Technology‎ > ‎

3D animated film "The Lost Town of Switez" combines the latest CGI technology with hand-made paintings

posted 31 Jan 2011, 09:23 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 31 Jan 2011, 09:26 ]

Animated Berlin Film Festival contender uses CGI technology to bring oil paintings to life.

A Polish animated 3D film which puts oil paintings in the place of computer graphics will be shown at the Berlin Film Festival this February.

"The Lost Town of Switez" is based on a 19th-century poem by the great Polish writer of the era Adam Mickiewicz. It tells the tale of a ghostly town destroyed after a bloody massacre in medieval times, which lies at the bottom of a remote lake. It is an apocalyptic tale of destruction, religious miracles and visions.

"The Lost Town of Switez" was created in an original combination of 3D animation and classic hand painted animation created with oil paints. Specially-commissioned large-scale paintings were composed into a 3D computer generated (CG) environment.

Kamil Polak, who is animation director at Human Ark which produced "The Lost Town of Switez", helmed the film.

"The idea of using hand painted images in 3D animation was born form my fascination with painting. I've always been interested in painting. As well as painting, my dream is to see the picture in motion. Also it seems to me that in the case of an animated adaptation of a romantic tale this painted effect suits the theme," he told Reuters Television

The paintings were created by a team of artists using various techniques, depending on which scenes the pictures were being used in. The finished paintings were digitized and split into layers in order to achieve the 3D effect. The artists later integrated the imported 2D elements with the CG elements, so that they appeared to exist in the same three-dimensional space.

"Whilst transferring the images into computer animation we used some of our own original ideas. The most basic idea is that we separated the many elements of the image into different planes, which move and create the illusion of space, perspective and depth. One of the most complicated procedures technically and visually was the idea to convert the brush strokes of the character's image. From frame to frame these change, creating an impression of wandering light. The entire area is made up of many small brush marks, and that's how the effect of light moves over the surface. This is very interesting," Polak explained.

Two different styles of paintings were used in the film, with 19th-century Slavonic paintings in some parts of the movie and more stylized, brightly coloured and iconic 2D paintings of the Middle Ages.

The paintings varied in not only style but size. The larger paintings which were used as background plates took extra work to convert into 3D

"Some images where converted from very large formats. They were mostly reproduced photographically because of the scale. At first the image would go through a 2D computer graphics conversion where it is cropped and rescaled adequately then it all systematically goes through the 3D animation conversion process," Polak said of the technique.

He added that the process for each painting to be rendered was a labour of love which took months to achieve for each image.

"There are dozens of such large format paintings. This is a lot when you take into account that each of these images takes on average 2 months to convert. Apart from this there is a lot of extra work, drawing a lot of designs, sketching and conceptual work."

The film tells the story of a voyager who is transported from the 19th century to medieval times when his coach crashes at the banks of a mysterious lake. At the bottom of the lake lies the village of Switez, which reveals it's ghastly story to the main character.

The film had two main artists working on it throughout the project but a bigger team was needed to spread the heavy and time consuming workload.

"There are a maximum of 10 people, but at the core of the animation there are two people who worked on the project for about 3 years just doing the art and painting. From sunrise to sunset every frame was put together piece by piece," Polak said.

In addition to real-life paintings, the "Switez" team also imported real-life textures, such as textiles, which were then grafted on to the 3D CG animation to give it a more realistic look. Next, the lighting and environmental particle effects, such as mist, were added to enhance the mood, look and depth of the film.