VFX studio Nu Boyana FX’s first inhouse animated short, based on a spoken word poem, started as an R&D project before blossoming into a film asking fundamental questions about what makes a girl real; the fully keyframed film’s production toolkit included Zbrush, Mari, Maya, and Nuke.
Nu Boyana FX, or NBFX, has just shared their first inhouse animated short film, I.D.A., where a digital woman delivers a piece of spoken poetry, raising the theme of the true nature of femininity. For the studio, the film’s core idea is the inherent conflict between the speaker's character as a digital creature and the fundamental questions she raises about society's perceptions about what makes a girl real.
The studio, a VFX division of Nu Boyana Film Studios - a sub-vendor of Millenium Films and one of the biggest studios in the Balkans - has offices in Bulgaria and Portugal. They specialize in visual effects, CG characters, animation and motion-capture for films, games, commercials, and music videos.
According to CG supervisor Lazarin Kouchev, the film was born as an R&D project, meant to channel the team’s creativity and experimentation during production down-time. The VFX team wanted to improve individual skills in their digital double workflow, to make the overall process smoother. As many of the studio’s artists are fans of spoken poetry, the idea of steering the film in that direction came about rather quickly.
“Our team had a great time working on this one mainly because it was really challenging technically,” Kouchev explains. “A lot of the process was completely new to us and took some time to find the best approach. But, watching the final video, we must say that all the time spent was worth it. When you work on a project with no deadlines, things can easily get sidetracked. We are extremely happy that this wasn’t our case!”
The film’s digital human is based on Devora Nickolovska, who provided her voice and face movements to the project, and a member of the VFX team, whose face was photo-scanned, which captured 45 different facial expressions. The neutral pose was further sculpted and made into a lookalike in Zbrush. The remaining poses were combined and refined in the rig using the topology from the neutral pose. Animation testing progressing gradually, as well as the fine sculpting details and advanced lookdev. The finer skin details were achieved using maps from Texturing XYZ. All textures were painted in Mari, grooming was done in Yeti, and rendering done in V-ray for Maya. The animation is fully keyframed in Maya and the compositing of the shot was done in Nuke. The dissolving effect was setup in Houdini building an animated VDB mask that would disintegrate the object and at the same time be an activator for the simulated pieces.
Kouchev shares that “without a doubt, the biggest challenge for the team was the rigging/animation part,” noting that the animation was based on the real performance of an actress without using mocap data, so the whole animation was keyframed. “Every little animation detail required specific tunes in the rig to get the closest possible expression to the real actress. In terms of likeness, the eyes were the hardest part - for modeling, rigging, and lookdev - and it took quite a number of iterations.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.