“A core con­cept was creative or­gan­ised chaos”

Kim tay­lor, An­i­mal Logic, the Lego Nin­jago Movie pro­duc­tion de­signer

3D World - - FEATURE -

“We had a cou­ple of very core un­der­ly­ing con­cepts be­hind the city,” out­lines Tay­lor. “One of them was creative or­gan­ised chaos, the idea that de­spite the com­plex­ity and may­hem you might get from a six-year-old’s idea of city plan­ning, ev­ery­thing still makes an or­ganic kind of sense.”

“An­other idea,” notes Tay­lor, “was el­e­ments of con­cep­tual con­trast, where you jux­ta­pose some­thing like a re­ally old tem­ple sit­ting on top of a sky­scraper, or po­si­tion things in un­ex­pected places – the old and the new liv­ing side by side at the same time. There’d be a mod­ern sky­scraper with busi­ness­men in­side next to a rooftop tem­ple gar­den with peo­ple do­ing Tai Chi.”

An­i­mal Logic also en­sured that Nin­jago City was be­liev­able and func­tional. Coonan says that es­tab­lish­ing civic rules in­formed the city’s ar­chi­tec­ture and lay­out. “It was things like which side of the road did they drive on, putting in an over­head canal sys­tem and mul­ti­ple rail sys­tems. We then de­signed po­lice, train con­duc­tors, ven­dors and other char­ac­ters who in­hab­ited the city. Nin­jago City was al­ways be­ing de­stroyed and re­built, so there were plenty of con­struc­tion work­ers too.”

An­i­mal Logic’s artists cre­ated pen­cil draw­ings, paint­ings and a raft of dig­i­tal art­work to flesh out the city. They also cre­ated quick 3D mock-ups util­is­ing bricks out of Lego Dig­i­tal De­signer and brought into Maya. De­sign­ers would some­times sketch over ini­tial 3D builds to keep it­er­at­ing.

An­other tool that came into play was VR; Tay­lor used Tilt Brush to draw broad strokes in vir­tual space and then ex­port the ge­om­e­try into mod­el­ling, par­tic­u­larly for the jun­gle en­vi­ron­ments. “Part of the rea­son for us­ing Tilt Brush was that these jun­gle lo­ca­tions were labour­in­ten­sive to build and we had to find ways to max­imise the use of each en­vi­ron­ment so we could re­ally fi­nesse it. First I placed the sto­ry­boards around me on float­ing cards in­side the en­vi­ron­ment and then sketched a rough lay­out, check­ing as I went that the same en­vi­ron­ment would work from the var­i­ous an­gles needed in the sto­ry­boards. What was re­ally cool with this setup was that I could

then get our di­rec­tor, Char­lie Bean, to walk around and give gen­eral feed­back be­fore the first as­set was even placed in a set.”

The pro­duc­tion de­sign of Nin­jago City ex­tended to the craft­ing of a unique lan­guage for sig­nage, shops and even build­ing shapes. “We had the idea that a cipher would be fun for kids to learn and trans­late,” says Coonan. “My start­ing point was shoot­ing some unusu­ally shaped bricks in sil­hou­ette, and then go­ing through a process of ab­strac­tion and hand-draw­ing un­til I came up with a set of lo­gograms that looked like sim­pli­fied Chi­nese char­ac­ters. I then cre­ated dif­fer­ent fonts from those sym­bols that can be made to look like Ko­rean, Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy, Kanji or even Ara­bic. When de­tail­ing the world at this level I feel we are like dig­i­tal an­thro­pol­o­gists, cre­at­ing a cul­ture with his­tory, a be­lief sys­tem and so­cial rules, and part of that cul­ture is lan­guage.”

alien na­tions

The name of a film can be a pretty great in­di­ca­tor of the chal­lenges in­her­ent in pro­duc­tion de­sign. Case in point: Luc Bes­son’s Va­le­rian and

the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets, in which the cen­tral char­ac­ters visit a wealth of lo­ca­tions in one mas­sive outer-space city, plus sev­eral oth­ers around the gal­axy. Help­ing to build out sev­eral of these worlds was se­nior con­cept de­signer and art di­rec­tor Ben Mauro.

