Project OFF

3D Concept Art presents, OFF. A graduation CGI film interview with Martin Nabelek, he is from Prague, Czech Republic. He created with help of a friend, Michal Chrastina, a huge amount of ideas for his graduation film OFF. Martin Nabelek, is a Director and a CGI Generalist and created his short as a Animation (BA) student at Tomas Bata University in Zlin.

3D Concept Art presents a special projects interview about OFF.

Project OFF
| 3D Concept Art: Tell us about your starting idea, how was it born and what was your main goal?

| Martin Nabelek: → Since my childhood, I’ve been always interested in science and space exploration. When I was given the task to create my graduation film, I’ve already knew that I wanted to go this direction. Then I’ve spent a year preparing myself for the project, researching, creating concepts besides work. To help me bear with this part I’ve teamed up with my friend Michal Chrastina. We’ve spent enormous time brainstorming, discussing and producing a huge amount of ideas together.

My main goal was to make the film fully CGI – to get as much experience as possible, learn a ton of new things and push my skills further. A secondary goal was to create an abstract and surreal piece, giving the audience opportunity to find their individual interpretation and meaning of the visuals.

| 3CAAs you progressed with your storyline, which is a difficult part. The difficulties you faced, what were them? Is there any underlying personal meaning?

| M.N: → Well, developing the storyline was one of the most difficult parts itself. The worst obstacle was jumping between creative/writing work and actual execution. After few initial proof-of-concept tests and pitching at school, I’ve realized that my script was too complicated to be done on my own in such a short time. To start from scratch was, therefore, the best idea. With the beginning of 2016 I’ve started writing again on my own, using the ideas from the previous brainstorming sessions, looking for simplicity and balance between content and the possibility of delivering it within my resources and skills.

Firstly, I had a lot of theories and conceptual ideas regarding the meaning of particular elements of the film. However, during the production I’ve encountered plenty of difficulties, which eventually led me to rework certain parts and “adapt” them to the technical part, which of course had some negative impact on the overall story.

| 3CA: During the time you spent working on the concepts and what should be on the different shots, what did inspire you? What initialize the process of creation of the concepts and why an astronaut and “aircraft artifact stone”?

| M.N: → Inspiration came from many different places. From science and it’s phenomena to philosophy, metaphysics, psychology and many other fields, I’ve found quite a lot of inspiring ideas in psychology books, such as Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy, or some particularly interesting philosophical bits from Milan Kundera’s book “unbearable lightness of being”. The main inspiration kicked in after listening to Lorn’s album Vessel, which immediately brought up a lot of visual sensations in my mind, connecting them with my previous thoughts and concepts.

Especially with his track Anvil I was able to imagine this alien world very realistically and full of excitement put these moments into the style-frames – guiding me through the rest of the production. Why an astronaut and the monument? I would rather let the viewer search for the meaning individually and find their own connections.

Project OFF
| 3CA: For the environment, did you use any satellite data or was it a random type of terrain you sculpted/modeled and which tools did you use?

| M.N: → For the environment development, I’ve gathered quite a lot of references to various interesting places on earth to get inspired and study their essential characteristics. Then, the terrain was generated in Worldmachine, exported as a displacement map and the rest was just pure experimentation with different materials and textures until I’ve got the look I was satisfied with.

| 3CA:  When working with such big fields of terrain in several shots? what was your process when trying to achieve an adequate texture resolution and a believability to those terrains?

| M.N: → It’s important to say that my process was far from being correct or very effective, but due to the tight schedule, I had to use anything I’ve got. Most of the work was done with the large scale terrain, which I’ve “trimmed” (deleting parts not visible to camera) accordingly to each shot. The Same terrain was also used for closeup shots and for the horizon set extensions I’ve duplicated the same landscape with various rotations as a background. To get more details in the areas close to the camera, I’ve subdivided such parts manually so the displacement was more detailed. Because of the limited time, I’ve also realized that creating the most of the environment in render was surprisingly faster, rather than compositing it later in a post.

