Interview with T. K. Arlington, How to Scare Audience by a 3D Horror Film
Renderosity 2019 Halloween Contest, which sponsored by the TPN-accredited cloud render farm, Fox Renderfarm, themed on Ever-watching Eyes, attracted so many talented 3D artists.
T.K.Arlington, a 3D artist and writer, won the 2nd Prize in the Animation category by a short horror film called Sons of the Damned.
“So Stacy thought running around in some dark, dank, forsaken catacombs underneath the earth would have made for some good ol' riveting soul searching journeys.
Yea, that was definitely a bad idea Stacy. Hindsight full 20/20. Dunno if Stacy's soul searching objective was accomplished.
But as she will soon find out, someone (something?) others' "searching" plans surely did bear fruit.”
Sons of the Damned
Here’s the interview between T. K. Arlington and Fox Renderfarm.
Fox Renderfarm: Hi, Toshan, would you please give a brief introduction about yourself?
Toshan: Hello, thanks for having me for this interview. In a nutshell, I am primarily a writer who one day just woke up and started pursuing 3D development as a part-time job. Although my path as a 3D designer and developer started as a hobbyist who really liked modding game assets for his own personal joy around a decade ago, I have now converted my hobby into something much more fulfilling in nature.
For the most part, I have been self-taught when it comes to 3D designing. And even though my story has never been typical when held up against most contemporary standards, I still wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fox Renderfarm: How do you feel about winning the 2nd Prize in the Renderosity 2019 Animation Halloween Contest?
Toshan: To be honest, I’m not happy at myself for winning the 2nd prize. It’s because I really wasn’t satisfied with the piece that I submitted to the Renderosity 2019 Animation Halloween Contest and I do not feel like I should have won anything at all for reasons that I will elaborate on further along in this interview.
But with that said, I am just completely floored at the wonderful Renderosity community for having voted me into the 2nd place at the Renderosity 2019 Animation Halloween Contest. The entire Renderosity community really is filled with fantastic people and I say this because so many users go out of their way to message me or compliment my work in personal and public messages regarding the content that I put up on Renderosity. They don’t have to be nice, yet they are…and that is something that I fully appreciate.
Fox Renderfarm: What’s your inspiration for the film? Technically and visually, what is your favorite part of this film?
Toshan: For this particular film, I wanted to give the Renderosity community my adaptation of Ju-On: The Grudge. Well it was a lofty goal and I know I fell far short of achieving what I set out to…but if things had gone a little better on my end, I think I would have gotten closer to instantiating my vision.
Ju-On: The Grudge
As for my favorite part, visually it would have to be the final segment when Stacy, the movie’s female lead, has her initial (and final?) contact with one of the watcher zombies as they rise up from the ground to give her their cheery salutations.
And technically, it would have to be the simple flashlight with its ‘god-rays’.
__Fox Renderfarm: From the rising of the idea to the final render, could you tell us the creation process of this film? __
Toshan: My process for creating this film followed the same workflow that I employ when creating any 3D content. Since I’m a very visual person, or more like because I got spectacularly poor memory that I need to jot down all ideas and concepts before I forget them, I always start with a rough-hand sketch and give form to my fleeting concepts.
In this case, the original storyboard and associated screenplay that I first sketched out was soon discarded for something a little bit more...terrifying. Or at least that was the intent that I had, with changing the original storyboard to the one that led to the creation of the film that I submitted for the Renderosity 2019 Animation Halloween Contest.
But I digress; now regarding the creation process once the storyboard was completed on the 7th of October, I took stock of what assets I had available in my content library and what else I would need to create in order to complete this film.
Once that was decided, I went to work on creating the scene layouts, the props and the character details that I wanted to use in the scene. I always use a mix of Max and Blender for creating the 3D meshes depending on whether any kind of fluid dynamics comes into play. It wasn’t any different here, since this film had areas involving liquid dynamics (which was cut from the final version, for reasons that I will soon get to) I used both powerhouses to finalize all the various meshes. And after UV unwrapping, I imported them inside Substance Painter where I finished the texturing up and exported all the newly created environments, character overlays and prop models with their required texture maps out to my disk for usage inside DS Pro.
