Earlier this year, at the 18th annual Visual Effects Society gala, Autodesk presented the VES Student Award to a team of young filmmakers from the German Film Academy Baden-Württemberg – Pascal Schedlbli, Marc Angele, Tina Vest, Noel Winzen and Aleksandra Todorovic – for their short film The Beauty, a surreal glimpse into a dystopian aquatic future, where the ocean’s abundance of plastic waste has become integrated into marine life in beautiful and disturbing ways.
The filmmakers agreed to share their time with us and answer some questions about their project, beginning with its conception. They were motivated by pressing environmental concerns, particularly the “massive plastic pollution” currently plaguing our oceans, which have become de facto receptacles for bottles, bags, tires, and all manner of single-use plastic. But they didn’t want to take the common approach of inducing guilt in their audiences with endless shots of the damage plastic waste has wreaked on ocean life. Rather, they wanted to imagine what the ocean might look like “if plastic could be integrated into sea life, and nature would solve the problem by itself.” But after luring audiences into this dreamlike vision, the film ends, the illusion is burst, and we are left to realize “that we need to change something.”
"We need to change something."
That dreamlike effect doesn’t happen by accident. Viewers of The Beauty are immediately struck by its photorealistic visuals and the seamless combinations of natural environments with imagined sea life. Naturally, we wanted to know how this was achieved. “The best decision we made,” the team told us, “was to shoot the stuff on location in Egypt. We discovered so much about the rules and physics of underwater environments, and garnered so much reference footage that we could always rely on down the line.” But the real challenge was envisioning non-existent creatures, made of recognizable plastic parts, and bringing them to life. “The pufferfish, for example, was a hard one,” they allowed. “We needed to model geometry in Maya for every single bubble, which then received an IOR for air. This way, we were able to precisely control every element in the shader.”
All of this hard work and skill doesn’t materialize out of anything. The men and women behind The Beauty were quick to credit the Baden-Württemberg film academy, for which this short film was their final project, for preparing them for the rigors of the industry. “In more or less five years of study,” they said, “you don’t just improve your skills. You learn a lot about the industry and what kind of mindset you need to succeed, so you’re well prepared once you graduate.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an internationally acclaimed, award-winning short film on your resume either. “That’s the sweet part,” they admitted to us, “after all the work, all of the blood and tears we put into this project.”
We didn’t want to leave them without securing some advice for current students looking to enter the industry with as much success as they have. “It might sound like common advice, but have a clear goal and focus on it. Focus on your main skills and work on them as much as you can,” they told us. The process is long and hard, and progress isn’t always noticeable, but in a film like The Beauty, it’s on full display, for the world to see.
They also had some advice for the rest of us, industry insiders, and casual viewers alike: “reduce your reliance on single-use plastic and be mindful every time you go to the supermarket.” We couldn’t agree more, and we’re happy to spotlight their incredible film and its important message.
The Beauty was created using Autodesk Maya and Arnold.
Take a look at the making of The Beauty