Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 7 (July 2002)

Larger than Life

By Barbara Robertson

Although any studio can enter the competition, and this year there were 640 entries, Siggraph has given its Best Animated Short award in 2002 to "The Cathedral," created by an individual artist from a small studio. To mek Baginski of Platige Image (Warsaw, Poland) used commercial software to craft a beautiful and haunting animation that garnered the jury's unanimous praise. That film, a 6-minute animation based on the book, "The Cathedral" by Polish science fiction writer Jacek Dukaj, tells the story of a pilgrim who arrives, after a long journey, at a cathedral on the border of the known world. Bag inski doesn't like to divulge the ending-the film's notes reveal only that, "The cathedral is not only a building and the pilgrim is not only a man." One concept can be passed on, though: Nothing in this film is what it seems.

Like last year's Best Animated Short winner, Jason Wen's "F8" (see January 2002, pg. 32), "The Cathedral" was created with off-the-shelf software. Baginski used 3ds max, Character Studio, Stitch, Brazil, Photoshop, AfterEffects, and Softimage DS. Also like "F8," it is neither cartoon nor photorealistic. "F8" is distinguished by its lighting and rendering effects; "The Cathedral" is unique in its painterly style. In a written statement, the jury said of the film, "It was viewed repeatedly and each time the jury became more entranced by this production. It is a beautiful animation-very representative of the outstanding work we received from small, highly creative production companies in this country and internationally."

Indeed, although Warsaw's Platige Image is but five years old, artists in this small animation and effects studio are already taking home major international awards. Baginski's win follows on the heels of colleague Grzegorz Jonkajtys' first place award in the digital category at the Bradford Animation Festival for his short animated film "Mantis," created with Cinema 4D.

"This company is like a bunch of friends," says co-founder Jarek Sawko. "We are not very restricted to particular forms of making things. If somebody has an idea and shows it to everyone and says that it's going to be a nice piece of work and he's going to work on it in here, we all say 'no problem.'"

Founded in 1997, by Piotr Skiora and Sawko, Platige's 15 artists and animators work primarily on commercials for Polish clients although they recently helped create digital visual effects for the Polish film Quo Vadis. All the artists are self-taught. "At the time we started, there were no schools in Poland that people could go to for animation, so we learned by ourselves," Sawko says. "Some of the people here studied art, some physics or something else not related to art. Tomek studied architecture."

Baginski's architectural roots show in his award-winning film, but it's the painterly quality of the film that sets it apart from other work. Although people in the studio helped with motion capture and with the music, Baginski did all the visual work. He began developing "The Cathedral" in 1999, and estimates that during the past two and a half years, he spent 15 months on the film. He started with sketches and animatics, all of which are available on the Platige Web site ( as are step-by-step breakdowns of the process he used to create the film. Baginski based his cathedral on the medieval cathedral of Notre Dame in Amiens, creating the 3D models in max. To keep the size of the cathedral under control, he modeled several small parts rather than one large whole and used textures rather than geometry to create detail. "There is no scene where the whole cathedral is one model," he says. "I tried to make it as small as possible."
Polish artist Tomek Baginski created models in 3ds max, painted textures and backgrounds in Photoshop, animated characters using BiPed, simulated cloth with Stitch, rendered scenes in Brazil, and composited layers with After Effects and Softimage DS for t

The most difficult part of the project for Baginski was the animation, especially as the Siggraph deadline drew near. After starting with hand animation, he decided to try motion capture. Witalis Popow, a musician who served as the model for the film's hero, also wore the motion capture suit; the Listo Studio in Vienna provided the equipment; and the data was imported into Character Studio's BiPed software. Ultimately, though, Baginski relied on the mocap data for only four scenes; the rest were primarily hand-animated. "At the beginning, it would take me two weeks to animate a scene, but by the time we finished, I was doing more complicated things in a day. It was hard for me, but it was a good project for me to learn with," he says.

Also making it difficult to meet the Siggraph deadline were the cloth simulations. "It's very hard to get cloth to animate properly," says Baginski. "When we started, we used the Havok plug-in for max, but later switched to Stitch from Digimation. It was much better, much faster."

For Baginski though, the most rewarding part of the process was in creating the painterly elements. "Making matte paintings, mixing 3D environments with 2D backgrounds, and compositing, were the better parts of the job for me," he says.

"Tomek likes to make paintings and is a very good painter, so for this project, he created his own textures and did a lot of matte painting," adds Sawko.

Baginski's ability to create matte paintings and his experience in creating animatics and storyboards will serve the studio well as they move more toward creating visual effects for films.

"Our experience with the film we worked on (Quo Vadis) was that they did not use storyboards, because drawing storyboards for features is not a common way of making films in Poland," says Sawko. "But for the next film, which we are doing now, Tomek drew storyboards for the whole movie."

Because "The Cathedral" was produced on film, won the Best Animated Short award, and will be screened during Siggraph's Electronic Theater, Baginski can enter the work in this year's Oscar race. With the talent evident at Platige, perhaps someday the studio's effects work could be in the running for an Academy Award, too.

Barbara Robertson is Senior Editor, West Coast for Computer Graphics World.