One lo­ca­tion the artist worked on ex­ten­sively was a place called Big Mar­ket where the ti­tle char­ac­ter, Va­le­rian (Dane Dehaan), is able to visit a sprawl­ing in­ter­di­men­sional mer­chant world while ac­tu­ally be­ing some­where else. “For Big Mar­ket,” re­counts Mauro, “there were ref­er­ence points of souks, var­i­ous mid­dle east­ern­type mar­kets and bazaars that had a lot of colour and va­ri­ety to them, mixed with New York City’s Times Square.”

Big Mar­ket had to be dis­tin­guish­able from the other alien worlds, but the lo­ca­tion it­self was full of tens of thou­sands of aliens from all over the gal­axy in a va­ri­ety of shops sell­ing a mul­ti­tude of items. Says Mauro: “It went all the way start­ing with things like lit­tle alien toys/trin­kets sold by a gi­ant squid alien, to things like a shop where all your cells are com­pletely re­ju­ve­nated by a en­ergy-based crea­ture as some sort

Ben Mauro’s con­cept de­signs for Big Mar­ket in Va­le­rian. Big Mar­ket had to look as if it was cut into rock, but also had to in­clude a di­verse amount of stalls, shacks and in­hab­i­tants

“there were hun­dreds of in­di­vid­ual Ar­eas to de­sign” Ben Mauro, se­nior con­cept de­signer and art di­rec­tor, Va­le­rian

of funky ‘alien spa’. There were also a few fun­nier ones as Easter eggs like a french graphic novel shop full of Moe­bius and Meziere books.”

To en­sure de­sign con­sis­tency those as­pects were in­te­grated into an or­ganic rock struc­ture – reds, or­anges and warm colours were key colour choices – since the mar­ket ex­ists deep in the earth.

Mean­while, Mauro also con­trib­uted de­signs for Al­pha, the mega space sta­tion that’s in­hab­ited by mil­lions of species from thou­sands of plan­ets. Us­ing sto­ry­board artist Eric Gan­dois’ boards as a jump­ing-off point, Mauro im­ple­mented Bes­son’s fur­ther brief of a “messy clut­tered/ dense/mas­sive look to things.” In con­trast to Big Mar­ket, the colour pal­ette here fol­lowed blues, pur­ples and cool colours.

“A few things in par­tic­u­lar Luc wanted to see were long bridge­like struc­tures along with glow­ing, blue ball-type struc­tures to break up some of the shots with big­ger el­e­ments to look at,” adds Mauro. “Once the over­all messy/clut­tered look of Al­pha was set there were hun­dreds of smaller in­di­vid­ual ar­eas to de­sign that all had very dif­fer­ent looks to them.” Mauro’s ap­proach to the

Va­le­rian con­cepts in­volved both 2D and 3D. “For Al­pha, be­cause it was so mas­sive and messy I used some 3D ex­per­i­ments as a base to paint over to try to get a bet­ter sense of scale and depth in the im­ages – some­thing along the lines of MODO repli­ca­tor-type ex­per­i­ments to get some in­ter­est­ing bases to use for paintovers were some things I did, us­ing Zbrush for mod­el­ling and Keyshot to ren­der. I took it as far as I could with the time that I had in the con­cept art; the VFX guys re­ally did the heavy lift­ing on all this stuff, they all did an in­cred­i­ble job mak­ing those places come to life in the film.”

above: This de­sign in­cludes some of the orig­i­nal ‘lan­guage’ and char­ac­ters es­tab­lished to cover build­ings and use for sig­nage right (top to bot­tom): early colour de­signs es­tab­lished a whim­si­cal aes­thetic to nin­jago city pro­duc­tion con­cepts were aimed at es­tab­lish­ing a sprawl­ing city full of life con­cepts were taken to the level of near­fi­nals to help show the mix­ing of old and new in the city

Top: “i cre­ated an alien lan­guage or al­pha­bet that can be seen all over the signs and ar­chi­tec­ture of al­pha,” notes Mauro, “along with a se­ries of ad­ver­tise­ments for var­i­ous alien prod­ucts and ser­vices in the uni­verse to help give more colour and life to the world”

above: a fi­nal shot of Big Mar­ket fromVa­le­rian, as part of a mas­sive fly-through of the lo­ca­tion

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