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What if rats were responsible for everything unexplainable?

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"CODE RAT" is a student short film created during the winter semester of 2022/23 as part of the AniFilm AniPlay course at the Animationsinstitut of Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Produced within a tight 3-month timeframe, the film explores the possibility of rats being behind everything unexplainable taking the position of a far advanced civilization living among us.

The AniFilm AniPlay course puts together creative teams during a one-week excurse based on their individual backgrounds, interests as well as their role within a team and tasks them to come up with an original IP which is developed further throughout the following month's preproduction period. This consists of a short film as well as an interactive media project for which we chose to develop a VR game.


We started by looking at concept art from Vivo (2021) and reinventing the look to create our own style. Since our film consists of three parts we tried to find a key visual for every scene. Doing concept art meant leaving our comfort zone as our team consisted mainly of 3D artists.

The key images were done by Philipp Dörrer and Matthias Strasser.


As you can see we had to leave our comfort zone once more to draft our storyboard. For the third scene, we had to get Melanie Schnaidt on board to help us visualize the rather complex camera movements we envisioned.


Our film pipeline was set up by our CG Supervisor Philipp Dörrer taking care of color management using an ACES config based on ACES 1.0.1 as well as managing data interchange between multiple software packages. Using Solaris with Arnold during the time of the project proved to be a challenge we had to overcome by setting up custom AOVs and attributes to render our scenes. Our ACES config allowed for color accuracy throughout the entire project and gave us the needed control during lighting, compositing and grading to craft the desired images.


Melanie Schnaidt was also responsible for creating our character designs. She understood our idea right away making them really cheeky, innocent and cute at the same time. For the designs, it was crucial to have a great shape language. Through a coherent and appealing character design, we were able to ground our characters in a believable world.


To improve the groom Matthias Strasser looked at maned rats and tried to imitate parts of their fur to get more variation.


The two rats were sculpted in Zbrush, textured in Substance Painter, shaded in Arnold for Houdini, and groomed in XGen. Levin Wunder and Matthias Strasser developed a workflow to get the groom from XGen in Maya to Houdini without losing too much performance and control.



The satellite had to resemble a mixture of a space station, a classic satellite disk and the Deathstar whilst looking believable yet stylized enough to fit within our project's unique style. Modeled by Philipp Dörrer in Maya using a wide mixture of references, the satellite was then textured and shaded by Matthias Strasser.


Since the first scene was heavily inspired by the events of the Suez Canal incident of 2021, it was modeled closely after the Ever Given ship, whilst keeping it within our own stylistic boundaries and rules of avoiding parallel lines within our non-environment assets. To be able to tell the scale and quickly iterate on the look of the ship Benjamin Gätzschmann went overboard and set up a procedural container-generating system in Houdini and modeled all the intricate details necessary. The shading setup for the containers was also a part of the procedural system, allowing us to tweak elements when needed. He was also responsible for the texturing and shading of the ship.


Benjamin Gätzschmann was also responsible for creating procedural cloud setups: One for the skewed windy clouds in the desert and one for the puffy clouds near the volcano. We ended up with a good mix having a realistic look but still relying on cartoony shapes.


To be able to convey the visual comedy of the eruption it was necessary to go from really slim to really wide really fast. The concept sculpt came from Matthias Strasser out of Zbrush. Benjamin Gätzschmann added detail to the surface and used Solaris to scatter foliage on the surface of the volcano. Reusing the cloud setup he created a ringcloud to add the final touch.


These breakdowns showcase our shots progressing through the stages of our production pipeline. Varying in complexity and requirements we had to work out a plan that would allow us to reuse assets, effects setups, lighting rigs and reduce characters needed to tell our story in this tight production timeframe. Using Houdini's procedural generation and set dressing capabilities we were able to quickly iterate assets and environments to our needs. For compositing, we could focus our efforts on finalizing the image through minor relighting, applying post effects and removing any unwanted artifacts.

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