal length eyeballed at 35mm.

Modular modelling was used to build the environment. Multiple simple assets were combined together to give a feeling of overwhelming complexity. Each piece was placed by hand to match the concept art. For the ground, greebles and plates were assembled, grouped and shaped using FFD deformer to match the terrain.

Additional details were added on the Hero Assets.

The big challenge in unwrapping the UVs were the amount of meshes in the scene, organising them by asset type and maintaining the same texel density everywhere. In the end, the environment has more than 700 UDIMs, with only a few displayed below for reference. With the amount of elements to organise and time constrains, unwrapping wasn't perfect and and I acknowledge there are a few issues there and there with texel density.

Time for texturing! Color palettes are a key part of the Transformers design, as many of the toys are palette-swaps. Different palettes were explored to get close to the reference concept art, while going into the colourful direction of animated works like Arcane.

After the color palette was set, a smart material was created in Substance 3D Painter to get a consistent look on all the environment. It was decided that the color style would be saturated and vivid on the textures, as it would give latitude to be desaturated by atmosphere volume, dust effects and color grading in post to get closer to the mood of the concept art.

Further surfacing work was done in Arnold, mixing several shaders to get a hybrid 2D/3D feel that wouldn't break the illusion and remain consistent when animated. A fresnel effect and surface illumination node are used to get different metalness and a flat, malevolent, purple color in the shadows depending on the camera angle and amount of light hitting the geometry.

Rendering was done in layers, with a volume atmosphere rendered on its own layer to ease compositing. A blockout of the environment with simple geometry and cameras was exported in FBX for projections in compositing. 2D smoke and dust was painted in Photoshop, and projected over the blockout, using the Zdepth AOV as a merge mask. Optical effects were added to give it a more analogue feeling, like motion blur, chromatic aberrations, depth of field and animated grain. Finally, color grading was done in DaVinci Resolve, desaturating the footage and giving it a cold, dead and desolate tone to match the original concept and story.

And this concludes my entry. I hope it translates;

- Capabilities and love the challenge of adapting existing franchises and properties into a new style, in a way that is respectful and meaningful of the original

- Technical skills and some understanding of the pipeline that would make my modelling great to work with for surfacers, riggers, animators or compositors

- A willingness to learn and tackle creative challenges under budget and time constrains

- Into something fun to watch!


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