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You are here: Homepage /  inHouse /  Behind the Screenz / Sebastien Laban
Sebastien Laban
 
 
Posted: Jul 24, 2007
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Maya
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Artist Profile

Interview

The Area:
Sebastien, I watched your video "Running Away" again and again and was blown away by it every time.
Sebastien:
Thank you. I'm really glad you like it. I really appreciate your feedback, especially after having worked alone for that long and that hard on one film.
The Area:
You are just 22 and show so much talent. Just the style and camera angles alone say so much about your abilities. How long did you spend creating this video?
Sebastien:
"Running Away" took me a year, from the very beginning (coming up with the plot and preliminary sketches) to the end (making the website). Pre-production took five months, from July 2003 to November 2003. That's when I worked on the core of the project: the script, sketches, and storyboard. Not to mention wading through books and interviews to research animation, optimized modeling, rigging and skinning, lighting and rendering, workflow, and so on.

Then from December 2003 to February 2004, I started modeling the characters, props and sets. I also did tests working with Maya Cloth and rigging and skinning my characters. In addition I made a 3D layout (with low-res models of all the characters) to work on the editing and the global flow of the movie.

Last but definitely not least, from March 2004 to July 2004, I worked on the nuts and bolts of the production (skinning and rigging, texturing, shading, animation, lighting and rendering, compositing, sounds, and website (www.awayproject.fr.st).
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The Area:
I understand you made this video as a school project?
Sebastien:
My school is Arts Appliqu's Bellecour, located in the center of Lyon, France. It specializes in architecture, design, communication and 3D animation.

My professors and classmates were at first apprehensive about my taking on such a big project alone. In class, we are typically assigned two films for the year. But I didn't want to have to focus on two films-I wanted to make one big one. So last year during the holidays I started pre-production work (finding the storyline, designing the characters and environments, and so on). When school started, I marched into the principal's office with all my research and motivation and convinced him to let me do just this one film. He had seen a short film I made the year before and liked it very much, so he trusted me and gave me the green light.
The Area:
How did you come up with the concept for the story?
Sebastien:
The story is pretty simple. I take two characters and make them chase each other so I can show off a wide array of artistic and technical effects. Basically, I wanted to make a short film to use as an animated showreel to use to find jobs in the industry. So I kept the concept simple so I could focus on the effects. I used the same concept last year for my first film, called "The Release." For that one I used 2D photographs on which I composited 3D animated elements.
The Area:
Did you have full control over the entire animation?
Sebastien:
Yes I did, and that was very exciting and fascinating for me. I had so many opportunities to get my hands on every aspect of production. The biggest thing I learned is that pre-production is a key part of the process. You need to fix every potential problem right away and try to foresee the problems you'll be faced with. Organizing, classifying, simplifying, and naming a project might seem useless at the beginning, but once you are in the middle of the production you are glad that everything is exactly in place and correctly named. It will win you some precious hours.
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The Area:
You've managed to reproduce a subtle atmosphere in every scene, not to mention the juxtaposition between 'warm' and 'cold' scenes. And then there is the beautiful aerial sequence in the clouds and through the fields with that amazing radiant sunlight. It's very cinematic and I believe that you've created drama with so many contrasting scenes. What were your influences for all this?
Sebastien:
My school didn't teach cinematography, but that didn't matter considering that I look everywhere to find inspiration (the internet, books, interviews, and so on). Plus I love to watch and analyze films. Film has been my passion for a long time now, so it was simply a thrill to discover things on my own.