As for the characters, since I had many licensed DS Genesis 8 and Genesis 3 models available, I conveniently used a mix of licensed and original model assets to fill up the cast of lead and mob characters without having to reinvent the wheel.
Once I brought them all into DS Pro 4.12 and starting setting up the assets to have them work inside the rendering program, I took a few tests renders of the various assets in play to see if everything looked alright and adjusted the materials accordingly (since DS doesn’t have proper support for displacement mapping like how Substance Painter does, height maps always need some fiddling around to look right in DS.)
But here is the kicker: when I brought the assets back into DS and rendered out a few test segments, I was under the assumption that the Renderosity Halloween contest’s deadline was on the 18th of the month.
For the sake of those keeping track, I finished drafting the screenplay on the 7th, I finished creating my assets on 8th and I rendered out a few test segments on the same morning. So I was sitting around feeling rather smug that I was making good progress since the submission deadline was on the 18th (oh me, my sweet summer’s child…) right up till the point that I went back to the Renderosity contest webpage later in the evening to size up few of the entries that I would have been going up against.
And that’s when a 100-ton weight dropped down to the pit of my stomach, right after I saw that the contest deadline was actually on the morning of the 10th and not 18th of October that I had mistakenly assumed (from who knows where) when I checked the contest details out for the first time earlier in the month.
Once I realized that I had little more than a day to make the deadline, I took a long hour as a time-out, ordered a pizza, watched some Netflix and once I was done eating I clenched my jaw and fired up all my three systems (which I should note, all are weaklings when it comes to hardware specifications) and started animating the characters on one system while I fed the other two fresh rendering workloads.
I then spent the whole day and night of the 9th to at least get something finished in time for the deadline. The scene setup and animation were done in a few hours…but the rendering took forever. While the still renders were churning out, I spent the wee hours of the morning of the 10th to create the background music. And with just a few hours before the deadline, when I could wait no longer…I shut down the rendering streams, brought all the raw footage and audio into Davinci Resolve 16 and color graded, added visual FX and packaged the film up into its final form and submitted it as my entry to the Renderosity 2019 Animation Halloween Contest.
Fox Renderfarm: For this is a Halloween creation, what elements in the film or what techniques you used to achieve the scary feeling of the film?
Toshan: It would have to be the camera works. I am from the school of thought that blood, gore, creatures, visual effects and jump-tactics (all of which the original screenplay actually had, before I had to axe most of them to speed up the rendering times and make it in time for the deadline) have their own place in horror flicks. But camera works can turn a scary movie into a truly horrifying experience when done right.
If I had the luxury of time (no thanks to my poor comprehension skills of skimming over the contest details and mistaking the 10th for the 18th) then I would hope to have done the entire film direction more justice.
Fox Renderfarm: About the details, the lighting design and the design of the monsters give the film a really thrilling atmosphere, could you introduce a bit about the creation of these two? How did you make them?
Toshan: Well thank you for taking note of that. I did spend a good portion (of the three days that I ended up with), setting up the scene’s lighting and adding all the small details once the models were complete. I only wish you and everyone else would have been able to see All the details that I had originally intended to put into effect (like sweat beading on Stacy’s face, blood flying out from corpses, the flashlight sparking out while Stacy runs down dark corridors, the watcher zombies screaming their eyes out…like literally).
But for the details that finally did make the cut, the beam emitted by the flashlight is something that I am quite happy with because this effect emulates “god-rays” while using the Iray renderer without any additional plugin or post-processing.
As for the monsters, they were a mix of my original model meshes and material settings layered onto a Genesis 8 Androgynous base with some monster details adapted from a purchased Genesis 3 Female zombie that I had lying around in my content library.
Fox Renderfarm: How long did it take to finish the work?
