The Making of Lucio Arese's CG Short 'les Dieux Changeants'
Karen Moltenbrey
April 26, 2021

The Making of Lucio Arese's CG Short 'les Dieux Changeants'

“Les Dieux Changeants” is a CGI short film from Lucio Arese, filmmaker/visual artist
that depicts the destruction and collapse of ancient Greek and Roman statues. Its meaning is left open to interpretation. And, it is a work of art in more ways than one.
The film — which has a runtime of 3 minutes 39 seconds — uses 3D scans created by Statens Museum for Kunst, the National Gallery of Denmark, and it’s done with the intent to publicize Open, the museum initiative to digitalize their entire art collection to make it available for the public.

Arese alone worked on the film from about November 2020 to March 2021, during the second COVID-19 lockdown in Italy. It started as a technical work, to study fragmentation of 3D objects through dynamics simulations. However, the project has since beyond a simple 3D work, he points out, and in the end the filmmaker used his own concepts to turn it into a short movie with a philosophical significance.

“I got the idea the day I casually stumbled upon a 3D model on the Internet of the Laocoon Group, a famous Roman copy of an Greek Hellenistic statue, done by the Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery of Denmark),” says Arese.

“Les Dieux Changeants” depicts the destruction and collapse of the ancient Greek and Roman statues of the Laocoon Group, the Belvedere Hermes, the Belvedere Apollo, the Barberini Faun, and the Athena Giustiniani. “Its visual legacy is intriguing: the static, millenary beauty of those iconic statues of Western history being suddenly put into motion by a physical event, the hit of a bullet,” the filmmaker explains. “Obviously, none of this is supposed to happen in real life. The act of destruction is represented allegorically, as an uncertain process oscillating between negative annihilation and positive creativity readable on many levels and left open to the viewer to discern.”

Arese, in fact, likes the idea that everyone can draw their own interpretation of the film with the emblematic end quote from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. It could represent the end of something, a transformation, a cycle, a re-evaluation of established values, the beginning of something new, or just something mysterious or fascinating to look at, he says.

To create the film, Arese used Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Chaos’ V-Ray renderer. All the fragmentations and dynamic simulation of impact/demolition debris have been done with RayFire, a plug-in for 3ds Max developed by Mir Vadim.

The 3D scans of the statues, meanwhile, are freely available on MyMiniFactory from the Statens Museum for Kunst, with a creative common license “I selected the statues I liked the most according to my personal taste,” he says.

The 3D models are scanned from the Royal Cast collection of the Museum (so the scans are done on casts of the statues, and not the originals) and are part of the Scan The World project. To this end, the Museum has a big and growing collection of 3D models that are available for the public use as part of Open, the Statens Museum for Kunst initiative to digitize their entire collection to make it freely available for the public to use, remix, and re-elaborate to create new art.

According to Arese, this film garnered great interest from the museum. “In the words of Merete Sanderhoff, digital advisor for the museum, ‘Les Dieux Changeants’ bears evidence to the creative powers bubbling at the intersection of crowd-sourcing and open heritage,” he says.

The models, obviously, are atypical from what one would expect in a short CG film. “Everything in this film is intended to be simple and essential, with much care on details and photography. I employed black backgrounds, just one moving light source for every statue, and simple editing,” explains Arese. “I wanted the sculptures to speak for themselves in light and darkness. The Chopin ‘Nocturne op. 27 n. 2’ as a soundtrack gives a French taste to all the work, which I like, but it is also a great counterpart to the energetic visuals of the statues disintegrating. It creates a contrast of melancholy and primitive energy.”

While simplistic in style, the content creation process was rather complex. “Destroying such marble sculptures in a realistical way involved quite complicated simulations with tens of thousands of fragments, resulting in huge scene files and many things to handle at once,” says Arese. “It was a long process on doing and redoing things, tweaking parameters, caring about details to make everything right and to get the right bumpiness and asperity on the interior parts of the fragments.”

Another challenge was in finding the right compromise between image quality and render times to stay in a reasonable budget, since almost all the rendering was done via a renderfarm. V-ray, the filmmaker contends, worked out fairly well in that it enabled him to keep average render times below 10 minutes per frame at 4K resolution.

On the other hand, texturing the 3D “was very fun.” He comments: “I did all the texturing with [Adobe’s] Substance Painter, which I never used before and I learned it during the development of this project. It's a fantastic piece of software, one of the best I've seen in years, especially from a price/quality point of view.”

Indeed, this project’a aestheic is very unique and is quite different from anything Arese has done before. “My work has always been focused on the union between music and motion picture in a quite abstract way, without any specific message other than the audiovisual result itself. I kept the same approach for this last work, but I included a philosophical direction which was absent in anything I've done so far.”

“Les Dieux Changeants” can be seen at