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Souverein: Creatively Evolving
 
 
Posted: Dec 04, 2012
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Maya
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The Area:
Souverein is a group of creative individuals based out of Netherlands, who are specializing in ad work that spans everything from photography and fine art printing, to 3D CGI and image manipulation. Some of their clients include international advertising agency TWBANeboko, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, IGN Bank, Nike and Panasonic. A look at their portfolio shows a diverse range in style, aesthetic, and tone -- all of which demonstrate their experience and ability to address and satisfy unique client demands. Which leads us to the question -- how long has Souverein been doing creative imagery?
Ad:
Souverein has been around for quite some time, having different areas of expertise and adapting to the changing market depending on the requirements of the time.
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We started out as a photostudio (developing and printing color and black and white-photography) in 1956. Afterwards we developed different analogue techniques for manipulating photography by hand. Once the first Paintboxes arrived (one of the first computers that could be used to manipulate images) Souverein pioneered in mastering the art of digital manipulation which has since then always been one of our specialties.

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As director, I have always been a supporter of technological development that allowed for better and more beautiful work, so I started looking into using 3D as a way of expanding our creativity. Starting out with one of the first incarnations of Maya, I devoted resources and energy to a small group of people who researched the possibilities that Maya offered for stills. Over the years, Souverein has slowly been developing it's 3D skills and finding the best way it could be integrated into high resolution photography.

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The last few years our main focus has been to use 3D, Photoshop and digital photography to expand the borders of our creativity, so we could handle any job thrown at us no matter how challenging it was!

The Area:
With established brands like Nike and Panasonic, how do you secure contracts with them (via agencies, personal contacts, etc.) and is there competition in Netherlands making it more difficult to win contracts these days? (eg. other Dutch studios, independent artists, outsourcing, etc.)
Ad:
Competition is quite fierce and has grown even fiercer over the last few years. Since the world has grown a lot smaller with faster internet and social media, competition is now also on a global scale. But we do not see this as a problem, but more as a challenge to become better at our job, using the internet to our advantage and show our work to the world!
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We get new jobs through agencies, by brands like Nike contacting us directly or by clients finding out about us through our internet exposure and contacting us.

The Area:
For your 3D CG ad work, Maya is your primary content creation tool. What was the reason in choosing Maya over other 3D packages?
Fedde:
Maya is a fantastic package because it is a great all-round product. Since we are a rather small company and our CG team has to be able to take on all kinds of challenges, we can use Maya to tackle them all!
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The inclusion of Mental Ray (which we use as our primary render engine), paint effects (a great tool that has many uses) and the fact that Maya allows for very expansive scripting (creating our own tools, etc), makes it the package of choice for us!

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The Area:
What is the size of your CG team (and studio overall) and what kind of hardware are you running on?
Fedde:
Our CG team consists of 3 permanent specialists that are supported by a bigger team of Photoshop experts and illustrators. When necessary we hire freelancers or smaller companies to aid us in larger projects.
Both our CG and Photoshop teams use powerful multi-processor Macs with quite a lot of RAM.
The Area:
For the games industry, there are restrictions that artists have to work with (polycount, texture resolution, etc.). Are there restrictions that you have to address when working on print ad work?
Fedde:
Because we usually focus on only a single high resolution frame, we have more freedom with textures and polygon count then people who work with games or animations. However we do try to optimize our scenes and textures as much as possible so our render times stay as low as possible, since we often have very tight deadlines and time is a valuable resource.
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The Area:
Let's talk about working with clients -- obviously, it's very much so a back-and-forth iterative process. In the case of print ad work, what are the turnarounds like?
Ad:
This differs a lot to be honest. Sometimes we have to create very complex visuals in only a few days because of a very tight deadline but at other times we have a bit longer. For most complex projects we have like one to two weeks. The main problem is that we often have multiple projects running at the same time, requiring a lot of planning and spreading the workload efficiently.
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The Area:
Some ads are a mix of photography and photo manipulation, others are 100% CG. Can you describe the creation process for both?
Fedde:
For simple visuals (whether it is a combination of 3d and photography or purely 3d) we usually have a talk with the client about what they want, do a bit of research on the subject and propose how we want to achieve this.
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Then we make a rough sketch (often with a crude 3D model) to show our client which way we are heading. If they like our proposal we continue building our 3D models (and retouching the photography in case of a project that combines photography and 3D).

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After this we texture, shade and light our 3D scene we create some low resolution renders and head over to post to sit down with our Photoshop specialists and start working on the integration. Most of the time we require some more editing of our 3D assets to improve the integration by changing the lighting and shading a bit. After this we create our high resolution renders and our Photoshop guys finish the visual by blending 3D and photography together. In case of a pure CG image this often means color correcting and some retouching to increase the quality.

