Apr 22, 2014

Nikos Deja Vu - Substantia (2007 1st Prize Winner, Animation Festival Caostica, Bilbao Spain)

Substantia

“We had to create fluids, fire, freezing and melting ice, energy fields and a growing plant.”

Mayec Rancel & Jose Angel Soto met at the CICE 3D Animation and Digital Post Production class in Madrid. Two young animators with a story to tell, they were fitted into a project together outside of this school at the end of the September 2005. This project became ‘Substantia.’

''Substantia’ is a metaphor. It describes a strange universe somewhat like our outer space, inhabited by heart-shaped planets that are constantly exposed to fire meteors speeding around them. There are also mysterious tear-drops that fall through this space. They are rare and few, but once in a while, a planet's path coincides with a tear's, and from the encounter springs life. Thus begins an eternal cycle of life and death, plenitude and suffering, and seemingly random events take shape into a larger scheme.
With ‘Substantia’ we were trying to tell a universal story,” says Mayec. “One that would give a sense of meaning to all the seemingly random events in life that make us suffer or thrive, grow or wither. That includes many different ideas like friendship, love, learning, death, suffering, fear and loss.''

Watch the Short Film

Concept design

The overall goal of the concept design of ‘Substantia’ was to express the emotion with just basic elements of visual symbols: colors, shapes, strong contrasts and textures. The team needed to tell a lot with very little, so that it could be felt in a quick glance.

The planets had to be clearly identified with the shape of a heart. But moving away from the usual cheesy symbol of a heart, without reducing its readability. The mountain range elements, an echo of the large veins in a human heart would also give some sense of scale. The ‘living’ variation of the planet, after the plant grows on it, had to look more alive, which was conveyed with the smaller pulsating veins in the texture, and of course the yellowish colour of aridity became a red lively colour.

The plant had to convey a sense of rare beauty and elegance, and a monumental size, but also of extreme fragility. Many references of real plants were studied, and using some of them as inspiration, the team created a more fantastic and alien plant that would convey the feelings needed through their form.

The frozen planet had to maintain the heart shape. Colour, texture and shaders had to suggest cold ice. It had to convey isolation and self-defense, without looking fragile. The faceted design suggests the hardness of a diamond. The sharp edges and straight lines were also a good contrast from the more-rounded shapes of the living heart/planet, a reminder that this planet was now in a state of numbness and sour lack of sensitivity, almost like a living dead.

The energy field that appears at the end of the movie, in the encounter of the two planets, was by far the most complex element to conceptualize. It had to appear as pure and intense heat and energy, but in its final form it also had to be recognizable as an eye-shape from which the tear would fall. The concept exploration on this started with traditional colour media and digital painting. But this shot was as much about colour, texture and shape as it was about timing. Image and music had to converge in one single second to create the sense that the whole universe stopped to see the birth of this new tear-drop, which would close the full cycle. This exact moment was the climax of the film, and only then could the eye shape be noticed. This is why the conceptual work, through 3D proxy animations, compositing with test render passes, etc. went all the way through the project until the final stages of compositing. It was the last shot to be finalized...

1st Prize
Animation Category
Festival Caostica 2007
(Bilbao, Spain)


Overall Grand Prize
Autodesk
Ahead of the Curve


Weekly Winner 2
Hlobal HD Animation Contest


Jury's Special Prize
Video Category
Certamen Cortos Soria
Soria Shortfilm Awards

(Soria, Spain)


Nikos Deja Vu
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