Walking Through History

Posted: Mon 13 Jun 2016

For Carlo Cestra—a 3D CG Animator living in Menorca, Balearic Islands—CG was his passion long before it was his job. Working for the biggest TV channels as the U.S. TV channel History or the Italy's national public broadcasting company Rai, Carlo has become a master in doing digital reconstructions for archeological, historical and scientific projects. Through this interview, he shares his vision and explains how LightWave became his tool of choice to speed up his workflow.

Hi everyone! My name is Carlo Cestra. I’m from Rome and I’m actually living in Menorca, the wildest among the Balearic Islands (Spain), which fueled my passion for history and archeology. For the past 20 years, I’ve expressed my creativity through digital reconstructions, mainly for archeological, historical and scientific topics.

My interest for 3D computer graphic began in early '90, when I was a student of physics at the University of Rome "La Sapienza". At that time, I got a simple ray-tracing software without interface, named QRT (Quick Ray Tracer), so I had to write code to view 3D objects on the screen. I used it to translate some complex geometric equations, that I was studying at the university, and to visualize them in a 3D space. It was fun and exciting.

Then I started playing with the first version of 3D Studio, but, shortly after, a friend of mine showed me Lightwave3D on the Amiga computer and It was love at first sight!

In 1994, I bought my first copy of Lightwave 3D, it was version 4.0 at that time. I can't explain exactly why, but I felt immediately comfortable with the LightWave 3D interface. I started to work for some local TVs, producing computer animations and info-graphics, as well as for some video games company, producing character animations and environments. In 1998, after a competitive examination, I was employed in the Computer Graphic and Special Effects Department of RAI, the Italian television, as 3D generalist and compositor. I worked for the most important science popularization TV programs in Italy. In RAI, other 3D software such as Softimage or Alias Power Animator (the actual Maya) were used. But since I could have been much more productive with LightWave, I’ve asked the production to provide me a LightWave 3D licensed copy. I stayed in RAI for about eight years producing CGI with LightWave. During that time, I gained a vast experience creating digital reconstructions and animations for archeological and scientific topics. And this is how I finally managed to merge my passion with my job.

In 2005 I started my own business as freelance creating digital reconstructions for documentaries and museums and in 2007 I created some digital sequences for an historical documentary broadcasted on History Channel about the WWII Italian Battleship “Roma” produced by Cinecittà-Luce. At the same time, I was promoted as Chief of Compositing Department during the development of the animated movie “Winx Club, the secret of the lost kingdom” produced by Rainbow-CGI.

During that period, I created historical documentaries (about WWII naval battles) as an independent producer and director. I was strongly inspired by the director James Cameron as a feature film and, especially, as documentary director. In 2010 I founded my company, Carlo Cestra Digital Productions, to provide digital reconstructions and post production service. LightWave is and will be my main tool and I use it for any stage of production. I am very satisfied of its potential, especially after the improvements made in recent versions.

During these early years of activity, my company has achieved important outcome. I collaborated with the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Superintendence for Archeological Heritage of Rome, creating digital reconstructions for the “Roman National Museum” and the “Museum of Roman Ships”.

I also created some animations about the roman ships of the emperor Caligula, showing the hull's structure and ancient roman building techniques, that have been used in a documentary in the series “Ancient Impossible” broadcast on the American History Channel H2. Last year, I created a number of animations for the opening ceremony of the “World Air Games 2015” that took place in Dubai and I participated in an important project of digital reconstruction of the wreck of the Italian WWII submarine “Scirè”, collaborating with IANTD Expeditions, a professional wreck hunters company.

Clock animation created for the World Air Games opening ceremony

Most of all, I like the historical and scientific research and the development of technical solutions, that make my job different every time. Every work, developed by my company, is strictly based on data and information acquired after a period of study or provided by consultants.

I have always been a “one-man band”, even now that I have a company, with occasional collaborators depending on the amount and difficulty of the works. I like to be present at every processing stage, from modeling to post processing. LightWave allows me to do this because of its flexibility and its relative simplicity.

I do great use of compositing and LightWave helps me with the Compositing Buffer Export. It's a very useful feature associated with the Send to After Effect function. The compositing stage is a very important part of my company's workflow because, with the right buffers, I can act on a scene, even drastically changing lighting, without having to re-render it in LightWave, saving time and, therefore, money. This workflow based on LightWave enables me to achieve excellent results in a short time.

Animation inside a digital reconstruction of Bastakiya (the historic district of Dubai) created for the World Air Games opening ceremony

Now, after more than 20 years using LightWave daily, I can affirm that it is like an extension of my body! I am confident that, in the next versions, we will see great improvements. Two of the things I would need most are an integrated UV texture painter and an integrated fluid (water/flame/smoke) simulation system.

Currently I'm working on a series of 14 documentaries, creating digital reconstructions and visual effects, about the history of the Balearic Islands commissioned by IB3, the official Balearic Television, I'm collaborating with KAGERO Publishing, creating illustrated books of WWII battleship and submarine digital models in the series “Super Drawings in 3D” and I have been involved in a project of digital reconstruction commissioned by the Superintendence for Archeological Heritage of Rome. Everything made with LightWave.

I am an enthusiast, I love my job and in the future I will continue to create digital reconstructions and digital contents about historical, archeological and scientific topics. I also have independent projects to be developed. And, finally, I hope to be involved more and more in projects (such as History or Discovery Channel productions) where I could express my potential.

Learn more about Carlo Cestra Digital Productions on www.carlocestra.com