Novedge: Tell us a little bit about Aixsponza.
Aixsponza: Aixsponza is a German design boutique and VFX shop. The four of us, Manuel Casasola Merkle, Tobias Müller, Achim August Tietz and Christian Tyroller started the company in 2006 with the vision to create an environment that enables us to realize projects with a strong focus on creative design and, at the same time, a profound level of technical quality. During the last 9 years we created numerous TV commercials, game trailers, media installations, trade shows, web films, virals and technical illustrations for clients such as RedBull, Audi, BMW, Nike, MTV, etc. Today Aixsponza is made up of 15 professionals with different talents, collaborating to find optimal solutions to wildly varying creative challenges.
Novedge: Would you care to explain how your amazing project "SEED" came to life?
Aixsponza: At Aixsponza we try to do free projects whenever time allows. Earlier this year we sat down and thought " what kind of project would be interesting and challenging for us? ". As we recently experimented with photogrammetry, it quickly became apparent that we wanted to use photo scanning in the project. Fortunately, „Gotoxy“, a 3D studio run by a friend of mine, just developed a photogrammetry rig and invited us to use it for the movie. That led to the basic idea to tell a story featuring photorealistic scanned human figures.
As we all are visual people we started to develop the story by searching for visual references. We created vast boards of ideas and condensed them during numerous meetings until the story of the two antagonists emerged. The next step was to create the script and a storyboard. As this was a free project, without the constraints we normally face with commercial films, we allowed ourselves a broad layout period where we tested a lot of ideas and setups and evaluated what would work and what not. To generate the photorealistic figures we used a dedicated figure scan rig consisting of 64 Canon DSLRs that are synchronized to trigger the shot at exactly the same time. This way, even the people, that normally tend to move slightly at all times, can be captured in high quality. The images not only were used to calculate the three-dimensional model using an algorithm called bundle adjust, but form the basis for high resolution diffuse textures that are necessary to capture all the high frequency detail. Although the quality of the meshes derived through this process is very high, it was necessary to post-process the data. Little imperfections had to be fixed by hand. Finally a digital sculptor worked over the scan data to add details and increase the resolution. Although the process is not completely automatic, the level of detail and realism achievable this way is unparalleled. The props were mostly photo scanned too. To manage a large amount of objects we built a scan environment at our office, where all non moving objects could be scanned. After the scanning, all the objects had to be retopologized to generate a clean mesh and proper UV coordinates. Then a displacement map and diffuse map could be created. We build a vast library of props to be used in the film. To achieve maximum realism in a manageable amount of time we used both Arnold and Octane GPU rendering . After building several multi GPU workstations, equipped with 4 GTX Titan graphics cards each, the look development work got a lot easier, as the rendered results were available very quickly. This highly interactive rendering process allowed for a lot more iterations than standard CPU rendering and thus for better image quality. Novedge: What other project are you working on at the moment?
Aixsponza: We are constantly working on numerous activities from different fields. At the moment the studio is busy with very different projects for varied clients from the automotive sector, fashion, sports and engineering. Besides the commercial work we plan to realize the next free project rather sooner than later.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Aixsponza: From the first day the company was centered around CINEMA4D, a german 3D content creation software. As we all were already using CINEMA4D before, when we founded Aixsponza, it was easy to keep this software as our backbone. Today we still use CINEMA4D as our main tool for all our projects. We even managed to develop a pipeline around it, that includes different software packages. As we are very receptive to new technologies and innovative software solutions you’ll find nearly every capable piece of 3D or 2D software in our arsenal. For modeling and sculpting we use Zbrush, 3D Coat and Blender; for VFX , we use TurbulenceFD and Houdini by SideFX. Photoscanning is done with Agisoft Photoscan and for environmental tasks we are big fans of World Machine. We rely on Rhino and MOI for all CAD related tasks and do compositing in After Effects, Nuke and Fusion. Our projects are rendered using AR, V-Ray, Mantra and Octane (most recently we are evaluating Arnold, too). The rendering process is managed by Royal Render. Besides these big players we often try out small applications that tend to deliver interesting results like TopMod, Sculptris, MeshMixer or FlamePainter. To augment the palette of off the shelf products, we develop in house software to glue different packages together or to provide solutions not available on the market. As an example we used to develop a connection between CINEMA4D and Massive and developed a bridge to Houdini that allowed the two packages to exchange geometry data with attributes, long before the excellent Houdini Engine inside of CINEMA4D surfaced.
Novedge: Do you ever get a chance to contribute to software development? With suggestions, trials or otherwise..?
Aixsponza: Not only do we use Cinema 4D but we maintain a close relationship to Maxon, too. Many of the company’s employees work as beta testers for Maxon and many do presentations and demos for Maxon whenever time allows. We love to contribute our ideas to the development process of our software and do so whenever possible. Besides the commitment to Cinema4D we participate in many beta testing programs for other packages and plugins like V-Ray, Arnold, Softimage, Trubulence4D, Xparticles and Krakatoa.
Novedge: What sets you apart from the competition?
Aixsponza: With every project at Aixsponza we always provide solutions to both, the design challenge and the issues of execution. We believe that a product that excels, emerges from such a harmonised approach as both disciplines affect each other thoroughly. We envision ourselves as consultants and we enjoy bringing our expertise to very different areas of application. While having available large amounts of experience in all fields of the digital content creation process we maintain flat hierarchies in our company and work as a team with passion and dedication to the task. We are looking for the optimal answers, and we enjoy exploring and researching new ways of finding them. All this makes working with Aixsponza a very individual and at the same time professional experience.
Novedge: You guys are not just talented 3D Artists, you contribute to the storytelling first hand and compose music for your videos. Is it better to work on an entire concept "in house" so to speak?
Aixsponza: Absolutely. As stated above this is the basic concept that composes the philosophy of Aixsponza. We believe in the idea that providing all services from one source yields results of better quality and efficiency. Since, for example, we are capable of already considering the quirks of production while doing the design work we can make more profound decisions on what to create. On the other hand, as we constantly explore new techniques, tools and processes, we often encounter new ways of doing things and this enhances the design process.
Novedge: What quality is necessary to work for/with you?
Aixsponza: We are always looking for extraordinary talent. As our projects are very heterogenous and demanding, people who want to work with us should not only bring in a high level of expertise, knowledge and experience in 3D content creation, but at the same time very good design skills. It’s not uncommon at our office, that the same person creates the concepts for a project and then executes them later in 3D. Flexibility is very important, as we don’t have a static, department based pipeline, with people doing always the same tasks, but instead work as a team with every member contributing to many different aspects of a project from start to end. The autonomy of people at Aixsponza requires the ability to work in a team and good organizational skills.
Novedge: What client would you like to work for, but you haven't had a chance yet?
Aixsponza: Besides the many great clients we had the pleasure to work with in the past, there are many more interesting potential clients out there. Basically every client that is looking for quality work is highly welcome. For example, working for innovative companies like Apple, Google or Tesla would be just great. Big game studios like Ubisoft or Id Software belong in this list, too. At the same time, clients from the cultural and art sector would create an interesting challenge for us. And last but not least we never had the chance to work on a feature film until now and would love to change this.
Waiting for the next Aixsponza's Blockbuster check out "The Making of Seed", a great behind the scene where you get to see the creators and artists in action. To find out more about Aixsponza follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Apple, Google , Tesla and co. you are all invited!
Now that the Seed of Aixsponza's workflow has been sown , make it grow! Novedge has all the software tools needed, just add inspiration.