February 13, 2023
Written by Leif Pedersen
Bourdonnement, or Buzz, is a powerful short about the struggles of controlling our deepest emotions, and its technical and creative accomplishments are a showcase for ESMA and the artists involved in its production. Co-Directors and Lighting Artists Melanie Rohmer and Martin Teillet, who also helped develop the story, had to overcome some interesting technical and rendering challenges to bring this story to life.
The story revolves around a man’s infatuation with someone next door, but his feelings are depicted symbolically. “We aimed to address the topic of obsession and how individuals can become consumed by passion,” said Melanie. “We used a couple to drive the plot, but it’s a very relatable story,” she added. “The original draft was a lot darker and disturbing, but once the pitch had been selected, Pierre-Louis Bouron, Zoé Chataigner, Lena Hosdez, and Aude Mahieux joined the team, and we decided to steer the story in a more fantastical direction, while keeping the unsettling elements already present in the draft,” added Martin.
Music also played a critical role in Bourdonnement. “Laurent Vang, our music composer also joined the production in an early stage. He made the original score for the short film, which was a key element to drive the story, and really grasped the mood of the story as soon as he read the first script,” he added.
One of the symbolisms in the film was the use of fly swarms, which presented some technical challenges for the rendering pipeline. “We used Maya for most of the production and Houdini for all of the particle visual effects,” said Martin. “Since our finishing tool was Maya, we used Houdini engine and some custom scripts to transfer point data back to Maya. We used this point data to position and orient an array of RIB files which contained the different fly animations,” he added.
“I’m really excited about improving these workflows with Pixar’s USD in the future. Exchanging data effectively between apps is still an inexact process and this can be very time consuming to solve without the right resources,” added Martin.
The texturing was also a creative mix of tech between Mari and Substance, which proved to be a flexible surfacing pipeline. “A lot of the texturing was done in Mari utilizing its nodal workflow, and we used RenderMan’s Pixar Surface for the materials. This made the transition back to RfM predictable,” said Melanie. “We also used Adobe Substance to generate a lot of procedural masks which were imported for breaking up the base painting in Mari before further detail painting” added Martin.
One of the biggest breakthroughs for the production was the use of OCIO, especially as most shots were interior and benefited from the improved color and luminance range. “At some point early in production, we transitioned to the Filmic color profile and it was a huge jump in cinematic quality for us. The range of colors, especially with sunlight and other high ranges, really helped us achieve a beautiful look,” said Martin.
For lighting, the production was able to leverage RenderMan’s toolset to their advantage, but looming deadlines and limited staff meant creative compromises had to be made. “For a couple of shots, we decided to go with a more realistic aesthetic than the original expressive concept art,” said Melanie.
Did you know RenderMan has an unofficial Discord server where you can chat with developers and users?
“We had some pretty gross shots with some interesting closeups which we really liked, but in the end we decided to allocate these lighting resources towards other visual effects goals,” added Martin. “Our sets were limited, so we were able to anticipate the lighting reasonably well, but we still found ourselves doing a lot of manual shot lighting in every scene. With the experience we now have, we would have tackled the lighting pre-production more on a sequence level” he added.
During the 18 months of production there were a lot of technical and creative lessons which were not obvious during the first 4 years of university. “We didn’t have a lot of experience with standard lighting practices, so now that we have some production experience, we’re a little judgemental when we look back at the choices we made. We’re thankful that it was relatively easy to change lighting with light filters and make creative choices after key lighting was settled,” said Martin.
“Working with people in general was an amazing learning experience. Having reviews with teachers and mentors, such as Emmanuelle Leleu, was really constructive criticism and eye opening for us, since we were often in a sort of tunnel vision. It proved to be a great motivation and creative tool,” he added.
The production team was incredibly thankful for ESMA’s support and their ability to create a positive and creative environment for the short film. “Overall, our animation, lighting, and compositing teachers Isabelle Auphan, Christophe Moreau, and Anthony Voisin just to name a few, were so essential in the development of the short…they basically acted as production managers, and it wouldn’t have been possible without them,” said Martin.
The short was a huge learning experience for Melanie and Martin and served as a platform to work for Illumination McGuff on some of the biggest blockbusters. “We were super lucky to meet industry folk at the ESMA job fair, which really helped us take the next steps in our careers,” said Martin. “I’m currently working on a personal project and we hope to bring all of our passion for animation and storytelling to new professional projects going forward,” concluded Melanie.
Pierre-Louis Bouron - Character design, lookdev, groom, lighting, compositing
Zoé Chataigner - Animatic, layout, animation, editing
Léna Hosdez - Colorscript, lookdev, set dress, lighting, compositing
Aude Mahieux - Animatic, layout, rigging, animation
Mélanie Rohmer - Animatic, colorscript, layout, lookdev, set dress, lighting, compositing
Martin Teillet - Pipeline, character design, lookdev, FX, lighting, compositing
Laurent Vang - Music composer