To launch 's new section showcasing the work of students and independent animators, we talk to the young Italian hotshot responsible for BV-01, a five-minute blast of urban robot coolness.
A futuristic robot polices the mean streets of Florence in this spec ad spot
Animators who find themselves spending an inordinate amount of time worrying that their list of achievements doesn't tally with their ever-expanding waistline and advancing years would do well to steer clear of BV-01, the short film created by the almost indecently young Alessandro Pacciani. Although just 20 years old, the Italian animator has already single-handedly created one of this year's standout CG shorts.
Boasting a visual quality equal to the output of major effects facilities, BV-01 is an astounding blend of CG robotics and handheld camera work. Incredibly, Pacciani has had no formal training. "I started to learn the basics of 3D myself while I was still quite young, and then started work when I was just 15 as a programmer at a software house, though that was a non-CG job," he explains.
Leaving behind C++ for the world of advertising, Pacciani then began designing for numerous creative agencies in his native Italy, before moving on again to work as a visual effects supervisor on TV commercials, working for such prestigious clients as car companies Ford and Mazda. "I no longer have a full-time industry job because I wanted to be able to dedicate more time to my personal projects," he says. The self-funded BV-01 project sprang from a fascination with industrial robotics and sci-fi films. "I've always wanted to make a cyberpunk movie with a robot that goes around the city, with the crowd filmed by a camcorder. And I also like to put forth the idea of a decision-making robotic system that's fully integrated in the society of a near future."
Pacciani cites the experimental shooting and editing style of Chris Cunningham as an influence, but says his biggest inspiration was Neill Blomkamp at Embassy VFX. However, while Blomkamp's famous Tetra Vaal animation provides a blueprint for the handheld filming style and 'robotic policeman' in the community concept, Pacciani says he'd already been developing the idea for BV-01: "After seeing his robot movie last April, I decided to include a dedication in tribute to his work."
SHOOTING THE POLICE
Modelling the robot from sketches, which in turn were based on a drawing made while still at school, Pacciani then began storyboarding and deciding on specific shots and locations in the city of Florence. He ultimately spent two days in the city shooting handheld footage, including many scenes populated by the local police. Surprisingly, they had no problem being filmed.
"They really liked my idea about the robot, and I ended up wasting a lot of time talking to them and answering questions," laughs Pacciani. "The rest of the people in the footage weren't aware of the project, though. I just filmed a 'real' snapshot of society. There's no acting, only the truth."
The three hours of footage obtained in Florence was then edited down to 15 minutes (though Pacciani eventually settled on a running time of five minutes), with more than 100 effects shots required. Having already devoted three months to pre-viz, 3D modelling, environment reconstruction, animation, lighting and rendering, Pacciani then worked for a further two months on postproduction, locking down the edit, performing compositing and doing the audio sync for the film. "With only me working on the project, the production process was very slow," he reveals.
MOCAP MACHINE 3ds Max was used for the modelling and animation, the latter requiring a combination of keyframing and motion capture. The differences between the robot's rig and that of a human made this dif. cult. "The BV-01 doesn't have a spinal column or abdomen, for one thing, and sometimes its head collides with the flashlights mounted on the shoulders," Pacciani says.
"But by using mocap, it meant the robot character would appear more 'human'.
" Working with a chrome ball, Pacciani took his 360-degree photos at several exposures to facilitate an HDRI lighting model. "I also used the photos for the reflections," he reveals. "For the environment reconstructions of the developing nations portion, and also for building textures, I used a lot of photos that I'd shot in Tallinn, Estonia."
Since its completion, BV-01 has been selected for screening at the Great Animation Conference 2005 in France, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Hollywood International Film Festival. It also picked up the Audience Award at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. "I've also received positive feedback from Neill Blomkamp, Sony Computer Entertainment America, and many other people around the world," says Pacciani.
While proud of what he's achieved, Pacciani does admit he'd love to be able to change a number of things about the film. The plan is to return to the concept one day and create a prequel that "explains some of the hidden concepts in this version". Right now, however, he intends to continue to improve his directorial techniques, and to start working as a VFX supervisor on full-length film production. He already has his next project completely planned out, and he's hoping to find a producer for it. Interested industry moguls can contact him via his website.
NAME Alessandro Pacciani
BASED Florence, Italy
â€¢ 2000-2001 C++ programmer at a software studio
â€¢ 2002-2004 VFX supervisor for broadcast commercials
â€¢ 2004-2005 Independent film-maker and VFX supervisor
WATCH THE MOVIE
View the short online at www.pacciani.com/robot
LOOK OUT FOR
0:18 Cheeky placement of a Sony microchip
0:45 Red and green signals as the robot is powered up
0:55 The BV-01 hits the street
1:50 Car ride sequence in homage to Tetra Vaal
2:28 Combat begins
3:20 Cool 360 degree camera spin tracks the BV-01
3:35 Gunshots finally bring the BV-01 down
â€¢ Believe (2005) Framestore CFC
â€¢ Tetra Vaal (2003) Neill Blomkamp/Embassy VFX
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