Beeple Interview: Transparent Machines
3D Artist, Mike Winkelmann (AKA Beeple) has been having an incredibly prolific and artistic year. He continues to post to his Everyday Project for 2387 consecutive days and counting. He shares a ton of detailed Creative Commons C4D scene files and renders he has been making in his VJ Clips series. But today, we sit down with him to talk about his latest film, Transparent Machines.
How did you get the idea for Transparent Machines™?
This started off as a totally different piece that was not going to be glass at all but was going to be more about how technology is advancing faster and faster. So I started building this giant cylinder machine thing that was building itself. After working on it off and on for many months, one day I tried applying a glass texture to the whole thing and I thought it looked pretty sweet. So then around that time all of the stuff with Snowden and the NSA was going down and everybody was constantly talking about transparency. So one day the idea to use that concept of ‘transparency’ in the piece just sort of popped into my head. I would honestly attribute the concept more to almost blind luck than to too much premeditation on my part.
Do you think animation can change the mind of people and help inform them about social issues?
Yeah I definitely think that animation can be a very powerful platform to explain issues, especially complicated ones. I think with animation you inherently have the advantage of being able to explain something through not only speaking but also images that can change over time. This can really help to illustrate some complex concepts. I think making something that is entertaining as well can only help to spread your message too.
Did you do any story boarding for this piece?
No, when I work on a short film it really sort of evolves over time. I usually don’t have a super clear idea what it’s going to end up like when I start and certainly that was the case here. From my early renders you can see that the piece initially had a very different look and obviously would have necessarily had a very different message…
Where do you find time to do your daily renders AND work on a large piece like this?
I was actually just talking about this to my friend Kyle (Standingwave) who did the sound design for the piece. He has just started doing his own audio everydays (https://soundcloud.com/standingwave) and was wondering about the same thing. I think if there is a “trick”, it’s to do your everydays last. Everydays for me will take up just about as much time as I have for them. If I have 4 hours to devote to them one day, then I’ll spend four hours and spend more time experimenting and screwing around. But if I only have an hour, then they’ll get done in an hour. So I would say try to work on any bigger projects first and leave the everydays to the end of the day so they don’t take up too much of your time and you can get other stuff done too.
If I have 4 hours to devote to them one day, then I’ll spend four hours and spend more time experimenting and screwing around. But if I only have an hour, then they’ll get done in an hour.
How long did this take to make start to finish?
I really wish I kept better track of stuff like that. I started this project in May of last year but then there were months at a time where I didn’t work on it at all. Looking back through all of my Cinema4D files (I save a new one each day so I roll things back easily if I change direction). I would say that I worked on this roughly 150 days (1-2 hours most days) .
What were the render times like on this? Do you have any tips for keeping rendering times down on such a long spot?
The render times on this were not as bad as you’d think because the setup was pretty much as simple as it could possibly be. There are no lights at all in the scene, no GI, no AO, no DOF. It is literally just the geometry with a glass material applied. The only thing that made the render times a bit higher is that some of the shots were rendered at around 4K so that I could pan around the shot in post to sync really tight with the music. But the render times were at worst like 10 minutes per frame even on those super high res shots.
Why did you choose to post the entire Cinema 4D Project file for download?
This is my attempt to give back to the awesome community who made this possible in the first place. Throughout this project I watched tons of tutorials and read tons of articles on VRay, modeling, etc. I honestly don’t feel qualified to do tutorials but if people can learn from these or remix them into something cool, that would be awesome. I love seeing stuff I did live on in other people’s work…
How does music effect your animation workflow and ideas?
The music for me is the main driver of the pacing and feel of a film. The music here was pretty fast and aggressive so the animation was actually sped up almost four times faster than I actually did it to match the feel. The music also lead me to make a ton of very tiny cuts that were less than one second long. Above everything I almost always try to make the visuals match the music as close as possible.
Do you do all your C4D work in Vray?
No, I don’t do everything in Vray but for this, all of the shots were done in VRay mostly because I really loved that glass material. This was a free material that I downloaded from their site but it’s got a really great feel to it and renders pretty quick. I also feel like I’ve been drawn to Vray lately just because it has a bit of a different feel. Things don’t always look necessarily better per se, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a different look.
Can you tell us about the final comping for this piece? Did you use After Effects?
This was the first time I attempted a 32-bit linear workflow. I’m sure I made some mistakes along the way, but I will say it definitely afforded me a lot more control over the look in post. Besides the sort of video and text overlays though, there wasn’t a ton of comping in post. What I exported was only the one main pass and that really just had some color correction on it.
Can you tell us about the animation process? Looks like a TON of keyframes.
Yeah this was the main bulk of the work for the project. Unfortunately to give things a bit of an ‘organic’ feel while it was building itself, everything needed to be done by hand. This allowed me to look at each individual shape to see how it would look best “appearing” in relation to the machine . So if it was a sweep nurbs tube shape, then I would animate the start and end parameter to have it grow along the spline. If it was a nut or bolt, then it would usually sort of pop out of the structure animating the scale. If it was a clamp or more complex shape, a lot of times I used Booleans to make these appear. So all of this had to be done by hand to make sure these things were happening at the right time as well.
A lot of people have commented on how the scene file runs ridiculously slow on their computer and that was the case for me as well. When working on something I had to solo just that piece using a plugin called Magic Solo. If I wanted to see a preview of the animation I rendered out a hardware preview as it was completely unviewable in the viewport.