'Attack on Titan' in a Bottle: An Interview with Maxim Titov (Gindo70)

2024-02-19
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Fox Renderfarm Interview

Maxim Titov (Gindo70), the first-place winner of the November "World in a Bottle" CGandWe Challenge, has astounded the digital art community with his impressive talent and creativity. Drawing inspiration from a pivotal scene in Attack on Titan's finale, Maxim's artwork captivates viewers with its visual homage. Delving into the thematic complexities of the anime series, Maxim skillfully portrays the juxtaposition of hope and tragedy. 

As the industry's top cloud rendering service provider and leading render farm, Fox Renderfarm is honored to interview Maxim. Let’s dive in as Maxim shares his artistic process behind this amazing work.

Fox Renderfarm: Hi Maxim! Thank you so much for accepting our interview! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Maxim: Hi, thank you for having me. My name is Maxim Titov, online most people know me as Gindo70. I’m a hobby 3D and 2D Artist from Germany.

Fox Renderfarm: Congratulations on winning 1st place in the November "World in a Bottle" CGandWe Challenge! How do you feel about it?

Maxim: Great! I’ve been taking part in the CGandWe challenges for a long time. I didn't make something every month, but I had quite a few submissions and this is the first one winning 1st place. I was very happy when I found out that I had won.

Fox Renderfarm: How has the anime "Attack on Titan" influenced your artwork and what elements have you specifically drawn inspiration from?

Maxim: The inside of the Bottle is visually inspired by a very important scene in the show's finale. I think anyone who watched "Attack on Titan" is gonna recognize the scene with the red scarf and the bird.

Thematically, "Attack on Titan" is never black and white. There is hope in the darkest moments and tragedy in the most peaceful moments. I liked that theme, so I tried to capture it. The Wold in the Bottle is a quiet refuge in the dead outside world, but there are hints in the picture that it was once a place for two, and only one is left.

Attack on Titan © Hajime Isayama

Attack on Titan © Hajime Isayama

Fox Renderfarm: What symbolism is intended by the action of the tree breaking open the bottle in your work?

Maxim: It is meant to represent hope. No matter how dark the world outside gets, there are islands of hope that always find a way to break through to the outside. 

At first, I had planned to have more broken bottles in the background to make the world special, as if it were the only one left. But when I added the depth of field to make it look like a zoomed-in camera, the background became so blurry that I scrapped that idea. Some remnants of this plan can still be seen in the wireframe.

Bottle Breakdown © Maxim Titov

Bottle Breakdown © Maxim Titov

Fox Renderfarm: Before diving into the visual design, how much planning and pre-production work do you typically do?

Maxim: I usually take two or three days just for planning. Looking around on Pinterest or just thinking about it before going to sleep helps me visualize what I want to do. It was at that phase when I saw the final part of "Attack on Titan".

Additionally, I started to research potential new techniques I could or want to incorporate. 

Fox Renderfarm: Could you please tell us about your pipeline for this work? And how long did it take you?

Maxim: Now that I know what I want to do, I'm collecting reference images for everything I need. Pictures of bottles, anime-style landscapes, lake houses, and specifically for this case, frames from the scene that inspired me. At this point, I usually have a very clear idea of the scene I want to make in my head. 

In Blender, I start modeling the most central object(s), in this case, the bottle and the tree, and position it with the camera until I find something that matches my idea. Then, I create the shaders for the first objects, block out the rest of the scene, and set up the lighting.

From here I work my way from large to small. I start with the grass field, move on to the house, and end with details like the character's clothes and the little leaves in the wind. 

Of course, not everything fits on the first try. It helps to ask someone for feedback and get several opinions. For example, the house was initially a stone house with a tiled roof and it was a friend’s feedback that made me change it to a wooden hut, giving it a much more cozy look.

Now I iterate anything I don't like. At this point, it is important to realize what is it that I have to do in Blender such as the pose of the character and what can I simply fix in the post. There are many examples, but the most obvious is probably the hair. I was not satisfied with the way it looked and I could have gone into the Blender Hair Systems and kept iterating. Or just draw it on top. 

Hair Breakdown © Maxim Titov

Hair Breakdown © Maxim Titov

Once I am happy with the render, I turn to Photoshop. I fixed the small problems that I didn't want to do in Blender, such as adjusting the colors, contrast, etc. to make it pop. 

