Christmas in Alsace - Making Of - Part 3

Read how Nicolas Brunet made the beautiful Christmas in Alsace short film
using 3ds Max

Christmas in Alsace 2015 is the fourth film of a series of promotional short films inviting viewers to spend end year's holidays in Alsace. It's a collaboration between Gaylor Morestin (artistic support), Thery Ehrlich (music) and me. The project consists of a poster and 2 films: a 2min50 length version and a 32 seconds long trailer displayed in Paris theatres between October 15th and 25th 2015. This year's theme was 'Christmas tree and its ornaments'. In the last part of this making of I'll come back on the poster creation, rendering and I'll share what I learned during the production of that film.



Step 1: Poster

We sent two proposals to the client, one focused on the great Christmas tree and another more focused on the film itself.

For the selected proposal, Gaylor and I have been working simultaneously on a simple idea, then we pooled our designs together and they look very similar. If the action of the film has been entirely at night time, I would have chosen Gaylor's concept and I'd have added characters like on the final concept of the poster.

After putting main assets and base light set up, Alex Alvarez gave me good feedback and comments I followed to adjust the global colour and mood of the image. In the end, the poster is way more coloured than I initially imagined.

Final poster

Final poster

Poster work in progress

Poster work in progress

Step 2: Rendering environments

The film was entirely rendered in Mental Ray and 3ds Max Scanline render engine. During some preview render, iRay help me to see how the light would react in the scene. It may sounds weird but using iRay engine helped me to better understand final gather and light bounces in Mental Ray.

Taking most of the time to be computed, environments were the first elements to be rendered. When the camera motions weren't too complex, some backgrounds were camera mapped to avoid long render time, sometimes up to 1 week per passes. Example: the 1st shot, all the Christmas market was rendered as a still image and then projected over low poly geometry, this background was then rendered in a few minutes.

All passes from the last shot

Step 3: IBL & final gather

Most of the shots used IBL, photometric lights and final gather with multiple light bounces (up to seven for indoors). Characters also used final gather passes with the FG map write and blend option turned on to give a smooth looking indirect light on the meshes.

I passed time on some lights setup, like the kitchen scene in the middle of the film. Originally there were much more lights in the scene, I finally decided to remove the unnecessary ones to keep a more intimate mood and also lower render time.

The kitchen scene marks a temporal change in the film. As we left Julia in a sunset environment, when we left the 'Bredeles apartment', night is already installed. The film could take place entirely in the night but I did not want to miss the many colours and mood a dawn can offer.

Kitchen shot lighting breakdown

Step 4: Hair rendering

This year I finally had THE workflow to render hair. During the Mental Ray render passes, hair and fur were present but invisible to the camera, only projecting their shadows on other geometries. Hair render passes, one per light rig, were done in Scanline and then composited in the image. Apart from a few crashes in one or two scenes, the method worked until the end of the production.

Hair rendering workflow

Step 5: HDR & Final Gather

The indoors of the houses were lighted by HDR textures. I captured 360° HDR images that I projected on boxy rooms inside the houses models; Final gather handled the rest of the job at render time.

I tried to capture different room colours over my neighbourhood and friends' houses to get a nice colour scheme with subtle variations between models. It's a nice trick to quickly generate indoors lighting and doesn't ask for long render time vs. using photometric lights.

Around 12 HDR images were used for indoors lighting

Around 12 HDR images were used for indoors lighting

Step 6: Music & trailer

A penultimate chapter dedicated to people without whom the project would not have been possible. I'd like to thanks Thery for his participation and availability on the project, he listened to my choices and demands about modifications, we could find compromises and in the end he composed three tracks, one for the film, and another for the trailer and a last for the short version of the film. Another huge thanks to Kevin Rolland who took care of the DCP conversion of the trailer for theatrical release and, in the same time, he shared his knowledge on the subject with me.

DCP check at cinéma Bonne-Garde, Nantes

Step 7: Conclusion

As usual, at the end of a project 'if I had more time I could…' Well, I would improve many things! Such as animations, rigging, etc. But surprisingly, I'm proud of this 2015 edition, which is a rare feeling when I end a commissioned project, maybe because this time, the story and universe was really close to mine. Worst, I feel I can jump on a new short film project right now! (Never forget I'm the kind of guy that love to unwrap 3D meshes)

The main feeling I have after a few months working on this film is 'never work on a huge project like that alone anymore'. 'Christmas in Alsace 2015' was officially my last professional 'one man band' project. I came to the conclusion that it's impossible to handle all the visual aspects alone and make them all to look good when you only have a few months of production, however it gives you a strong will for future projects, you clearly see what skills you need to improve.

Wajdy Aboshkewa, Harald Goetz, Alex Alvarez, and Guillaume Depestèle respectively gave me a hand on modelling, animation and scripting, I'm very thankful for their help!

Finally, despite the delays due to the vagaries of the electricity fairy and crashes during render times, the film contains a few Easter eggs, more or less hidden and personal, I invite you to comment on the video or send me a message, it will be the opportunity to ask me questions if I missed an explanation about the creation of the film.

I'd like to thank 3dtotal for the opportunity they offered to share my work and experience on their website and at last, thanks to all the people that read this making of, I hope you learn some useful things and I'll see you next time on a new project.

Video comparing one of the countless previews and the final film

Video compilation of animations tests, simulations and almost all the WIP images created during the whole production of the film

Related links

Click here is you missed part 1
Missed part 2? You can read it here
Head over to Nicolas's website to see more of his amazing work
Want more 3ds Max tutorials? Why not check out our eBooks for inspiration
Check out our latest Kickstarter project here

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