Unexpected (Stuttgart) Co-founder & CEO, Commercial Director - Alexander Kiesl - talks to cebas about the passion for unique commercial visual effects
Thank you to Alex Kiesl and company for giving cebas Visual Technology insights into your absolutely creative work. We're very excited to showcase your project over cebas social media.
Cebas: let's start with an update about yourself, and the founding of <unexpected GmbH> - how you came to be in this field of work. Please also feel free to comment on the VFX activities, learning opportunities and market in your region.
Alexander Kiesl and Steffen Hacker: Founded in 1999 in Stuttgart, we are an owner-managed post-production house, specialized in visual effects, 3D animation, CGI, interactive and real time media. Our talented crew of 36 permanent artists works passionately on designing and creating unique worlds, visual effects, digital imagery and an unlimited range of animations.
We have developed a versatile workflow that enables us to quickly adapt to the special needs of each project. Our in-house motion capture studio allows us to capture two characters at the same time. We enjoy this creative freedom with our clients, without having to leave the studio.
In the past years we have worked on numerous commercials and branded films that have won various national and international awards. You can view some of our award-winning reels at www.unexpected.de/work/
What is special about unexpected is that we also direct all our commercials ourselves as the directing duo “Alex & Steffen”. By this, we make sure that our vision is created exactly as we had in mind and that the shots can reach the quality we are committed to. Combining life action shots with computer generated digital effects remains our main focus and this has been our passion ever since, in terms of filmmaking.
Cebas: Alex, since you're here with us, please give cebas some interesting insights about one or two of your more recent projects that you have derived great satisfaction working on.
Alex: we recently worked on quite a big ad for a telecom provider. The task was to create an action-packed full CG car race through the desert. In addition to that, we also had to create a huge sandstorm as an add-on obstacle for our racers. We had to create a sandstorm a couple of years ago and it was a huge R&D task which took quite a long time. Of course we had to start from scratch for this project as we had something completely different in mind. So Stefan Kleindienst, one of our particle artists, decided to go with TP for this ad. And he managed to create a stunning sandstorm with TP.
We also had to create a lot of other sand simulation effects and of course – as it is about racing – some really nice burn-out effects.
(a previous 'sandstorm' simulation scene)
Another major project we worked on was the launch campaign for a huge entertainment park, which opens this year, October in Dubai (Dubai Parks and Resorts). This was also quite a huge challenge as we had to create a variety of characters and all of them had to be in the desert. A big challenge was a wave which had to splash over a huge dune, another task handled with thinkingParticles.
Cebas: the vfx community and followers would love to know more about your two Studios: Alex & Steffen and the Unexpected Postproduction - some interesting history: how did you both meet and decide to collaborate in VFX work? And has it been easy in Stuttgart? Did you have many competitors? Do you use both Autodesk Max and Maya and why?
Alex: when Unexpected was founded in 1999 it was quite a spontaneous decision to form our own company, so this fact came quite ‘unexpected’ to our former bosses. Hence, the name “unexpected”. We both met in 2000 at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg where we studied Visual Effects and Animation. Steffen is a 2D compositor and Alex, myself, is a 3D animator, so we both worked together most of the times as our workflow and our game and film background matched perfectly. We studied till 2005. Parallel to our studies we built the visual effects department at unexpected. Our final exam movie, “Racing Beats”, won almost all advertisement awards in 2005 which also established us to become future commercial directors. So we fused both things together and now we direct and postproduce all our commercials with our great team here at unexpected.
Stuttgart is quite a good location for VFX, so there are quite a lot of VFX companies around, but all managed to find more or less their own niche. Unexpected is completely based on 3D Studio Max… from the very beginning in 1999.
Cebas: on the breakdown reels shown here, which were the VFX shots/images in particular had TP in them? Can you give us a step-by-step breakdown of a typical shot/image that you do with TP? Do you use MaxScript/ any scripting at all?
Alex: in these two shots, Stefan Kleindienst used TP for several scenes (see the following reel 0:11-0:15; 0:34-0:35).
Depending on an initially defined and growing distances, the Geometry gets 'broken' into big pieces and therefore separates. After that, using the same distance, with a slight Offset, this will activate the chunks for reacting on a pulling force, which then gets stronger and break again via various set rules.
Like in the Ground-break scene, I produced uneven pieces by breaking up the corners, to avoid the well-known voronoi shapes.
The last part was the conversion to glowing cubes. As simple as it can be, this happened with the shapeBlend node, and some scaling over time. Nothing fancy, but this had worked out great for the shots.
