Project Cyber Kicks
3D Concept Art presents project Cyber Kicks. A project interview with Kris Theorin about the making of his personal vision on a pulse-pounding foot chase through a neon-drenched cyberpunk city. 3D Concept Art presents a special projects interview about the personal project Cyber Kicks.
| 3D Concept Art: Tell us about your starting idea, how was it born and what was your main goal?
| Kris Theorin: → When starting this project, my goal was to create something wholly different than what I’ve done before. My usual short-form projects often feature cartoony characters in whimsical scenarios. They’re also not nearly as action-packed as Cyber Kicks. So I wanted to try something in a more realistic, but still slightly stylized, aesthetic. I also wanted to challenge myself by making a 3D short that was longer than any of my 3D shorts before it. Where previous shorts have ranged anywhere from twenty seconds to a minute, this film was aiming to be around two minutes. It was still by no means a long film, but when you’re doing 3D (especially by yourself), every second takes time.
The idea came from my desire to make a music video in 3D. I had seen a few similar videos online that we’re able to utilize crazy camera angles and awesome action shots because they were done in 3D. I have made a few music videos in the past, but always either in live-action or stop motion. So it’s a lot more limiting and costs a lot more to create. So starting with the song itself, I created the story beats around it. When the song went into a more tense moment, I added that into the story. When it dropped into the bridge, I made that a long-running sequence. Being able to craft the story around the ups and downs of the music made creating the structure of the video a lot easier than I had started with no frame of reference to work with.
| 3CA: How much of your time went to R&D during this project?
| K.T: → What was great about using motion capture for all the animation in this project is that I’ve been slowly refining my motion capture workflow over the last three years. Each one of my projects that came before used motion capture in some way, and that allowed me to work out all the issues as well as taught me a few more tips and tricks along the way. So when it came time to work on this film, I already had a lot of the knowledge that I might need going forward. Any additional R&D (such as learning how to stick motion capture feet to the floor) happened on a shot-by-shot basis. So instead of spending my time trying to anticipate what issues might need solving before animation began, I waited until a certain shot called for that fix. It’s a different way to work, but I find it helps me keep the momentum of the project going.
| 3CA: Modeling the character concepts, what was the most challenging part when trying to convey the futuristic look to make them fit your environment?
| K.T: → The most challenging aspect was when it came time to texture them. With their clothing, I wanted to convey a sort of hybrid look. So not quite futuristic, but also not something modern. The challenge was finding something subtle enough so that it didn’t jump out at the viewer and end up distracting them. But if I made it too subtle, then the clothes just look flat. In the end, I found that a combination of hexagon patterns and some fancy metallic highlights added that subtle, yet futuristic look I was going for and you can end up seeing this pattern somewhere on everyone’s clothing.
| 3CA: Did you use any digital assets library for the environment etc. etc?
| K.T: → Yep! To save time, I relied on pre-built assets quite a bit for the backgrounds. Kitbash3D’s cyberpunk buildings were invaluable for this project and it’s one of the reasons I decided to do a cyberpunk world. That being said, for things like the buildings, the cars, and the signs, there was still a lengthy period of having to take all these assets and convert them into a more photorealistic style using my Redshift shaders. That involved making everything look wet and shiny to match the cyberpunk aesthetic I was going for. Had I tried to model everything myself, I imagine this project would have taken closer to six months instead of two (if it ever got done at all)!
| 3CA: Did you use any previs and why?
| K.T: → Absolutely! After finding the song, I went through and created a rough animatic while planning out the story. This gave me a good sense of how everything flowed and how many shots I needed to create. It also made the process of coming up with the story that much easier. For this animatic, I didn’t plan things out in a linear fashion. Instead, I would go to the parts of the song I had a clear idea for and create the shots for that section. Then I would find another part of the song and do the same for that. Then it was just a matter of connecting the dots between these two different moments. So figuring out a way for the character to get from one story beat to another. It was certainly a more unusual approach, but for music videos at least, I think it’s a great way to work.
| 3CA: What type of motion capture equipment did you use for the short? And what was the most challenging with it?
