What happens when marine life adapts to environmental pollution? Hybrids, an award-winning CG animated short film gives a stunning look at how nature adapts when the rules of survival have changed.

Directed by MoPA students Florian Brauch, Kim Tailhades, Matthieu Pujol, Yohan Thireau and Romain Thirion, Hybrids was inspired by the world’s worsening trash problem.

The 6-minute short film won numerous awards including best in show at the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival and a VES Award for outstanding effects in a student project. Hybrids was also selected to screen at this year’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival. The film also received the Oscar Qualifying prize for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the upcoming 91st Academy Awards.

The incredibly photo-realistic underwater fauna that populated the oceans in Hybrids were created using Pixologic ZBrush and Autodesk Maya for modeling with textures applied using Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter. Crowd simulation software Golaem and SideFX’s Houdini were used for crowd sequences and visual effects, respectively. Foundry Nuke and Arnold for Maya were also used for compositing and rendering.

We’ve sat down for an interview with the Hybrids team to get to know more about the thought-provoking film:

Q: Hello guys! First off, thank you so much for this interview and congratulations, the film earned such rave reviews and awards. We are blown away by the visual effects, impressive work! Please tell us more about yourselves and the role you played in making the film?

A: We are 5 co-directors coming from France, Switzerland and New Caledonia. We were reunited at School MoPA in Arles (France) and Hybrids was our graduation short film. 4 of us grew up next to the sea and it was why we choose to showcase the pollution issue.

Each one of us was skilled in his own field in addition to having a strong generalist knowledge. That helped us a lot to define who would be in charge of what while receiving directions and feedback from the others. It was kinda department-based where each department had one lead and 4 artists.

Romain was doing the design, sculpting, shading of the main characters and the compositing. Florian was doing the layout, half of the animation and the crabs’ rigs. Yohan was doing the rigs of the main characters and the other half of the animation. Kim was doing everything related to the squid and all the lighting and scene assembly. And Matthieu was doing everything related to the crabs and all the FXs of the film.

We all participated in sound effects as well. In addition to that, we had a partnership with a school of music, the MAAAV, and one of the students, Vincent Govindin, helped us creating the music.

Photo Credit: hybrids-shortfilm.com

Q: For a film that utilized a multitude of hi-tech software, apps, etc., the topic is very much in touch with nature. We know that Hybrids’ concept was inspired by the world’s worsening trash problem, which is very timely. Of all possible concepts, what made you decide on this one?

A: The idea came from Romain who’s from Cannes in the south of France. He used to dive to gaze at the underwater animals. As time went by he noticed that there were fewer and fewer fishes and more and more trash. Every time he would spot something shiny buried in the sand thinking it was some interesting form of life, it turned out to be a bottle cap instead, igniting the first spark which inspired the film.

He shared this experience with the rest of the team and it drove us to create a short film to denounce this change.

Q: From conceptualization to post-production, how long did the film take to complete?  

A: It took us 9 months. We started the project in Septembre 2016 and we were working on the idea and main assets until January. We really started the production in February to finish it around May-June 2017.

Photo Credit: hybrids-shortfilm.com

Q: One thing that sets Hybrid apart from other student films is the highly detailed visual effects. What challenges did you encounter while perfecting the look?

A: Really early in the idea stage, we knew that we would have some huge challenges.

We wanted to play with animals scale (having tiny and huge animals, sometime in the same shot) and a lot of them.

With all these challenges, we tried to be careful on the time spent on each production stage, and we tried a lot of different thing at first to find the ideas and the look we wanted, and do early tests and RnD of everything at early stages to be sure it was doable.

After that, we go quickly in a previz stage to lock all the key moments of the film and try to avoid redoing multiple time the same shot or sequence.

We knew that we would have to learn new stuff through the production, because we never used crowd before, and almost all the film is underwater, which changes everything. We had to adapt the animation, the lighting, the way we were doing the FX and the compositing, it’s almost like if we had to learn everything again or at least transpose the techniques we knew.

Photo Credit: hybrids-shortfilm.com

But all of us already did some professional internships and we tried to bring everything we learned to achieve what we wanted. We build the team to have someone who really knows his field. We had Romain for the Concepts, Modelling and Compositing / Kim for the Environments, the Squid and the Lightings / Yohan for the Rig and the Animation / Florian for the Layout and Animation and Matthieu for the Crabs and the FX.

We were doing a lot of dailies and each one had the opportunity to push the idea further. In the end, it was the teammate in his department who can say if it was doable or not in the condition we had, like a veto card or final approval.

For the hardware, we had our computer and were able to render on all the school computer during the night, but we were 8 teams in the school, with the same deadline, so you can imagine how it happened and that you have to share a lot of resources with everybody. We had to be smart and ultra efficient with the renders or simulations to avoid long render time.

Q: The undersea creatures were unique-looking; how were these designed conceptualized? What were the challenges the team faced when executing the designs?

A: We started with the shark and the crabs. We wanted some iconic characters and we tried some different garbage to hybridized them. We mainly wanted to keep the shape of the animal. We built a complete bestiary of hybrids, and then after that, we picked the one we wanted to tell the story. Looking at how each character can interact with another one, how we can play with different scale, having a huge character with a tiny one.

Q: We know it’s hard to choose but which scenes/characters are your favorites?

