STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN — Bläck, here, recently contributed to director Andrée Wallin’s new live-action short film State Zero, transforming its very own backyard into a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
State Zero’s backdrop is that of a near future Stockholm, which has plunged into pure dystopia. Aggressive, mutated vampires stalk the land while military teams venture into hazardous zones, attempting to maintain surveillance towers.
Using captured footage of the city around them, the Bläck team gave the locale a gritty look, added futuristic architecture, and then filled it with the beasts, all without losing the city’s realistic edge. While the film itself is brief, the scale of the project was large. State Zero required 88 visual effects shots and an array of design work, spread across user interfaces and the WASP aircraft, among other applications. The studio employed ftrack to easily track shots across multiple artists and deal with pauses in post production.
Zero to hero
State Zero is Wallin's first directorial effort, but he has credits as a concept artist, working on projects such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Oblivion and Godzilla. Wallin is a long-time friend of Calle Granström, Bläck's lead compositor, so the idea of collaborating on this high-impact short came naturally. Granström started working on the project independently, but as the scale grew, the Bläck team came on-board too.
"Everyone at Bläck agreed that this was a brilliant opportunity to push our character and VFX work up a notch, with the ambition to make feature film-quality effects without the constraints of regular commercial productions," says Granström.
Luckily, their location proved an immediate benefit, as they could capture footage from Stockholm as a basis for shots. Wallin and Granström worked together on ground stills and video footage, and collaborated with aerial cinematographer Björn Olin to grab clips using a custom-built drone.
"Since the world of State Zero exists in the aftermath of an event that has left large parts of the world uninhabitable and ghostlike, it was a big effort to paint out and retouch the moving plates, removing cars, people, and other vehicles that existed in the original shots," notes Granström. He adds that maintaining the correct scale of items in the world was essential, since the massive atrium and the smaller foliage-draped buildings used the same asset library and had to remain consistent.
State Zero’s vampiric creatures also provided a significant challenge for Bläck. Not only did they have to build these soft-body humanistic creatures, but they had to stand up to scrutiny, with static shots that revealed the creatures in their entirety. "It's always hard to pull off a convincing humanoid performance in CG, especially when the action is subtle as in some of the vampire shots," admits Granström.
Luckily, Bläck's sister company, Imagination Studios, provided convincing motion-capture work for the vampires, while the team put extensive work into their standard bipedal character rig using ZBrush, Maya, Marvelous, Arnold, and Yeti for the muscles, clothes, hair, and skin.
For the WASP – the film’s sci-fi take on a troop carrier – the team began with a 2D concept delivered by Wallin's fellow Star Wars concept artist, Matt Allsopp. This was then translated into 3D by robotics artist Gavriil Klimov.
Bläck also designed the user interface elements seen on the WASP and the ground crew's gadgets – holographic readouts consisting glowing figures and charts. These elements, along with the environments, creatures and vehicles, meant that Bläck was tasked with significant creative responsibility.
Bläck first used ftrack when it joined the Goodbye Kansas Entertainment Group, which also includes Fido, Imagination Studios, and Infinity Entertainment. Fido used ftrack as the studio's internal production tracking tool before growing into a commercial product. Fido and Bläck alike use ftrack for all of their work, and for Granström it’s an essential part of any post production process.
"It's obvious that when doing effects for more than just a couple of shots, you need to have a system that can help you keep track of all versions and revisions," he says. "Since we did upwards of 100 shots for State Zero – and with occasional longer periods between work being done due to switching gears or spending time on other commercial work – ftrack was crucial to us during production."
Pontus Garmvild, Bläck’s head of production, believes tools like ftrack are absolutely essential, and not just for 100-plus visual effects vendors: "As soon as you start doing more than 10 shots or assets, and have a bigger crew, you notice it's a train wreck waiting to happen in terms of structure and organization,” he explains. “If you add on people working remotely, or the project gets chopped up time-wise for to one reason or another, you realize it's impossible to work without a proper asset/project management tool like ftrack."
For Bläck, it’s the way in which all of ftrack’s features work in tandem that makes it such an invaluable part of the studio's process. “The review functionality in particular makes it easy to loop in comments and keep everything in a central location, which makes working with partners of all sizes a much smoother process,” says Granström. "Also, the ease of passing data between applications, and making sure you are working on the correct versions of cameras, geometries, and renders is what really makes the difference when working with ftrack."
The team has even done some custom development to make ftrack a more comfortable fit with their specific workflow. Using Python scripting, Bläck also created a custom launcher, which Granström says "sets a bunch of variables specific to the individual shot and takes away a lot of headaches from the artist. The launcher also lets the artist log time in a very easy and intuitive way, which is greatly appreciated across the team."