| K.T: → I used the Perception Neuron V2 from Noitom. I’ve had this suit for many years now and while it’s a good suit for stationary motion capture, it can struggle with the more action-heavy elements. So for shots where characters run around and do flips, I would rely on motion capture clips from places like Mixamo. And for action scenes I did myself, I would just do a lot of takes until I found one that had the least number of glitches. Then it was just a matter of doing some mild cleanup. It’s always a good thing not to rely on just one tool (or mocap suit in this case) since everything has its strengths and weaknesses. With my mocap suit, for example, it was excellent at getting the more nuanced character moments that I couldn’t find clips for online. While the Mixamo clips were better at capturing the more kinetic movements needed for the short.
| 3CA: Did you use any key-frame animation?
| K.T: → Nope! I’ve always struggled with human animation in the past and since this short required extensive amounts of it, it just wouldn’t be feasible to try my hand at it. Plus, keyframed animation just takes much longer than doing motion capture. It gives you a much cleaner and more precise look, but time is the big tradeoff with that. And being the only person working on this project, I had to juggle all aspects of production. So focusing on just animation would have sucked up most of the production time.
| 3CA: Which tools did you use for the short, and why?
| K.T: → The most important programs I used on this short were Cinema 4D and Redshift. Cinema 4D has been my go-to 3D software for ten years now. It’s very user-friendly and has a set of tools that make working in a 3D scene much easier to do. Redshift was by far the most important tool I used on this short. It was used to render out every scene of the animation and its speed allowed for a super quick and efficient workflow. Not only that, but the fact that Redshift can use memory outside of the GPU itself allowed for much larger scenes than what I might have been able to do on other renderers.
| 3CA: The project sometimes gets bigger than expected, what were the biggest challenges and what changed your vision during the project, is that something that you would like to change now?
| K.T: → Projects certainly do get bigger than expected! I started out hoping to make a one-minute music video and ended up with something closer to two minutes and significantly bigger in scope than expected. The biggest challenge was simply dealing with the complexity of it all. More specifically, how to deal with the most complex action shots of the film. Such as the fifteen-second, unbroken running sequence halfway through the short. I saved this shot for last simply because I had no idea how I was going to do it when I started animating. But luckily, working on smaller shots first gave me the skills I needed to tackle bigger ones. For example, near the end of production, I learned how to string motion capture clips together to create a long sequence of acrobatics that wouldn’t have been achievable using a single clip or using my motion capture suit. This was integral to the long-running shot that I had been dreading for so long.
One thing that changed during pre-production was simply how long the short was going to be what might happen during it. Since the song was only so long, I had to cut some sections that I had envisioned early on. Such as a third “power” for the shoe which would have been something like anti-gravity. The runner would have leaped off a building and instead of falling, she would have floated up through the air. However, this just didn’t seem to flow as well in the short and took up too much time in the end. In the end, I’m glad I kept it to two “powers” though. I think for something this short, the fact that we get to see the girl learn about both powers and then use these powers to escape from the police in new and creative ways is something I’m proud of.
| 3CA: What is your advice when it comes to making this type of project?
| K.T: → For complex projects like this one, I highly recommend splitting it into smaller and smaller chunks. Then grouping those chunks into different levels of difficulty. Then just work your way through the easy chunks, then the medium chunks, and finally do the hardest chunks last. For me, this translated to doing all the easy shots first. Such as shots of the girl standing around, closeups of feet, etc. I then moved onto the slightly more difficult shots. Such as characters running around, jumping, etc. And finally, after learning all I could from doing those easy and medium shots, I tackled the hardest shots of all. But because I saved them for last, I was able to use the tricks I learned along the way to finally get them done. And that’s something that would have only been possible had I saved them for the very end.
3D Concept Art Community thanks Kris Theorin for this interview about her project Cyber Kicks. Where he shares his knowledge and shows what a passionate artist is.
Credits: Directed, Animated, Edited, Sound Designed by Kris Theorin. “Up All Night” by Midnight Riot provided by Musicbed. Character Design and Modeling by Kris Theorin. Additional Models from KitBash3D, CGTrader, and TurboSquid.
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