Premium model kits help VFX studio quickly create new futuristic sci-fi environments for IPs such as ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and ‘Halo;’ easily customizable assets work with Unreal, Maya, VRay, and Arnold.
In the business of crafting cinematic worlds, Pixomondo has developed a reputation for delivering high-end episodic VFX with a solid foundation in asset creation. To aid their efforts, the VFX studio’s creative teams use KitBash3D’s model kits comprised of customizable 3D assets as the building blocks for show environments. Here are a few highlights from their world-building on some of the more well-known franchises and IP:
Assembling the Final Frontier for Star Trek: Discovery
The creation and crafting of exotic planets and futuristic sci-fi environments were an essential part of the studio’s world-building for the Emmy Award-winning series Star Trek: Discovery. For four seasons, under the direction of VFX Supervisor Fausto Tejeda, Pixomondo contributed to the effects that transported audiences to the final frontier through developing cinematic worlds.
“When it comes to a television pipeline, projects have very short deadlines and require quick turnaround on delivery,” shared Tejeda. “Tools like KitBash3D have been essential in enabling us to deliver on time and at a high-level of quality.”
The company’s scope of work on the popular Star Trek franchise included crafting creatures, spaceships, characters, environments, and effects. In Season 2 the team was tasked with recreating an entirely new and futuristic planet from scratch based solely on concept designs. The team received general guidelines and concept art and was able to use KitBash3D assets as a foundation for building the environment.
“The model kits have an established geometry and look that matched the concept, and we were able to further customize and build upon the assets,” explained Tejeda. “It was amazing to use kits from the get-go that worked flawlessly.”
Referring to the Season 3 challenge of developing a futuristic San Francisco to accommodate a timeline jump to 900 years in the future, Tejeda added, “We used KitBash3D’s Utopia kit as the basis of the environment, then further customized the asset and added new textures. We ended up transferring that asset with other vendors on the show, and to this day, it’s still being used not only on Star Trek: Discovery, but also on Piccard.”
For Season 4, Pixomondo began incorporating virtual production workflows and filming sequences on two in-house LED volumes. According to Tejada, KitBash3D assets provided his team the ability to get rapid iterations out in compliance.
“We’ll quickly kitbash a scene with massive environments, then we’ll get them up on our huge LED volume walls to gauge if the scale and distance are working,” added noted. “It helps us get work in front of the client as fast as possible, which is critical. When we have Zoom meetings with clients, we’re also able to do quick demos or show work in Unreal Engine, then change or swap out assets in real-time.”
Leveraging KitBash3D assets has shortened the process that previously required the building of models, shaders, and textures. Now relieved of much of the “grunt work” of starting from scratch, Tejeda said that the focus shifted to the “…beautification of shots, such as lighting, making sure things are in direct position, layout, and addressing client notes on which specific buildings need to be enhanced.”
He continued, “KitBash3D’s assets come prepared for Unreal, Maya, VRay, Arnold – or whichever tool you’re using – so, it’s easy to plug-and-play and very quickly hit the ground running within several hours, whereas, previously, this would have taken days or weeks.”
Tejeda explained that assets could move quickly through the entire pipeline. The assets build to put up on the LED wall can be reused again and again in post. Tejeda also said that Kitbash3D shifted the focus from “creating one tiny building in the background that no one will even notice or see” to the development of more complex environments.
Setting the Stage for Halo with Procedurally Generated Environments
For Master Chief’s battle for mankind against the Covenant alien race in Halo, a backdrop of massive 26th-century cityscapes was central to visual storytelling. Under the direction of Head of CG, Evgeny (Johny) Berbasov, Pixomondo crafted procedurally generated environments to set the stage for the pinnacle war and reimagine the in-game universe for television audiences.
“Because the show is based on the popular and well-established game IP, fans know how the world should look and expect it to be represented in a specific way,” shared Berbasov. “We were responsible for building upon the concept art and designs in a way that made the fictional and futuristic environments impressive and believable, while also staying true to the lore for fans.”
To expedite production, the studio leveraged KitBash3D model kit libraries as the basis and inspiration for world-building on the series.
“When we received the initial concept art for the series, we realized that there were many similarities between the overall look of the show and the offerings in various KitBash3D asset libraries,” Berbasov continued. “We were able to take specific buildings from KitBash3D’s libraries and transform them to align with the unique design of the Halo universe, rather than taking extra time to create models from scratch. This laid the foundation for creating the massive 30-kilometer cityscape, allowing us to present work to the client faster than previously possible. Overall, the quality and customizability of KitBash3D assets enabled us to achieve this.”
The team used Brutalist as its primary base kit, in addition to Neo Tokyo and Neo Tokyo 2.
He noted, “When we’re delivering the first version of an environment to a client for review, KitBash3D model kits serve as the initial jumping off point and help save us up to 80% of the time typically required in creating assets. What used to take a week now only takes two days.”
To develop the cityscape environment, Pixomondo used a procedural world-building process to ensure that no two buildings in the series looked identical. To achieve this, the team created a library with multiple variations of floors, bays, roofs, and GAFs that were based on the original KitBash3D model kits but fully customized to align with the look of the Halo universe. Working in Houdini, the team procedurally combined the separate elements together to create the layouts for unique and different buildings. The map of the 30-kilometer cityscape with buildings, streets, and water lines was also procedurally generated, with different elements mixed and matched to populate the massive environment.
“Ultimately, it was like multi-level kitbashing – we took the original KitBash3D model kits, disassembled and customized the different elements of each asset, then reassembled the pieces back together to create a complex, high-fidelity, and one-of-a-kind environment for the series,” added Berbasov. “We relied upon KitBash3D as a basis for the building blocks of the environment, allowing us to create faster and free up artist cycles to focus on more creative tasks.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve worked through all of the different VFX and animation departments, so I have an in-depth understanding of how the entire pipeline works and how complex and time-consuming creating assets, shots, and environments can be,” noted Berbasov, a 20+-year industry veteran. “When I first got started 24 years ago, everything had to be built from scratch. Today, we’re seeing companies like KitBash3D present and popularize an ‘assetized’ mindset – one where assets are no longer being built manually and having accessible, premade, high-quality model kits as a starting point is making life easier for artists and expediting post-production workflows. This is especially critical for fast-paced production environments, like for episodic series.”
“KitBash3D offers extensive libraries with a diverse range of assets that can be tailored to meet the demands or style of any project,” concluded Berbasov. “The latest kits are also very clean in topology, so we don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning it up or decoupling pieces. On fast-paced productions that require quick turnaround, we don’t have extra time to build and shade assets. We need to be able to quickly combine elements together, present it to the client, approve the cameras, light it, and deliver it as efficiently as possible. Using KitBash3D assets and working with an ‘assetized’ mindset is critical in this pursuit.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.