For textures, I’ve used just a few tileable maps in 2k and 4k, which I’ve processed through Bitmap2Material to get the normal maps for the bump. For the whole terrain, I’ve created a complex shader consisting of these maps, with slight variations in tiling and mixed them together using a lot of 3ds max’s procedural maps, so almost no seams or repetition was visible. This way I could use the same shader for both closeups and wide shots.

| 3CA: As you started your modeling process, what did you find the most difficult to achieve in aspects of finding the realism needed for the space suit?

| M.N: → I’ve got some enormous help with the astronaut character by my talented friends. My girlfriend Miriam ( helped me with the base mesh and my friend Joseph ( made the hard-surface parts so I was able to focus more on the sculpting of the suit and general look dev. In the preproduction, I’ve experimented with dedicated cloth simulation software but the process wasn’t very intuitive so I’ve decided to sculpt the suit manually.

The key was actually to get enough references and stick with them. Some more details of the astronaut modeling can be found in the CG Society article that was published recently.

| 3CA:Did you use any script or anything that facilitated your rigging process as well the painting of weights? Was it any challenges?

| M.N: → I’ve tried few scripts and “auto-rigs”, but ended up with Max’s built in CAT system. The skinning process was done using geodesic voxel solver- very fast and easy way to get the skinning done. Although I was really scared of this part, in the end, it turned out as a relaxing and smoothly going process. Some parts were adjusted but almost the first result was already usable.

Project OFF
| 3CA: The atmospheric effects are great, how did you plan those to be added into those shots and how were you process to create those? For example, the light, in the beginning, hovering the pilot…

| M.N: → Usually, I would start each shot with a look dev in 3D, then sent the still frame along with a camera to After Effects and started adding some atmospheric elements. I’ve repeated this process few times, iterating both 3D and compositing until I was satisfied with the result (within the timeframe for the shot, actually I’m almost never satisfied 😀 ). Since I needed to achieve a strong emotional outcome from the intro – a thunderstorm with rain, the atmospheric effects were a key element to deal with. Sadly, there was no time, nor resources to do some advanced simulations, therefore photographic references and my own procedural generated assets had to do the job being only animated trough particle systems.

For actual volumetric such as the light beam, this was all done in the render. I believe that this is one of the strongest parts of Corona Renderer, since you can get great volumetric effects almost “for free” using just volume material with single bounce scattering. With my friend Ludvik Koutny ( we’ve developed a fairly easy technique to create the giant light beam without the need of compositing it separately – with extremely short render-time.

| 3CA: During the way you worked on your graduation film, you discovered certain things that could be done better, which is were those and would you change it now?

| M.N: → I would say that if I was doing this project again, I would have done everything differently. As the old saying goes – “Jack of all trades, master of none”, taking care of the whole production process took it’s toll on the quality of each individual shot and the film as a whole. And I’m not afraid to say that I’m fully aware of it. On the other hand, I found a very good workflow using Davinci Resolve, which helped me to deal with the project in a very “live” way. Loading storyboards, pre-viz renders, style-frames, EXRs and finished composites in the timeline and checking them in context with the rest in real time was incredibly important and allowed me to quickly test different versions.

| 3CA: What is your advice when it comes to making this type projects and doing those as graduation film?

| M.N: → This project taught me a lot – most importantly to stop being afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone. My advice would be to think big, everything can be simplified later. It’s just crucial to not become limited by one’s skills and experience – after all, this kind of project is usually done to learn new stuff and gather new knowledge. Just forget about tutorials for a while and try to find your own way to achieve desired results, it’s more exciting and creative than you would expect!

3D Concept Art Community thanks Martin Nabelek for this interview about his graduation film OFF. As well, for sharing the difficulties he faced during the development and the finalization. A graduation project and a mission to discover a new world, OFF.


Download poster:


Director, CGI, Animation, Compositing, Editing: Martin Nabelek
Original Concept: Martin Nabelek, Michal Chrastina
Story Supervisor: Lukas Gregor
Additional Modelers: Jozef Dolinak, Miriam Stastna
Texture Artist: Miriam Stastna
Senior VFX Supervisor: Robin Benes
Look Development Supervisor: Ludvik Koutny
Final Color Grading: Petr Kudlacek
Academic Supervision: Lukas Gregor, Ivo Hejcman
Music: “Anvil” by Lorn, from album “Vessel”
Courtesy of Wednesday Sound
License kindly provided by Lorn.


Render Legion s.r.o.
Special Thanks:
Iva Nabelkova
Matej Vazal
Frederik Smal
Adam Hotovy
Ondra Karlik
Hector Ayuso
Tom Grimes
Michael Mizrachi
Created as a graduation film at Tomas Bata University (
Martin Nabelek 2016

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