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More complex visuals require a more thought-out process and most of the time includes extensive sketching sessions to develop and visualise the concept and models. After this we move on to creating crude 3D models that can be approved. Once this is done we move on to high-res modelling, texturing, shading and then lighting the scenes/models. Before we create our high-res renders (these days around 8k to 9k), we create lower resolution renders for client approval and seeing how everything works out in post. Once the final renders are done we move on to post and finish the visual.

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The Area:
Skyscraper Skateboarding is a cool image; who was the ad created for? Did you work with a reference image and rebuild parts of buildings, or is the environment entirely 3D?
Ad:
The visual was created as an ad for Shaun White Skateboarding (the game) in order of the Dutch photographer Jaap Vliegenthart. He shot the main photo on top of a skyscraper in the US. We then created and replaced all the building fronts where we wanted the ramps (which means we replaced most fronts). They were created by re-creating the fronts of the original building in 3D with the help of reference photography and then deforming them and adding damaged concrete, metal, etc.
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The Area:
The ramps of the building are very nicely integrated -- can you talk about the shaders and rendering setup that were used to produce this realistic result?
Fedde:
We always use the Mental Ray Architectural shaders for most of our projects, because they allow for very extensive and fine control over the materials. By texturing the color, reflectivity, glossiness, and bump channels we recreated the specific feeling of all the buildings materials. We created high resolution textures in Photoshop based on reference images. We always work with exposure nodes connected to our cameras to allow for a linear workflow and thus have a realistic lighting setup. For lighting we used a directional light combined with an HDRI sphere and Final Gather.
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The Area:
And as an entirely different style, Flowers in the Rain is created entirely in 3D. What did you use to create all the little hairs on the flower stem and for placement?
Fedde:
We used Maya’s own fur system applied to the stems of the flowers for the little hairs. With a very thin width and high transparency values they have a very soft feel to them. We didn’t render them as a separate pass but included them in the main beauty render to get a good integration.
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The Area:
What about the geometry; NURBS or polys? And textures were hand painted or scanned/reference image?
Fedde:
The flowers themselves were created in polygons and the textures of the flower petals scanned from real flower leaves that were then edited in Photoshop.
The Area:
How many emitters did you use to generate that water spraying/misting effect?
Fedde:
We created only one big emitter that rained down the particles on the flowers, with all the particles dying when they left the area visual to the camera. The particles had a threshold applied to them to create irregular shapes.
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The Area:
Speaking of plants -- are the plants and rockface 3D in the Statoil Socket ad series?
Ad:
We could have, but for this visual the plants and rockface were created by taking different photographs and combining them all together in post. We did recreate parts of the surrounding area to allow for good reflections and shadow casting.
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The Area:
What was the turnaround time for the 3-part ad series?
Ad:
The turnaround time was about 3-4 weeks or so for all three together, but this included a lot of back and forth sending of different versions trying to figure out what the sockets should look like...
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The Area:
The Nike Red Laces campaign -- did you physically tie 2 shoelaces and string that out as reference :)? and is that a procedural shader applied on the threading part of the lace?
Fedde:
We didn’t tie actual laces, no, but we did check if it would be possible to tie the laces like this and checked where the tension would be, how the laces should twist and turn, etc. It was quite a project figuring it out, but we wanted it to be possible in real life :)
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The texture used for the threading was not a procedural texture but was created from a photo we took of actual laces. We created reflectivity, color and displacement textures and applied them to a Mental Ray subsurface shader (since the laces were made from a very translucent material).

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The Area:
So what are you guys working on currently?
Ad:
We recently finished a nice looking visual for McDonalds in which a Happy Meal consists purely of tomatoes and some pineapple! Another one is the train station powered by Statoil, which required quite a lot of complex integration in post. At the moment we are working on quite a few big projects at the moment, including quite a large series of very detailed visuals completely created in CG. We are very excited about these and will post them once we can, but at the moment we unfortunately cannot talk about them :)
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The Area:
Will you ever venture out from print ad work...to perhaps do some TV spots or provide CG/VFX work for series and movies?
Ad:
We occasionally create small animations for internet and television if a client asks for it or if the stills we work on also need an animated counterpart. But our main focus at the moment lies on high resolution quality stills and the integration between 3d and photography, but who knows!

Thank you, everyone at Souverein -- we'll keep an eye out for your next piece!

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Posted by LoveFest on Dec 25, 2012 at 07:35 PM
really cool.
Posted by Gaurav Nag on Dec 06, 2012 at 10:06 AM
_O)(..

Very impressive work. Hope u guys will continue these gr8 Addiction of Art..
Posted by SuSp3nce on Dec 05, 2012 at 03:12 PM
awesome work