The trailer for Paths of Hate showcased its effortless combination of comic book visual style with dynamic dogfighting camera motion and kinetic editing. The film was created at Poland’s Platige Image, home of Tomek Baginski, Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Michał Socha and, of course, Paths of Hate director Damian Nenow.
The short film has shown at a number of festivals worldwide, and won awards at Annecy, ComicCon, and SIGGRAPH to name a few. Damian Nenow was at the SIGGRAPH Autodesk Booth presenting his short film, including a four-minute excerpt that includes new material not in the trailer. For those unable to make it to a festival screening, this footage is the closest taste you’ll get until the DVD gets released later this year.
We were able to catch up with Damian at Vancouver and find out a little more about this beautiful film. He and Platige Image were also generous enough to provide some fantastic making-of materials that show how much care went into the film, both artistically and technically. The images and videos are high-quality, so give them some full-screen love.
What is your background? How did you end up working for Platige?
I have loved drawing since I was a little boy. After I graduated from an art school in my home town, I got my first computer, and after just one month I was in love with computer graphics. I soon discovered 3D animation and watched Tomek Bagiński’s Academy Award-nominated Cathedral. I immediately gave up applying to the Academy of Fine Arts and dashed to take entrance exams for the Film School, in the animation faculty.
My cooperation with Platige Image started with Great Escape, which I produced at the end of my second year of studies. I recorded my film on a DVD, packed my bag and went to the studio, hoping that someone would like it. They did, and that’s how my cooperation in a large number of projects started. Platige Image agreed to provide the promotion and festival distribution of Great Escape, and then the full production of my next film — Paths of Hate.
What are the origins of this story for you?
The idea of Paths of Hate appeared five years ago, when I was still studying at film school. I have always been completely fascinated with everything that could fly. I put my ideas together into a screenplay about a surreal duel which could not be completed without losing one’s humanity, a fragment of a larger story into which the viewer is dropped in mid-action.
From the very start, I knew that my film would be a 3D animation. It was to be dynamic and spatial. I liked the visual solutions used in Tomek Bagiński’s films, which made the 3D graphics look very pictorial. I wanted to go even further in the styling.
I conducted a huge number of trials and tests, but the final choice was the comic book. I got my hands on the “Universal War One” graphic novel by Denis Bajram. The sketch line suited the surrealistic duel scenes perfectly, making the film feel fresh and making it stand out against dozens of photorealistic 3D animations.
I think that realistic camerawork brings the pictorial, comic world to life. One of the most important goals was to combine realistic, dynamic, live camera animation with a stylized picture. I wanted the camera to be animated like a real one — with all the imperfections and unexpected motion, as if it was held by a human operator, sitting in another invisible aircraft, chasing those two main characters. The cameras were keyframed by hand. The distortions came from procedural noise algorithms that were applied to the camera rotations.
Editing is probably my favorite stage of production. I love to play with the tempo and overall composition in my projects. In Paths of Hate you can find quite a wide variety of editing — ultra–fast, almost subliminal sequences divided by long, slow–motion shoots, time-lapses in the middle of dynamic action scenes, transitions through eye pupils … I love to mix it. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of editing the film myself.
MUSIC AND SOUND DESIGN
Our priority, when it came to sound, was emphasizing the dynamic character and the pace of the picture and conveying the fury of the main characters. We also tried to make the sound help viewers find themselves in the space they are being transferred to by the images which very frequently change very fast.
Right after the first edit of Paths of Hate was finished, it went straight to Genetix Sound Studio. I was still animating characters and simulating particles while Maciej Tęgi was working on sound effects and Jarosław Wójcik started to compose the music score.
The idea was to give those artists a lot of creative space. I shared my vision with them. On some points I was stubborn, but in others I choose their propositions. It was a cooperation. They did a really great job.
In Paths of Hate, there is, indeed, an uncomplicated pacifist massage. However, it is not any in-depth analysis of the problem. It is symbolic. It was meant to raise questions in the mind of a viewer during the final credits.
It is more like a poster or banner: “Hey, there is a problem, have you ever thought about it?” This simple slogan is dressed in a sort of graphical “anecdote.” The Second World War is just a context — it is mainly of formal importance. I did not want that film to present any specific battle or fragment of a campaign.
The heroes in my film are anonymous warriors. I was afraid that otherwise the historical context resulting from their nationality would distort the very universal message of the film.
THE TECHNICAL NITTY GRITTY
STYLIZATION AND THE DRAWINGS LAYER
The drawing layer is one of two most important layers in the Paths of Hate compositing. The drawing layers, combined with the outline layers, are the key elements of stylization. By drawing layer, I mean a compositing pass containing hand-drawn textures — simple black sketches on white background.