For the Dubai Parks entertainment commercial, thinkingParticles was also used for a couple of shots. For example, in the big LEGO-Pirate ship shot, we created the complete underlaying wave simulation with TP's flowSolver. This was quite a task as we had to match this back and forth with the animation of the pirate ship and the submarine. TP delivered fast results and showed a great performance.
For the Lego landscape-transformation shot, in which we see the moving river surface, the very handy Hydrofield feature was the right Tool for our needs. Setting up all the parameters to show the water filling up the riverbed was intuitive and great to handle. It was also an achievement that we did not had to wait for visual results for a long time. ThinkingParticles was really fast.
Cebas: a bit about why you had decided that TP was the best for this vfx project and did our software help you achieve the desired effects without much hiccups?
Alex: we decided to integrate TP in our FX-Pipeline because of several features. One aspect was the ability to work in a full procedural way, so that we can build tools for different tasks for a project and furthermore reuse setups on demand.
The ShapeCollision solver, is very forgiving in terms of geometry-interpenetration and this leads to more predictable simulation results, which saves time.
Other reasons are the great physic-solvers and fracturing Operators for Destruction.
We especially like the multiphysics integration, speaking of the fluid- and spline-Solvers, which makes thinking particles our first choice for almost every physical-based effect.
Cebas: what are some of the features in thinkingParticles that you feel are unbeatable - such as, perhaps, help speed up and enhance a creative output for your commercial and film vfx ?
Alex: as stated before, because of the procedural way of creating Setups, we often re-use prebuild Tools with exposed Parameters, and this speeds up our workflow during production. Another major speedup is the all-in-one aspect of TP. We have to switch less between different Plugin-Packages, lose less time in finding workarounds for incompatibility issues.
Cebas: what do you find usually are the more difficult aspects of 3d/ vfx design work - is it getting the best technology or the artistic creativity? Is there an available vfx software that resolves all your technology-to-art needs? What is missing?
Alex: We usually try not to think too technically when we write treatments and come up with visual concepts. This would hinder the whole creative and artistic process. So we simply try to come up with something unique and most of the times even something we had not done before so that we keep challenging ourselves. The interesting and probably most exciting moments are when we design the effects or the world environment. This is where our guys really have to tax their brains. We usually discuss which technique or plug-in we want to use. But there is obviously no one-click solution to all tasks. And as it is a pretty creative process it is also quite enjoyable to a certain extend.
Cebas: we noted that your Studio has done a lot of amazing commercial visual effects and you are developing markets in Germany, Russia, Turkey, Middle-east and possibly, in Asia as well - unexpected GmbH has been quite international and have collaborated with studios in India as wel. We would love to hear more about your market and your hopes and dreams for <Alex & Steffen> and <Unexpected>.
Alex: we pretty much work all around the globe, which is a great thing as you get to know a variety of cultural ways of storytelling and visual languages. We also work a lot for the European market but we have to say that, especially in markets like Russia or the Middle-East, they are more daring nowadays and have bolder ideas. We wish some of this crazy creativity would find its way to our home turf.
Cebas: will you be developing markets in film/movie VFX in the future?
Alex: we are working on something… maybe :)
Cebas: how did cebas software integrate into your production pipeline? How straightforward was it for the commercial vfx?
Alex: TP integrates without any problems, since 3ds Max is our main 3D-programme, so there was no conversion or compatibility issues.
Cebas: what was the most fun or rewarding part of a project for you?
Alex: A project consists of different stages. At the beginning there is a lot of designing and preproduction. When we come back from a shoot there is always quite a long stretch where everyone is working like crazy on 3D tracking, match moving and all those details, but progress in terms of visible changes for the client is small. This is actually the most stressful phase in terms of handling agency and client as they expect to see visual progress immediately.
When it comes to actually creating the shots, animating the assets and adding all the particle effects and simulations which make the shot really cool and more believable, these are the moments where everyone gets really excited and where the fun level is really high on all ends. Once an animator or effects artist sees his 3D work being put together in compositing and in motion, this is where the rewarding moment starts.
Cebas: what projects can we expect from you in the future (if you're able to tell us). Will there be new projects coming from Asia or elsewhere?
Alex: we work all around the globe. We worked quite a bit for the Asian market and we are always excited about their different creative approach which is really, really different from our European perspective, which is very tempting. So yes, more to come for sure. Another thing we are really into right now is the Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). We’re developing some nice and crazy stuff in this field. Very exciting!
Cebas would like to thank Alex Kiesl, Stefan Kleindienst and all the FX Team at unexpected.de for this amazing Insights Interview. Let's keep in touch. Check in at AlexandSteffen.com and unexpected.de regularly for new stuff.
( a peek into the Unexpected creative space - where things come together.)