It took me two weeks to create the piece, and I put some hours into it on some evenings. I believe it is important to take longer breaks if possible, and to look at it with a fresh mindset. So overall I worked about 20 hours on it.

Fox Renderfarm: Can you describe the technical process you used to create the color and lighting effects within the scene?

Maxim: The star of the process is the Shader to RGB node in Cycles. Just a simple node setup creates a powerful toon shader. It creates those nice hard shadows and vivid colors we know from more traditional animations. I used it for almost everything that was inside the bottle.

Node Setup © Maxim Titov

Node Setup © Maxim Titov

Adding a normal map and displacement textures allows it to effortlessly recreate any object you need in this style. Like I did for the logs of the cabin for example.

Node Setup © Maxim Titov_

Node Setup © Maxim Titov

Log © Maxim Titov

Log © Maxim Titov

Or add a texture into the color of the diffuse to create patterns on the object, like I did for the skirt. 

Skirt © Maxim Titov

Skirt © Maxim Titov

A very important step to make the lighting of the scene stand out is to add glare and adjust the contrast. I’m pretty sure, I could reach a very similar result with the blender compositor and the EEVEE bloom, but I am used to Photoshop so I do that there.

For the Glare, I create two black and white copies of the image and layer it on top with color burn as the blend mode. This brings up the highlights of the render. I blur both copies with different strengths and screen them on top of the render to achieve the glare. The opacity of the blurred layers controls the glare strength.

Fox Renderfarm: Are there any challenges that you encountered during the process of creation, such as the rendering speed? If so, how did you overcome them?

Maxim: Yes, by far the biggest challenge was the ground plane on which the bottle rests. Since I was working with EEVEE to achieve the somewhat painterly look inside the bottle, I couldn't use displacement maps. EEVEE just doesn't support that yet. I knew from the beginning that this would be a problem, and my first plan was to render everything outside the world separately in Cycles. But combining the two scenes took more work than I thought. Especially because of the reflections.

Luckily, I came across a YouTube video by CBaileyFilm that shows how to use displacement maps with the array modifier to achieve the same effect as in Cycles, saving me the trouble of separating the scene and merging the two scenes in post-production. It was much more computationally intensive but doable. I can't wait for the next big update of EEVEE when this problem will finally be solved.

Fox Renderfarm: Are there any moments you enjoyed during the creation process? And what was the most memorable?

Maxim: The most memorable for me is always the final day of the project. When the vision from the very start finally becomes real. 

I enjoy most of the creation process. What I enjoyed most this time was playing around with the color pallet. As the inside of the bottle is not Photoreal, many different color combinations seemed to work, giving the scene a colder, more autumny look. Ultimately, I went for a green summer look, but it was fun to go through the options.

Fox Renderfarm: Can you describe the most rewarding project you’ve worked on so far?

Maxim: My most rewarding (3D) project was probably the starting soon screen I animated for a Twitch streamer. I was very ambitious when I tackled the project and put a lot of effort into it. I was very relieved when I actually managed to deliver the promised result, and it was great to not only receive his gratitude but also the appreciation of the chatters when they saw it for the first time.

Fox Renderfarm: Any artists or works that have influenced your style and approach?

Maxim: Two artists changed my approach to art. 

First Thomas du Crest. He does magnificent-looking concept art with a mix of 3D and 2D techniques. His creation process opened my eyes to the fact that it doesn't just have to be one or the other. It might sound obvious, but nothing stops me from using some of my drawing strengths in my renders. Conversely, I've started using Blender to help with perspective and compositions during drawing. This has significantly improved my results in both fields. 

Snowstorm © Thomas du Crest

Snowstorm © Thomas du Crest

The second artist is Maxim Garipov, he makes YouTube videos (Channel: sketching in blender) and I really like his workflow. I have already learned a lot, but there is still a great deal I can learn from him.

Guardian At The Gate © Maxim Garipov

Guardian At The Gate © Maxim Garipov

Fox Renderfarm: Have you tried Fox Renderfarm’s services before? If so, how do you feel about Fox Renderfarm’s cloud rendering services? 

Maxim: I have not used them before. But with the voucher I won, I will certainly try it out.

Fox Renderfarm: Do you have any ongoing projects or future plans at the moment?

Maxim: There is the next CGandWE Monthly Challenge that I have started working on. I also wanted to remake one of my older pieces with my newly learned skills. Although I haven't decided which one yet.

Maxim’s Social Media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gindo70_ins/

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