VFX veteran leads 75-artist team, using state-of-the-art virtual production technology, to tell the story of an android’s battle against a gang of robots.
Four years in the making, CONSTRUCT, a new 12-minute short about a gentle android pitted against the murderous robots that mean him harm, has been released. Created by Kevin Margo and a team of artist friends, CONSTRUCT took advantage of the latest advances in virtual production technology that allow filmmakers to create a feature-grade film without the budget or resources of a major studio.
Along with the film’s release, Margo has announced that CONSTRUCT is currently in feature film development with production company Automatik, helmed by Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Midnight Special, Operation Finale) and Fred Berger (La La Land). Alexander & Lee’s Brandon Millan will produce the script, written by Marcos Gabriel, with Nightfox financing development. “We are moving full steam ahead, developing the feature and meeting with creative/production partners that are as passionate about this world and the future of virtual production as we are,” Margo commented.
What begin in 2014 as an off-hours project grew over the years into a much more complex production, employing a wide range of talent, from Blur Studio artists (where Margo has directed and supervised VFX) to the stunt choreographer for Daredevil and Deadpool. Liam Neeson’s stunt double even got involved, providing movements for the film’s antagonistic foreman. A total of 75 artists and performers contributed to the short, helping Margo realize 210 all-CG shots, often working out of his 300-square-foot apartment in Venice.
Designed for realism, CONSTRUCT’s “handheld” shooting method was so immersive that the short began fooling other artists, who assumed that Margo had tracked the digital robots atop of live-action plates. According to the director, “Everybody wanted to know what camera I was using, when in reality, our team was just churning out well-lit, photoreal CG backgrounds using ‘natural light’ and V-Ray.”
When released at GTC 2014, the film’s one-minute teaser and accompanying behind-the-scenes videos wowed artists and press with the filmmaker’s innovative use of virtual production techniques, leading to appearances on CNET, Indiewire, Creators and Kotaku. In fact, one of Margo’s goals for the production of CONSTRUCT was to speed up the CG workflow and mirror a live-action production. For this, he partnered with NVIDIA and Chaos Group, gaining access to the emerging tech that would help his innovative efforts.
“Our story isn’t typical, in that we were in this situation where two massive companies were either giving us expensive hardware or building prototype tech just for us,” Margo explained. “They really put the wind at our back, so we could explore GPU rendering and virtual production at the highest levels, and we put those creative benefits back into the short. At the time, we were doing things that had never been done before. No one had thought to ray trace while motion capturing yet.”
For a computationally heavy production like CONSTRUCT, the application of GPU rendering, a style known for speed, seemed like the fastest path to finishing. Through NVIDIA, Margo was given access to the NVIDIA Quadro Visual Computing Appliance (VCA) system, which stacks eight high-end GPUs together. Its computational power was so remarkable that the film’s total rendering time dropped from 480 to 60 days, giving artists even more reasons to add elaborate details.
Chaos Group, on the other hand, provided a direct line to their development team, who created a brand-new rendering technology for Margo that linked V-Ray RT (now GPU) to Autodesk’s MotionBuilder. Motion capture performances could now be applied to ray-traced characters and environments in real-time, providing Margo with the type of information needed to give directives or make decisions on the spot.
“Being able to compose the shots with all my color, lights and 3D assets in the monitor was life-changing for me,” Margo noted. “When you are in the moment, the last thing you want to do is stop and reassess. Real-time ray tracing gives you the freedom to be fluid and experimental, mirroring the feeling of live-action cinematography.”
The CONSTRUCT team has continued its experiments, connecting their work to V-Ray Cloud, Google Cloud, a soon-to-be-released VR project, and the MAGI format popularized by 2001: A Space Odyssey’s legendary VFX supervisor, Douglas Trumbull.
Source: Kevin Margo
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.