INTERN BLOG: Jumping into a 360 production

Hey! Sarah here, reporting for duty.

I’m originally from a film school in Belgium, but had the opportunity to be an intern here at Sliced Bread for just over a month as part of my Bachelor’s Degree in 3D modelling and animation.

Before arriving, I had no idea how big of a company Sliced Bread was or wasn’t, and no idea what I would be asked to do. Turns out I would be in a neat studio with the core team of five people who make the magic happen. I was lucky enough to arrive in the middle of the pre-production stage of two 360 projects, and to see the project transition from concept to reality (virtual reality, even).

My training in 3D is a pretty generalist one, so I knew a bit of everything, but not much of anything in depth.

So, I got thrown into deep research immediately, to understand for myself what VR and 360 films were, and the more interesting part: How to make one? With a mix of instinct, pre-existing knowledge, tutorials and deep-internet dive, I slowly got an idea of what I was up against.

Virtual Reality is really coming to the front of the stage at the moment, and it was really interesting to see all the amazing things it allows us to do, and also realise the limits of a VR production.

If you haven’t already watched Sliced Bread’s video on How To Make A 360 Video, here are the basics. When working in 360, you can’t cheat. You need to think about making every single corner of your environment exciting, because you can’t predict where the viewer will want to look. Your renders will be made using spherical cameras, that basically give you a stretched-out version of a 3D space (like a flat world map).

Bedroom_Colored_01_HD_beauty

You can do 360 video in monoscopic view (only one “flat” image), or in stereoscopic view, which requires two spherical cameras mimicking two eyes, to allow a better feel of depth in your 360 space. The renders also have to be of high resolution quality, because when you put on the VR glasses, you’re pretty much zoomed into your scene. If you want a 4K resolution with the glasses on, the original “stretched-out” renders have to be even bigger. As I said: no cheating!

MODELLING

My main task here at Sliced Bread Animation was to model the majority of the props for one of the two 360 projects. The goal was to achieve a “Pixar-y” look, where the props are pretty much realistic, but the character is more stylised and cartoon-esque.

I started with the medical props, which are a big part of the animation. They had to be accurate and usable by the animator. I then started modelling the bedroom and the main props based on a concept made by another member of the team. We were looking at a cosy student bedroom; lived-in, comfy and not too big.

Here’s the thing though; one try with the VR glasses and we soon realised that the room felt way too small and cramped in 360. From that point, the goal was to find the right balance. Make the bedroom bigger, but also make it more busy. More space means more props.

Here is where we got before I finished my internship:

Lights_360_corrected

ARNOLD

New technology also meant newest rendering solutions. Arnold Rendering has been around for a few years already, but the transition from VRay or MentalRay sometimes takes a bit of time to get used to. Arnold allows physically accurate lighting, which was Sliced Bread were looking for.

I was surprised how quickly you can achieve decent lighting with Arnold, just by following their tutorials. Of course it’s never as easy as it seems, but I was able to run some tests on materials and studio lighting and achieved some cool results.

I was not in charge of lighting of course, but being included in such a project did allow me to discover more about that side of 3D and rendering.

render_bedroom02_sv

shaders_test_04

WHAT I LEARNED

Aside from the technical side of things, I learned a lot of the “behind-the-scenes” of a project just by observing how the team managed two big projects at once, from pre-production to full-power production. I learned that regular check-ups with clients and art directors are very important to make sure the project is heading the right direction. Setting yourself direct deadlines every week to have something to show the client is motivating and rewarding, and also helps to avoid any misunderstandings that might become apparent further down the line.

It was also interesting to see a whole new dynamic unfold as the weeks went by and the office filled in bit by bit with professionals in lighting, rendering, modelling and animating. Having new people coming in specifically for a project and putting in a common effort to make it the best it can be was really inspiring. It also reminded me how important it is to not be set in your ways in this industry. Being able to work in a new workflow, and depend on multiple people whose techniques might not resemble yours may be the greatest asset you can bring to the table. I mean, skills are a good thing, too. 

Although I will not see the finished projects, I have no doubt everyone here will accomplish wonders. High standards, always! Sliced Bread, I’ll see you around!