A: Hahaha, I think we love the crabs ! It’s one of the few characters who survived! We had many challenging scenes, you could say one for each department (modeling, lighting, anim, FX, render, compositing, etc.). The scene where the grouper gets eaten was very challenging on all aspects, the anim ad timings had to be perfect, the lighting and rendering had a lot to tackle and same thing for the FXs. It was a great team work from everyone to be able to release that shot on schedule with the look and feel we had in mind.

Photo Credit: hybrids-shortfilm.com

Q: How was the workflow of the project? Any collaborative issues while working on the project?  

A: Each of us has his own speciality. We were kind of leads in our department, but all of us were giving notes and advice to bring the shot to a higher level. It was really important for us to do dailies so each of us had the opportunity to say what was possible to do and what wasn’t and what we could improve. Doing that was really our best tool to avoid losing time and it’s perhaps the main key to the efficient making of the film.

Q: Rendering must’ve taken a long time, what challenges did you face during this process? How did you manage that?

A: For rendering, we made sure that all of our shaders were consistent in the same environment test: if you put all the characters in the same lighting environment, they look coherent. Then, it was a matter of recreating some underwater lighting that suited the sequence mood.

For the rendering, we managed to be smart enough to keep our render times between 15 and 45 mins a frame, except for the turtle shot that ramped up to 5h a frame. The renderfarm at our disposal was our school computer network that was used by the students during the day so only usable after the class hours. We also needed to share this resource between the 9 graduation project. And then the compositing played an essential part in bringing everything together in an underwater world.

Q: How did it enhance your texturing workflow on this project?

A: Our texturing workflow was really enhanced by the fact that we could reuse our own presets of textures such as rusty metal, underwater rocks, and fish skin. As we were working on photorealistic textures, Substance Painter was really an accurate tool.

A huge advantage of Substance Painter, as previously said, was the reusability of our presets. For the crab army, we had to find the right feel for one crab and then we had the ability to very quickly randomize it to get the entire army, shifting some masks and colors.

The creation of the squid was different from the other characters. Since it was very large, we had to work with different UDIMs for the organic part of the head. For this part, it was mainly textures generated for the base and a lot of painting.

For the metal parts of the whole plane, we worked each item separately. The materials we found on Substance Share helped us a lot.

Photo Credit: hybrids-shortfilm.com

Q: Was it hard completing the film with a small team?

A: It’s hard because you know that you have to give the project 120% every day and you think about it each minute of the production, it’s hard to make a real break. But at the same time, it’s quite rewarding because you know that you own 100% of it.

Being a small team is a good thing too because you cut all the intermediate. You can work more efficiently and you exactly know where you are going. You don’t have to wait weeks to get feedback because you’re the artist and director at the same time.

Q: You got support from companies like Allegorithmic and Foundry, how did these companies help in making the film?

A: Actually, we got licenses to work with this software at school, but when producing, we didn’t get any particular support, we were just regular students, trying to do the best they can.

After we finished the film, we got half of our jury at the Annecy Festival. And at some point, we got a bit of free time. We were walking around the MIFA (a huge space where the company promoted their softwares) and we saw the Allegorithmic booth. We didn’t know who was the guy seated in front of us but we just wanted to thank him for the software we used and showed him our short film. It was, in fact, Sebastien Deguy, the founder of Allegorithmic and he loved it.

After winning a prize which qualified Hybrids for the Oscars, we discovered that we had to promote it. We didn’t have any budget for it as it was a student project, so we get back to him to get some help to advertise the film for visibility.

Then we went to the Siggraph in Vancouver. It was an amazing opportunity to meet the marketing teams of Foundry and Autodesk who helped us a lot with their team of PR.

Q: What’s the best part about making a CG film? How was the process different from live-action filmmaking?

A: We never worked on live-action movies before but what’s good with full CG movies, is that you can control everything. If you want to change a camera or an asset, you don’t have the constraint of the plate or something else, you can do exactly what you want. But at the same time, you got nothing for free, you have to be smart on every decision.

Photo Credit: hybrids-shortfilm.com

Q: The film received so many awards including a qualifying prize for the upcoming Academy Awards, which is quite an achievement. How does that make you feel?

A: It is really awesome. We were in our room at school, trying to do our best and we did not expect anything like that. For us, it’s really a great opportunity to travel and bring the short film to so many different countries. We discovered different cultures, see different kinds of audience watching the short film and it was very rewarding.

Recently, we did a tour of some US animation studios and with the win at Siggraph and VES, it’s is something incredible for us. We were able to meet and discuss with the people we looked up to when we were young and we learned a lot speaking with them about how they did a film in comparison with how we did. We worked hard to be where we get, but we feel very lucky at the same time.

Q: Any tips for aspiring filmmakers out there?

A: One of the best advices we could give is to be smart and efficient. Do not throw yourself into something huge that you will struggle to finish if at all. Use the knowledge you have to put the right amount of effort in the right place.

Also, try to think outside the box or look for smarter ways to achieve what you intend. That’s what we did for the most part of making Hybrids and we also took risks. It was always carefully measured and we always had a backup plan if it was too much.

Being passionate about what you love. Stay open to news ideas and learn from experienced people. Work hard to learn and practice. It seems obvious but the more you practice, the more you sharpen your eyes, and then the techniques become secondary and you can focus on what you really want to tell.

Q: Any projects for next year?

A: Romain is currently shooting a live action short film! We are all working as artists in different studios right now but we would love to do another project. We are looking for new ideas. It was quite hard to work on it before, with all the changes in our lives, but now it’s the time to dig a bit deeper.

Watch Hybrids online at Vimeo. For more information, visit Hybrids’ official website at https://www.hybrids-shortfilm.com.

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