I'm a big fan of director Michael BAY, who uses such effects perfectly in his own unique way. He really likes to play with contrasting shots on sequences. He's often criticized that his feature films have no real story, but graphically I believe he is one of the most breathtaking cinematographers (along with Ridley SCOTT and my favorite Steven SPIELBERG who is much more subtle).
The Area:
Are they your favorite cinematographers, then?
Sebastien:
I like Michael BAY for his visuals and the rhythm he creates in a movie, James CAMERON for what BAY already has plus his ambition, and lastly Steven SPIELBERG for what BAY and CAMERON already have plus his magic.
The Area:
There are so many small details in the video. For example, the small glint from the airplane as it flies across the fields, the cloud of birds escaping from the thundering propeller. Not many people would pay attention to such small pieces of reality.
Sebastien:
I believe it's special details like these that make a film something more than average. As I said before, I like to analyze films. I dissect them, watching them over and over and over to find subtle elements. When you watch a film for the first time, you miss a lot of detail on a conscious level, but your mind probably still picks up the detail on a subconscious level. So when I'm watching a film for the first time, I'm much more interested by the look of the film than by the story itself.
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The Area:
Did you use Maya exclusively for "Running Away"?
Sebastien:
I used Discreet 3ds Max for part of the modeling and pre-layout, because I was more comfortable with it. But the rest of the production (including modeling, 3D layout, texturing, rigging and skinning, shading, lighting, rendering, visual effects) was done with Maya.
The Area:
Did you know Maya prior to attending school?
Sebastien:
I worked with Discreet 3ds Max since Version 4 on MS-DOS, but I had wanted to switch to Maya for a long time because it is used more and more in the cinema industry where I want to be. So last year, at the beginning of pre-production, I took a risk and decided to make the jump to Maya even though I didn't know anything about it. I so don't regret the move!
The Area:
Did you use cloth simulation at any point?
Sebastien:
Yes, I used Maya Cloth to simulate the dynamics for the boy's shirt and the pants. Although the calculation was quite fast, I've done some tests and tried to optimize my mesh with two skins. The first skin (the visible one with all the details) was used for rendering and the second skin (hidden and much simpler) was used to simulate the cloth collisions.
The Area:
The interior of the house is very warm and inviting, with subtle texturing and lighting. Were you taught these techniques at school?
Sebastien:
My courses were mostly technical (how to extrude a mesh, create a car with NURBS, and so on). There was no course on how to light up a scene, but I didn't care. I studied lighting on my own and watched and analyzed films, read books (Digital Lighting & Rendering by Jeremy BIRN is a great starting point), and studied interviews from cinematographers. Janusz KAMINSKI, John SCHWARTZMAN and John MATHIESON are three cinematographers who really inspired me in this area.
The Area:
How did you create the clouds?
Sebastien:
The clouds are a mixture of fluids (for the big ones and when there is a camera movement that requires volumetric clouds), Paint Effects (for the static ones or those requiring almost no perspective deformation), matte painting (for the ones in the background) as well as compositing (for the subtle ones-very light haze, for example)
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The Area:
And what about the greenery?
Sebastien:
The trees were mostly done with Paint Effects, sometimes with additional 2D plates in the background.
The Area:
Did you use the same model for all the soldiers in the animation?
Sebastien:
Yes, I did. I used features like character sets, the trax editor and the animation clip to make the animation a lot easier. Everything was so simple after I finished character sets for all the characters. I could copy/paste/save animation tracks, blend them and make them loop so easily.
The Area:
Which renderer did you use?
Sebastien:
I first thought I could use mental ray but after lots of tests, I decided to use the native Maya renderer because it gave much more artistic freedom - it is so much faster for non-hyper-realistic rendering. Besides, it is very stable and optimized. If I needed a new layer for compositing, I just set up the scene and the render and 30 minutes later I had my image sequence, even while I was still working on the compositing. I don't remember ever having to wait for a render to complete without being able to work on something else, mostly compositing. It's very comfortable to work in these conditions when you aren't losing time. You can be very productive.
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The Area:
Did you have access to a render farm at the school?
Sebastien:
Although I had access to a render farm, I never had to use it. At the very beginning of the production, I tried to optimize every object, set and character so that I could work faster, both for real-time pre-visualization in Maya and for rendering heavy scenes. Everything in "Running Away" was rendered on my own personal computer (a P4 3Ghz with 2GB RAM).
The Area:
You give special thanks to Jason Schleifer. What was his contribution to this project?
Sebastien:
Jason never worked on "Running Away," but I attended two of his Maya Master Classes ("Integrating a Creature Animation Rig within a Production Pipeline" and "Fast Animation Rig"). Those two classes were priceless for me to gather tips and tricks and professional advice. I took a lot of notes. I really don't think I could have made this animated short without Jason's expert advice.

As I knew nothing about animation in Maya or the right way to handle a complex scene going into his courses, Jason indirectly helped me with the film. And I would really love to thank him for that.
The Area:
There are sketches on your website of other characters that I don't see in the animation. Who are they?
Sebastien:
I made a complete storyline, sketching every character and environment. But when I realized it was impossible to complete the project by myself in one year, I decided to cut the animation in half and focus on the first part. Thus some of the characters-the ones from the second part I cut-never made it into the film.
The Area:
Do you think people in France take 3D seriously or is it still an emerging discipline, especially when compared to traditional fine arts studies?
Sebastien:
I guess France is quite new to 3D, so it is considered more a toy that anything else. People in France don't yet understand the purpose of 3D. It's very frustrating. But it seems that they are finally beginning to see all the potential for this technology.
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The Area:
What are your plans for the future, Sebastien?
Sebastien:
I'm working now as a Cinematographer and Visual Effects Artist at a video game company called EDEN GAMES for ATARI. I'm also about to start preproduction with a college friend of mine on a new short film with live action plates.

But eventually I'd like to go to the United States, Canada or Australia to work on feature films as Director of Photography.
The Area:
Thanks for your time and all the best to you in your future endeavours, Sebastien!
Sebastien:
Thank you very much. It has been a pleasure!
Comments
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Posted by Mohamed Almonajed on Jan 14, 2009 at 03:34 PM
SUPERB.....
Posted by new moon on Oct 13, 2008 at 05:35 PM
很强!
Posted by sujongye on Sep 20, 2008 at 04:12 AM
pretty good