The Ruins of Vendor (2019 Animated Short)
A lone adventurer makes her way through an old temple cave to open up an ancient portal. Little does she know what misery she is about to face.
"The Ruins of Vendor: Die Spirale der Verzweiflung" is a student short movie that has been created by students of Stuttgart Media University (Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart) within a production time of ~ 3 months from October 2018 to January 2019. For most of us it was our second big independent CG project to work on.
One part of the team wanted to create a good-looking and atmospheric environment, while the other wanted to practice animating a human. Story and look of the character were secondary only, as our time and skills were too limited to pull it off perfectly.
I acted as the Surfacing and Lighting Supervisor and dictated the planning of all cinematography (camera layout and lighting). I also did optimizations for shot rendering, helped out in compositing and was responsible for all the production work and team management. I worked together closely with our TD to figure out a proper workflow. General idea and conception by the whole team. (Full credits can be found on Vimeo)
Even though our story ideas were put together quickly and changed constantly during the project, it was very important to me that we would get the cinematography right. After all it is probably the most important thing to get right to create an atmosphere that the audience would actually feel just by watching.
Pivotal to our movie was the big contrast between the epic, mysterious entrance into the cave and the comic reveal of what lays behind the temple door. For this to work out we opted for maximal exaggeration and I think we pretty much nailed it.
Layout was very straight forward: The shorts starts out with calm long-lasting shots presenting the location. It changes to simple calm cuts to show what the character is doing and how the temple is reacting to it. No fancy camera movements or cameras that are only possible in CG. Movement and anticipation is introduced with camera shakes and later with quick and hasty movements as the character is suprised and gets angry. Very simple, but effective stuff.
Strong volumes and sparse warm natural lighting helped to give an ominous but homely and anticipating feeling to the cave. God rays lead the audience to the altar at the end of the cave as much as they give depth to the cave. In contrast stands the cold artificial lighting of the opening portal and the vending machine. It's diffuse light first seems to praise the treasure we have been looking for, but ends up blocking the path and blending the character cold-heartedly.
Production / Coordination
The main challenge for me as the producer and coordinator was to find a way to make this work in just three months while all team members would have many differnt study courses on the side. So I asked for everybodys' strengths and availability, distributed tasks and (since I was the one with most experience in actual movie production workflows from my internship) discussed ways to efficently set up our pipeline for the project with our TD.(Choosing naming conventions, color spaces, automating processes etc.)
It was a very tight production schedule. Naturally, it changed on a daily basis! To be able to start working right from the beginning of the semester, the team met up as early as possible the semester before to start conception of this project. During production I kept arriving to office early, spent the morning supervising the production and started on my own artistic tasks after lunch while trying to keep the afternoon for free time activities. In the end we pretty much perfectly finished every last step with the date of delivery. It's been an enormous team effort and I am proud of everyone I worked with on this project.
I am very happy that producing and art is a job done by several different people in most studios. Balancing both for sure has been an incredible experience, but is better managed separately. I never again want to be responsible for the quality of the art and when to cut working on a shot/task to keep within production schedule at the same time!
Here you go with some selected references and WIPs. Location references mainly inspired by Uncharted and the newest Tomb Raider games. Lighting references from Assassin's Creed artworks from Ubisoft. We also looked into real temple references like the Bhaja Maharashtra Cave Temple and the Ellora Cave's Kailash Temple in southern Asia.
I am always happy and thankful for comments and feedback on my work!
Thanks for reading :)