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Solstice-5: Designing Environments For a Sci-Fi Movie in Blender

Paul Chadeisson has told us about the production behind the short sci-fi film Solstice-5, explained how its large-scale landscapes and spaceships were made in Blender, and discussed the lighting setup.

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Introduction

I am Paul Chadeisson, a Concept Artist and Director from France. I started digital painting in 2006 and practiced on the famous French forum "café salé", where I discovered the art of Sparth, David Levy (Vyle), Aleksi Briclot, Mathias Verhasselt, and many more.

My first job as Illustrator started at Dontnod Entertainment, working on the Remember Me game. In 2013, I co-founded my video game studio with my friends Cédric Lecacheur and Pierre-Etienne Travers. We released our first game, Strike Vector, a year later on Steam. Creating games sometimes requires 3D, so this was when I started my journey into 3D.

I started learning Blender when I came back as a Freelance Illustrator in 2018, it was becoming the trending tool, and I could not resist putting my hands on it! Its advantages are simple: it's free, very easy to use, and has a huge community, so you can always find tutorials and new add-ons that might help you with your tasks.

Solstice-5

I started thinking about Solstice-5 while I was finishing my first short film, Migrants. The experience was so exciting that I wanted to reproduce it. I was not using Blender anymore, but playing with other software. I got back to Blender a year ago, animating some aircraft carriers just to see if it could look interesting. At the same time, I had written a few possible stories of what this film could be. I am very inspired by photography, documentary, and history. I wanted to find a way to combine science fiction and those inspiration formats that really inspire me: having a documentary from the future.

The Team Behind the Movie

I think I created most of the film alone, mostly experimenting with the potential of Blender and this planet. I reached a point when I had a few minutes of the sequence finished and the idea was quickly written in some pages; it was the time to really develop seriously in writing the film.

My friend Lambert Grand came one day and told me he wanted to write the film with me. It was great to have someone to talk about it, and what this all could be. It was becoming more real, and we were really trying to figure out what could be the best way to tell this story. The idea was those simple words: On a distant planet, some autonomous factories are producing a gigantic fleet, but we (humans) lose control, and we can't stop it. It doesn't want to do good or hurt us, just doing its task perfectly.

I kept developing the visuals while writing the script with Lambert. At some point, it made sense to bring in some workers' interviews to make the documentary more believable rather than just being a cool concept art film. At that time, most of the CGI shots were already finished, but I had the actors' sequence missing. It took a few months to find actors, prepare the shooting, and finally do it! From there, I could finally finish the film.

My friend Antoine Babary took care of the sound design and music with his team ARCADES! While working on it, I asked for help from compositing artist Alban Kasikci to help me with the shot of the actors on greenscreen, to integrate some matte painting. At the same time, I wanted to bring two new shots into the film. I asked for help from my friend Pierre Lazarevic, who did a fantastic job on it! I think it was very important for me mentally to have some help to finish this film! Pierre also helped me with the beautiful UI and logo!

The Workflow

The most important thing was preparing a set of 3D assets I could kitbash anywhere I would need, like Lego parts, to create environments. Once the environment was there, I was becoming a photographer and trying to find the best camera angle, lens, lighting, and mood for the shot! My main challenge was learning the art of animation and rendering for a film in 4K! It was important to find the appropriate scale for this future, as we humans tend to build more efficiently and bigger. I felt that having all the codes we know today but more impressive would make this story even more dramatic.

I would start a spacecraft with 2D line sketches. Once I am happy with the design, I move to 3D to model it. I always found the result better by starting with a sketch and doing all the mistakes and experimentations first before moving to the technical part – 3D.

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For rendering, my main trick was to buy a new computer from WS.COMPUTER. Having three 4090 GPUs made it much easier to render scenes. I could render 1 or 2 scenes in Cycles in 4K in a day while working on other things. This new machine made me feel I was not challenging it enough, so I could make much bigger 3D scenes. I did the post-processing and edited it in After Effects (yes, it is still possible!).

For most of the scene, I used the sky texture node within Blender Cycles to set up the light and atmosphere. With it, you can also easily add keyframes when you need to animate the sun (for a timelapse sequence, for example). I also used fog in most of the scenes; Blender is one of the fastest software to render fog as far as I know. I haven't done anything particular with the lighting, but a realistic render engine just turns whatever 3D object you have into a beautiful thing! The attention was more on having believable designs and interesting environments.

Conclusion

I started some assets 2/3 years ago, not knowing it would become a film, but I seriously started a year ago when I imported those 3D assets into Blender and animated them. I had the hope to make a film but was not really believing in it. One day, I had 3 or 4 minutes of film and realized I had almost half of the film done! The hardest part was behind me, confidence started to come in, and I just had to finish it.

To think big can be very intimidating. Starting very small instead and letting the magic slowly happen is maybe easier to start a project. And many ideas will pop into your head while creating your projects; don’t be shy to grab and use them!

Paul Chadeisson, Freelance Concept Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    Fantastic job Paul! Great material and breakdowns! It would have been great to see some more in-depth technical stuff as well such as Paul's kitbashing and terrain sculpting workflows he did an outstanding job on in this film. But it's a great material and inspiration anyways! Thanks a lot!

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·5 months ago·

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