See how this talented artist relies on LightWave 3D to create this beautiful 3D animated feature film
Posted: Fri 18 Mar 2016
After 7 years working on this amazing project, the talented LightWave artist Alain Bidard saw his work widely recognized as a hugely successful animated movie in cel shading. Released on May 22nd in Martinique, its country of origin, Battledream Chronicle is now touring festivals: it has been selected in more than 30 festivals and won 5 awards so far. Read the full story and learn how LightWave helped to overcome all the challenges on this production!
In 2100, the empire of Mortemonde colonized almost all the nations of the Earth and reduced their populations to slavery. Every slave is forced to collect 1000XP every month in Battledream, a video game where they can die for real. Only those who succeed are granted the right to live until the following month. Syanna, a young Martinican slave, refuses to keep living in this condition and decides to fight for her freedom... Stars Jacques Olivier Ensfelder, Yna Boulange, Steffy Glissant, Chantal Sacarabany Perro, Maxime Lelue.
Hi Alain and thank you for joining LightWave 3D for this interview! Can you tell us a little more about you, your background and the origins of being a 3D Artist?
Hi everyone! My name is Alain Bidard, I'm 39 years old and I live in Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean. I'm a 3D animation film director and I have been using LightWave 3D since version 4. Since my childhood, I have always been interested by creating pictures and writing stories. I came quickly to create amateur comics but I still wanted to see my stories coming to life.
After studying at Supinfocom, a French 3D Animation School, I went back to Martinique to create my own company. I was finally able to teach and create short films, commercials and corporate films. I’ve directed 8 short films, most of them were nominated in festivals and some won several awards. During the production of my latest short film, “Opale”, a 30 minutes long drama about incest, I felt in love with the slower pacing and the deeper character work of the feature film format. I decided it was the right time for me to start my first animated feature film.
In Martinique, the animation industry is very young. We are more in the Winsor McCay era style than Disney. So, in order to make this feature film project comes true, I had to create it entirely by myself. It took me 7 years and I completed this gigantic task in 2015!
I discovered LightWave 3D in 1997 thanks to the famous Blade Runner scene demo. I’ve been really impressed by the beauty of its rendering engine, by the very self-explanatory buttons of its interface and by its powerful modeler. I was coming from 3DS4/3ds Max and I was experiencing problems with Booleans operations. With LightWave, I didn't have to deal with that problem anymore, and after taking a deeper look at it, I completely fell in love with this 3D software.
Could you tell us more about Battledream Chronicle, your latest animated feature film? How did you used LightWave to make this possible? Could you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?
Battledream Chronicle is an animation feature film that tells the story of a young female slave called Syanna and who tries to regain her freedom in a futuristic age where the entire world has been enslaved, and where plantations are video games in which the slaves have to risk their life to collect Experience points for their masters.
Battledream Chronicle is the first animated feature film that has ever been made in Martinique. It’s also the first chapter of a trilogy. The film is getting known more and more and its success is growing worldwide. So far, it was selected in more than 35 international festivals and it won five awards, including the Best Animation Feature Film Award in the Gary International Film Festival (USA), the Best Feature Film Screenplay Award in Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre Festival (Argentina), and two Audience Choice Awards in Soo Film Festival (USA) and Wasteland Film Festival (USA).
To make this feature film project a reality, I had many 3D software choices as Maya, XSI, C4D, Messiah, etc. But I’m a Jack of All trades and I needed a software with the same spirit. Not a lot of 3D software can do “everything” "simply". When you make a short film, it’s okay to go from one program to another in order to take advantage of what every program is best known for. But you have to deal with only a few hundred shots at most. However, for a 2000 shots feature film that you make all alone, you have to play it safe. That means: one 3D software, avoid plugins as much as you can, and work only with natives’ tools and scripts. To me, LightWave 3D was the ideal candidate for this task. It had everything I needed and I didn’t think it twice.
To produce the film, LightWave was used from modeling to rendering. The characters were all modeled, shaded, rigged and animated in LigthWave. About the no plugin policy, I knew the project would take a long time and I didn’t want to be slave of any external plugin. You never know what happens after an update. I experienced quite a number of horror stories with plugins before. So that’s why I decided to rely only on native tools, especially for the modeling, rigging and rendering parts.
Are there any particular techniques, features or tools in LightWave 3D that you used on this project?
In the modeling stage, the tools I used the most were Smooth Shift, Smooth scale, Multishift, Thicken, Connect and BandSaw. They really saved my day. The characters and the backgrounds were modeled exclusively in LightWave, face by face. Some with references, some without.
The texturing was simple and efficient. That is a part that I really appreciate with LightWave. The Super Cel Shader plugin was a very important plugin in my pipeline. The only external plugin I used was the SG Ambient Occlusion Shader, because it felt cleaner and faster to render. And more speed was always welcome.
For rigging, I used the regular bones of LightWave with weightmaps and basic IK. But as I had an important number of characters to rig and setup, I used LScript to write a plugin in order to auto-rig the characters for me. LScript is very beginner-friendly. I had no programming skills and I didn’t know LScript, but in 2 weeks, I could learn it and write my own plugins. My biggest need was to automate my daily tasks in order to speed them up, as the automation was working 100 times faster than my human speed. This led me to write a lot of other plugins and I think that without LScript, I wouldn’t have finished this film yet.
The animation was entirely done with simple bones, basic IK, simple key framing and Morph mixer. I used low poly proxies for characters and backgrounds in order to keep working in real time. And I made peace with the Gimbal lock issue after the 1000th shot or so. So, in the end, I didn’t feel limited by the software in this regards and I really enjoyed the character animation process.
For rendering, I used LigthWave’s native render. It works great so I don’t see the need to change. I used radiosity in some sequences. But most of the film was lit with native lights without radiosity. Radiosity was slowing down the pipeline too much. Getting rid of it and using Ambient Occlusion, I've got a similar result that was very fast to render. As my backgrounds are more painterly than hyper realistic, it worked really well.
What were the challenges of this project and how LightWave 3D has helped you overcome them?
I was working alone so I was needed a 3D software which could be proficient in everything. But at the same time it had to remain simple to use. When you make a feature film by yourself, you repeat the same tasks many thousands times and sometimes more than 10,000 times. The last thing you need is a program that makes simple tasks too complex to achieve. LightWave offered me this simplicity.
More than a third of the film was made of very heavy scenes in terms of polygons count. LightWave was very forgiving in that regards. When making short films, I didn’t really notice this advantage, to be honest. But with the feature film, the way LightWave manages its polygon count in the Layout eased my workflow a lot!
The visual style was another challenge. I don’t like realism in 3D. I love drawing and I like to see my line art in the end result. It would get completely lost if I was doing a realistic film. So, Cel shading was the way to go. But it’s a very tricky technique, any mistake breaks the illusion of 2D. And being distracted by a broken illusion prevents the audience to enjoy the film properly. I wanted the visual style of the film to be cel shaded but at the same time, I wanted it to mimic the feel of the 2D animation films I was used to watch from Disney and from Japan. In mixing some animation tricks and its Incidence shader with its cel shader, LightWave helped me getting something “2D enough” to not be distracting to the viewers and I could get close to the result I wanted to get.
The last challenge was the project management. I had to deal with more than 50,000 files. In that regards, the project file structure in LightWave was very useful. Objects files independent from the scenes files are really a bliss when you have to change a simple detail on an object that appears in hundreds or thousands files. Being able to edit scene files in WordPad was an incredible time saver whenever I had to change lights, replace some objects, or move some camera in hundred files without having to open each of them independently.