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Interview: how 4 students created a Treasure that was showcased at SIGGRAPH 2021 [update]

This article is available in: French

Interview updated on December 4th 2021: the short is now available online, and you can watch it below.
Article first published on June 29th 2021.

Alexandre Manzanares, Guillaume Cosenza, Philipp Merten, et Silvan Moutte-Roulet directed Treasure (“Trésor” in French), their thesis short film at the Ecole des Nouvelles Images (an animation & CG school located in the south of France). Treasure features treasure hunters, an octopus and a seagull.

The film was featured during the SIGGRAPH 2021 – Computer Animation Festival Electronic Theater.

The team behind the short film agreed to tell us more about the film: you can watch it below, followed by an in-depth interview.

3DVF: Hello Alexandre, Philipp, Silvan & Guillaume! You are the directors of Treasure, your thesis film at the École des Nouvelles Images (France). Could you introduce us to the project ?

Silvan: Hi ! My name is Silvan, I was mainly an Animator on “Treasure”. I also worked on the Visual Development (Storyboard, Layout, Character Design, and Concept Art) and built up the human rigs.

Alexandre: Hi, I’m Alexandre Manzanares, I came up with the idea at first before putting the team together. We wanted something funny at the beginning. Our desire to work on a story that happened in the open sea was how we all ended up working together. I was in charge of directing the movie. I did the modeling of the octopus and was in charge of the whole character and partial set dressing look development. I was also in charge of the lighting , rendering and editing of the movie, and at the very end, sound design in collaboration with the rest of my teammates.

Philipp: I’m Philipp, one of the two animators on the film. Aside from co-directing “Treasure”, I mainly served as a Storyboard Artist, Rigger and Animator. Early on I contributed to the film’s visual development in close collaboration with Silvan before entering the bigger stages of production.

Guillaume: Hi, Im Guillaume Cosenza. During the first part of the year, I was mainly in charge of character and asset modeling, translating concept art into CG. In the second part, I worked on Houdini for the simulation and the instancing in the film water and particle simulations, sand, dust, you name it! I also made sure the sound editing was constantly updated before finally taking on the final sound editing on Reaper along with the others.

Silvan Moutte-Roulet, Alexandre Manzanares, Philipp Merten, Guillaume Cosenza

All: The main plot of the film is that of two explorers in search of forgotten treasure, who in their endeavour, disturb the relationship between an octopus (George) and his beloved figurehead (Venus) in the bottom of the ocean.

From the start we wanted to go for a comical film, something that would bring a smile to whoever watched it. We were really inspired by classic slapstick comedy and some notorious figures such as Jacques Tati, Buster Keaton, to mention a few.

Globally, the main intention was to stay simple and keep clarity and legibility of image in order for the humor to come across.

We also drew inspiration from french classics for the score of the film, composed by the talented Dorian Spiess.

3DVF: How did you come up with the idea of a story involving an octopus and treasure hunters ?

Alexandre: At the very beginning, around May 2019, before the graduation year started, the project was just about two explorers trying to bring up on board this massive figurehead.

I wanted something funny to look at, very slapstick, with a lot of back and forth between the underwater world (as they were losing it) and above the water (when they brought it back on board).

“Adventure” was the keyword at that time. The octopus was just a secondary background character with funny facial expressions to react to what was happening in front of him, like a spectator, which was great for cutting to emphasize the comedy side.

When we built the team and started working on the story we all agreed that, with the octopus being a very technical asset, it would be a real waste not to use it, so we decided to focus the attention on his story, to give him the main role.

That’s how the original story came to be.

3DVF: How did you share the workload within the team ?

Philipp: From the beginning we had an idea of what our individual roles would be. Guillaume and Alexandre would be focusing on areas that treated the “image” and look of the film (Modeling, Lookdev, Lighting, Rendering etc.), whereas Silvan and myself would mainly focus on development (Visdev, Storyboards, Rigging) and Animation.

Despite this we all ended up working on multiple tasks aside from our main areas, and would often dip our feet into each other’s work, a very collaborative process!

Silvan: To name an example of what Philipp mentioned last, the main story was constructed between the four of us during the whole year. Balancing it with our individual tasks, it is the one thing that shifted and changed constantly until the very last minute!

Being a comedy, a lot of writing and research was involved, so we all chimed in.

3DVF: The octopus must have been quite a challenge. long flexible arms, a round and soft body, no visible mouth : how did you approach the rigging and animation of this character ? Was it hard to convey emotions ?

Philipp: Wow! Where do we even start?

Even before starting production we knew that adding an octopus to our story would be a huge challenge, especially on the technical front, since this was unlike anything we’d ever done!

Aside from the upcoming technical challenges we would face, the question of ‘conveying emotion’ was by far the most important, why? Well, all characters in the film communicate mainly with their eyes, so how do we approach this with a complex and unpredictable animal such as an octopus?

Silvan: Philipp and I did a lot of back and forth planning and research before rigging. We would study and observe clips of octopuses as reference and synthesize the main features we wanted to have at our disposal for animation.

We did several test rigs before building the one we’d use in the film, we had to think about the tentacle system and his main expressions. Once we narrowed it all down, we intuitively became more comfortable to push the rig as far as we could with as many fun elements as we could integrate.

Philipp: The next big difficulty was to find a balance between animation and the clarity of the situation.

It all finally came together when we tested the animation of the character’s facial expressions, I handed off my rig to Silvan for testing. What started off as a highly technical task, ended up being the start of something very enjoyable.

Silvan: The character spoke through his eyes for the first time and after a big sigh of relief, we could finally say “George is alive!”.

Up next : comedy writing, lighting, fluids, Covid-19 pandemic…

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