Toshan: It took me a little more than three days to get everything done. I had to cut down on around 90% of the content, the effects and the scariness of what I really wanted to show here…so yes I’m really disappointed that I couldn’t create everything that I wanted to show in time.
Fox Renderfarm: What software, renderers, plugins did you use in this work?
Toshan: For designing the models from start to finish I used (in no particular order): 3DS Max 2015, Blender 2.8, Substance Painter 2019, Substance Designer 2019, Substance B2M 3, Photoshop CC 2019, DS Pro 4.12 and Inkscape 0.92.
For animation, posing, rendering and processing the raw render stills I used: DS Pro 4.12, Iray renderer and Photoshop CC 2019. I also used Adobe Mixamo’s animations, user:rug’s SGApps plugins and user:mCasual’s Daz plugins inside DS Pro 4.12 while setting the scene up.
For creating the background music I used: Apple GarageBand (latest builds on both iOS and MacOS version) and Fairlight (for Davinci Resolve 16).
For rendering the video I used: Davinci Resolve 16 (with Davinci Fusion).
Fox Renderfarm: What’s the most interesting part of the creation process?
Toshan: The most interesting part would have to be putting together the initial storyboards, plotlines and the screenplay. As much as I like designing and creating stuff, I will always be a writer first. And it’s the time spent on putting pen to paper that really sticks with me more than anything else (including stylus to a Wacom pad).
Fox Renderfarm: Who or what project inspires you the most in this industry?
Toshan: There are quite a few people and past/present projects that fill me up with inspiration. Bioware (the original company and its members) for one, always gives me hope that even if one’s path doesn’t start with a computer engineering degree it can always lead to creating some great works that transcend generations.
Another more recent addition to my “inspirer” list is Love, Death and Robots. In fact, this series has impressed me so much that I’ve started drafting and designing a few small animation segments in the same anthology format in hopes of getting it done sometime soon™ and putting it out on my channel for everyone to click on and spend a few minutes getting varying degrees (yea, nay or meh levels) of entertainment. And one positive point that I got going on for me here is that there will be no ‘Remember, remember the 10th of October’ deadline to misinterpret or fear anymore.
(Love, Death and Robots)
And though this next set may look like me going off in a tangent, the bands Dream Theater, Tool, Florence and the Machine, Tove Lo, Hans Zimmer, Rag’n’Bone Man…to name a few are very inspirational to me and my work. I kind of create and put together scenes, visuals, animations, and concepts from certain musical portions of some artists’ songs. I know there are clinical terms for “seeing” music, but l only like to say that they inspire me.
Fox Renderfarm: What do you think the quality that will make a great artist greater? Any other things you want to share with CG enthusiasts?
Toshan: The quality I feel that can push an artist to greater heights is to realize that there is always a new horizon to breach and that we should never get complacent with what we have achieved thus far. It’s my humble belief that perfection is just an illusion: worth pursuing but never truly achievable.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or have ‘made it’ or are anywhere in between. The moment you as an artist start feeling you’re good enough and don’t need to prove yourself to anyone, especially prove it to yourself…that’s when you have peaked and there will only be one place to slide from there on.
If you’re a CG artist (or of any kind), don’t let anyone ever make you think that your art is bad. We all start somewhere, so there are stages while we learn and stages while we get better. But we are always on the stage when we are learning something. And if you’re a CG consumer, then you’ll always have some new content or the other that will keep you entertained, so you’re good on that front!
But I feel this is a great time to be alive for any CG enthusiast, mainly because of the huge influx of new CG content creators and the ever-expanding market with new CG creations that have blossomed in the recent decade.
So I just want to finish by once again thanking the awesome Renderosity community for voting my entry into 2nd place, even though it was a last-ditch attempt to make the deadline. I promise that next time around, my anonymous submission for the next contest will be much better and will definitely be worthy of your vote!
And also my heartfelt gratitude to Fox Renderfarm for their generosity in sponsoring this year’s Renderosity contests and for allowing me to say a few words in this interview. Thank you all for making this happen.
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