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Daniel Schmucker - TD Portfolio

Daniel Schmucker - TD Portfolio

Daniel Schmucker
by schmuckerdaniel on 31 May 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

I am currently finishing my diploma in Technical Directing at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg. I love working on Lighting, Compositing and Pipeline Tools! Here you can see some of the work I have done at Filmakademie over the last 3 years, as well as personal and older student projects of mine. Hope you enjoy!

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Evangeline - Student Project

My Roles: Set Dressing, Shading, Lighting, Compositing & Artist Tools
produced at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg (2019), Director: Nadine Schwenk

Evangeline is the largest project I have worked on during my studies at Filmakademie, with about 8 minutes runtime. The animated short tells the story of a little girl called Evangeline, who lives in the swamps with her father.

Especially for Lighting, this has been a really fun project, as it has many different sequences with different lighting situations, atmospheres, and moods:

The biggest challenge for our team was the large number of shots, more than 110 in total. Thanks to a great pipeline built by my fellow TD, Tim Lehr, and some artist tools we built on top of it, we were able to finish the visual part of the shot production (everything from set dressing to compositing) largely with two artists, Caro Kiessling and me.

To finish that many shots we had to optimize our workflows a lot. In Lighting, we managed to work very efficiently by setting up light rigs on selected master shots and using them as a base for the other shots of the sequence. This sequence-based approach of lighting and compositing made it possible to set up successive shots faster and also helped with lighting continuity.
Here you can get a glimpse of some of the shots I have worked on:

Due to festival restrictions, I can only show a few of the shots and sequences I worked on for Evangeline. To provide a bit more insight into the project, here are a few more of my shots and breakdowns, which have to be password protected:

Lighting & Compositing Setups

I split up the lighting of my shots into several light groups in Maya and rendered them all to separate layers using Arnold's Light-Path-Expressions. This way I was able to tweak the lighting and the final look with more control in compositing. 
Here you can see an example of one of the interior scenes, where the lighting is split into direct sunlight, skylight, several fill and rim lights, as well as separate atmospheric lighting:


I did the shading of parts of the props and environments, but my main focus was the look of the characters. I received wonderful textures from my fellow student Elias Kremer. Using these textures as a base I added Detail-, Bump- and Normal-Maps to get enough detail especially on the shirts, faces, and hands, which are seen in many close-ups in the film. 
Because the film tells the story of a longer period of time, another requirement for the shading was the possibility to easily switch between variants of clothes and dirt levels on the skin of the characters. For that, I built switches into the shading networks to change the colors and dirt levels, which could then be easily adjusted using a custom Maya shelf that controlled these switches.
Here you can see the characters with some of these variations:

Kinky Kitchen - Student Project

My Roles: Pipeline TD, Shading, Lighting, Compositing
produced at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg (2018), DirectorBea Höller

In our production of Kinky Kitchen you get a glimpse of what your kitchen utensils get up to when you are not at home. During the project we created a multiplayer Augmented Reality game and three animated episodes.

One of my tasks on the animated short was setting up a number of pipeline tools so that all artists in the team could work together properly.
Besides that my main task on the production was lighting and compositing. 
Here you can see some of my work on the three episodes:


The aim of the lighting of the project was to create a very bright, warm atmosphere in the kitchen. To achieve this, we did not limit ourselves to realistic lighting conditions. In one of the episodes, for instance, we wanted to have more direct sunlight streaking across the frame. As the camera is panning from top to bottom we were losing the direct sunlight at the bottom of the kitchen. Therefore I created a light setup with several directional (sun) lights with slightly different angles so we would have more direct light present in the scene without the viewer noticing immediately. 

Below you can see the lighting setups for all three episodes, rendered in clay. And beneath that is a process view showing the shot's raw lighting and the final composite:


The most enjoyable task of this production for me, was to play around with the look and lighting of the film. The director wanted to have clearly defined rims and outlines in the direct sunlight or caused by backlighting (Disney's "Feast" was our main lighting reference) combined with the look of plastic and rubber for the materials.

For shading, Steffen Oberle and I created fairly simple plastic materials with some procedural noises and hardly any textures.
To achieve the strong rim lights, I rendered a base lighting layer of the shot and several dedicated rim lights from different directions (6 in total). I used light colors (red, green, and blue) to render several lights into one layer. In Compositing I separated the rim lights and added them on top of the base layer using a custom tool to control how much contribution each of the rim lights has on each of the objects. This workflow enabled a very art-directable rim light effect.

Below you can see a sketch of that workflow along with the references we used. And underneath you can see the effect of the dedicated rim lights on top of the base lighting layer by using the slider:

Ratatoskr - Student Project

My Role: Compositing Lead
produced at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg (2018), DirectorMeike Müller

This project tells the story of little Ratatoskr, who searches eagerly for ever bigger and better fruits in the tree of Yggdrasil. I joined the production team in the final phase of the project for compositing, which was a great experience, especially because I received fantastic renderings to work with from Anno Schachner and Alex Berweck.

One of the main tasks in compositing was to create the backgrounds. As you can see in the video breakdowns and the wipes below, only the foreground elements were rendered whereas the backgrounds had to be built in compositing. 