The simple and cruel rule is that if you want something to look hand drawn, you just have to draw it by hand. Most of the textures were standard UVW mapped bitmaps, but some of them were projected. I used camera mapping techniques to project drawings from camera POV onto 3D surfaces. With this approach you are no longer restricted by UV mapping, but it can handle only a very small angle of movement. For some objects, with a lot of motion, like pilots’ heads, I had to prepare more then just one projection.
The cloud sets were definitely the most difficult and challenging elements to create in this film. The development of a technology which would allow the creation of stylized, pictorial clouds took me over a year. It is always difficult to create clouds in 3D, especially if you want them to look photo-realistic. Having them realistic and stylized at the same time was even more difficult.
The dogfight choreography and camera animation in Paths of Hate are very spacious and dynamic, so the cloud sets had to be completely three-dimensional. There was no way to use any kind of half measure such as flat, matte-painted plates or stock shots. I also wanted to have full control over the shape and lighting in my clouds.
I developed a complicated technique that uses an old and forgotten vertex color in 3DS Max, one of the oldest tools in there. Using vertex color I was able to create and illuminate fake translucency and have full control over these clouds. The whole trick was to use old, simple tools in a new way.
The greatest thing about this technique is the render time. For one 2K frame it took less then 30 seconds to render.
PROJECT TEAM AND TIMELINE
If you were to add up all the months devoted to the work on Paths of Hate, not including the long development, it would be just over two years. I rarely managed to work without any interruption for more than one month. At that time, Platige Image was producing a huge number of other projects in which I was involved.
The film was created on the basis of a subsidy from the Polish Film Art Institute and the resources of the studio. There has never been a dedicated team working on this project. Although most of the animation and models were made by me, the project would not have been completed without the help from my colleagues, most of them from the Platige Image studio.
Have you ever gotten a chance to fly an airplane?
No, I haven’t. The only way I’ve flown is as a passenger. But I am a huge fan of aviation, ever since I was a kid. I used to spend hundreds of hours playing on simulators and building paper models.
What advice would you give to those who want to make a short film like yours?
Sometimes good is better than perfect. An idea is often worth writing down somewhere you can see it, near your place of work. Original short films may be perfected ad infinitum. This is a terrible trap into which many artists can fall, and I was one of them. I once heard Sting say that you never finish musical pieces, that you only abandon them. I think that short animations are the same. It is good to have a reliable production manager who will not believe our artistic lament and will not let us start the whole film from the very beginning for the 10th time.
What are you working on now?
So far I have become involved in lots of labor-consuming commercial projects, but at the same time I’m developing several ideas. Right now it is nothing definite, but I will certainly start producing another original short film in the next two years.
Watch the Paths of Hate Facebook page to see if it will be playing at any near you (I highly recommend getting the full theater experience if you can) and also watch out for forthcoming distribution via Amazon.
Thank you to Damian Nenow and Agnieszka Piechnik at Platige Image for helping put this interview together! And thank you to Jon Saunders, who also met up with Platige earlier this year to contribute part of the interview.
PATHS OF HATE CREDITS
Director: Damian Nenow
Script: Damian Nenow
Executive Producers: Piotr Sikora, Jarosław Sawko, Tomek Bagiński
Producer: Marcin Kobylecki
Production Manager: Marta Staniszewska
3D Graphics: Jarosław Handrysik, Jakub Jabłoński, Rafał Kidziński, Bartłomiej Kik, Bartosz Opatowiecki, Kamil Pohl, Krzysztof Rusinek, Łukasz Skurczyńśki, Marcin Stępień, Piotr Suchodolski, Dominik Wawrzyniak
Editor: Damian Nenow
IT: Tomasz Kruszona, Piotr Getka, Łukasz Olewniczak
Music: Jarosław Wójcik
Sound: Genetix Studio, Maciej Tęgi
Sound Producer: Jarosław Wójcik
Music Performed By: Jarosław Wójcik, Paweł Piechura, Ramez Nayyar
Vocal: Radosław Zander
Music Mix: Rafał Smoleń
Sound Recording in Dolby Digital: EX Tomasz Dukszta, C.A.S., Maciej Tęgi, Jarosław Wójcik
Mastering Dolby: Tomasz Dukszta, C.A.S.
Head of Studio 1 WFDiF: Wojciech Hamer
Technical Service Studio 1 WFDiF: Mieczysław Karwicki, Jan Kozłowski, Leszek Micewski
Head of Film Laboratory WFDiF: Małgorzata Rogulska
Print Laboratory WFDiF: Jarosław Migała, Jacek Cieśliński
Co-Financed By: Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej