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Fall of Cybertron

Fall of Cybertron

Sebastien Puiatti
by spuiatti on 18 Apr 2024

Here is my final exploration of a hybrid 2D/3D Transformers animated universe; an environment from Fall of Cybertron.

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To finish my dive in the stylized Transformers universe, I wanted to create an environment based on James Daly III concept art for Fall of Cybertron:

This project was realised in the span of 4 weeks as part of the first module in my bachelor year at SAE Institute Geneva. The goal was to recreate an environment from a single piece of concept art, in a hybrid 2D/3D style, with a camera travelling.

The concept art was analysed, and assets were prioritized into Hero, Scenery, Background and Matte, each with different modelling techniques and resolutions. 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.

I eyeballed the camera focal length, 35mm, and started a blocking in Maya. The concept art was projected on the blocking to align as much as possible with the original composition. 

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 detail was added on Hero assets in Zbrush.

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.

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.

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