As most shots had camera movement this required matte painting elements on cards in Nuke's 3D space. Besides that, I mainly tweaked the shots' colors and lighting, did retouching, and added additional FG elements in some shots to give them more depth.
Here you can see some of my compositing work on this project:

Below you can see an example for the background creation and a character closeup. Another task in compositing, especially for these character shots, was to give the fur a final touch, soften it up a bit and give it a smoother feeling. In some shots, I also added an extra highlight in the eyes to give the character more appeal.

Pumpers Paradise - Student Project

My Roles: Lighting and Compositing
produced at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg (2019), DirectorEddy Hohf

Pumpers Paradise shows everyday situations in a world that revolves around being fit and muscle-packed. Working on the visuals of this bizarre world was a ton of fun and also a great learning experience. As I was the only lighting and comp artist on the project, I was able to try out different things with a lot of creative freedom.

Here you can see parts of my work on Pumpers Paradise together with some lighting and compositing breakdowns:

In the process view below,  you can see grandma Irmel in the park lit with a basic dome light compared to the final lighting of the shot.
Especially in this park sequence, I worked a lot with light blockers to create nice looking shadows in the foreground without the need to add a lot of extra geometry off-screen. To give the grass and leaf materials more variation and to create a warm, late summer ambiance, I adjusted the colors in compositing using ID-mattes.

Here you can see how the shots are set up and rendered in several different layers.
Especially in the gym scene, it was important to render the characters separately, as there were so many characters in the scene. Using these render layers, small animation changes could be done without the need to rerender the complete frame.

British Turtle Time Assassin - Student Project

My Roles: Shading, Lighting, Compositing, Story, Editing
produced at Stuttgart Media University. Team:
Giulia Bochnig, Magnus Kaffenberger, Albert Memet, Daniel Schmucker, Ariel Tan, Marcel Unkauf, Anja Waeber

This animated short was originally produced in 2015 during my Bachelor studies at Stuttgart Media University. It tells the story of aged Agent T, who receives a new mission to change historic events in the favour of Her Majesty. 

My main tasks on the production were shading, lighting, and compositing. After the project was finished, I reworked the compositing of some of my shots in my free time, to give them a more polished look, which wasn't possible in the production time of about 4 months from story to finished project.
Here you can see some of my shots, as well as some breakdowns:

This was one of my favorite scenes in the short film. I tried out a couple of different lighting setups to give the shot different atmospheres:

Bayou - Nuke Matte Painting Tool

I developed a Nuke tool to quickly generate background matte paintings (e.g. forests) by scattering input images on cards within the camera frustum in Nuke's 3D space. I started working on this tool during the production of Evangeline after I realized that I had worked on quite a few student projects over the last years, which needed forest backgrounds using a card setup in Nuke. 

The tool randomly scatters sources on cards inside the camera frustum, controlled by parameters like size, number of elements, min./max. distance from the camera, and an additional angle (to make up for camera movement). There are two seed parameters that can be changed to randomize either the position or the input of each element. Changing these seeds quickly give very different visual results that can be viewed either in Nuke‘s 3D space or rendered in the 2D view. There are optional features to enhance the look like adding a textured ground with procedural displacement, built-in Z-defocus, and haze controls.

The tool was used in two productions at Filmakademie in a number of different shots.
It really helped speed up the set up of these matte paintings and made the compositing process more efficient.

Unity Cryptomatte - RnD Project

As part of my research during my Technical Directing studies, I developed a Unity package that enables rendering "Cryptomatte" ID-mattes from Unity‘s High Definition Render Pipeline.
The core of the plugin is a prefab that is added to the Unity scene. It contains a script, which hashes any object/material names with Python, stores the hashed value on a component of the corresponding object and saves the Cryptomatte "manifest" (containing a hash - name mapping) as a JSON file. The plugin uses shader overrides to render out the hash values for each pixel. In Nuke a corresponding gizmo recombines the renderpass with the metadata stored in the JSON file. The result is a working Cryptomatte pass that can be used with the official Nuke "Cryptomatte" plugin by Psyop to easily generate ID-mattes during compositing.

Here you can get a glimpse of the tool's UI and a demonstration of the tool in action:

There are still some limitations remaining: the metadata can't be written directly into the header of the EXR files and transparency/anti-aliasing are currently not supported by the tool.
Cryptomatte for Unity is used in the production of our diploma film "Leading Light", which we are currently finishing up.  On this project, we are doing a traditional compositing workflow in Nuke based on EXR image sequences we get from our main render engine Unity. Having access to proper ID mattes is really vital to give our images a final tweak in compositing.
Here are production examples from one of the sequences I am currently working on:

Lego Rendering Pipeline - Personal Project

This is a personal side project I have been working on in my spare time. It consists of a number of pipeline tools that make it possible to quickly light and render Lego models downloaded from the website
After a download, the models (.dae files) are adjusted and converted by a batch script using Maya in terminal mode. The result is an alembic file and a .xml file containing material properties and a material assignment mapping. The model can now be loaded into Katana using a custom macro that imports the alembic and automatically sets up the needed material networks by accessing the information in the .xml file.

It is a lot of fun to be able to digitally built Lego on Mecabricks or use prebuilt models from their library and light them in a great lighting tool like Katana.
Here is a quick glimpse of how this process looks like:

And these are two example scenes that I built when testing the pipeline tools:


Thank you!

Thanks for having a look at my projects!

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