Love, Death & Robots - Lucky 13

LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS is a collection of animated short stories that span the science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy genres. Executive produced by David Fincher, Tim Miller, Jennifer Miller and Josh Donen, the series brings together world-class animation creators and captivating stories for the first anthology of short animated stories guaranteed to deliver a unique and visceral viewing experience.

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The 13th episode is entitled LUCKY 13. After losing all her crew on two separate occasions, the dropship is synonymous with the pilots for being the unluckiest plane in the hangar. Unluckiest that is, until rookie pilot Colby steps forward and proves everyone wrong. 

Directed by Senior VFX Supervisor Jerome Chen, Sony Pictures Imageworks provided pre-production, asset design, creative look development, animation, lighting, compositing, creative editorial and final renders, which were mostly completed in Imageworks proprietary version of Arnold.


The Creative Process

Chen had a great relationship with Miller, which really helped make the project a truly collaborative endeavour and a pleasure to work on for the whole team. The small team at Imageworks had complete creative freedom, which was lead by VFX Supervisor Chris Waegner, Executive Producer Mandy Tankenson and VFX Producer Julie Groll.

Production started mid-May 2017, with Chen working closely with Imageworks VFX Art Director Daniel Cox on the initial design for the dropship, who then completed 8 keyframe paintings, which would guide the look of show.

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This was put together as an extensive “lookbook” by Cox and presented by Chen to Miller and Netflix. Shortly after, Imageworks was given the green light to move into production.

Download a .pdf of the SPI Lucky13 “lookbook” here.

"Lucky 13 is basically a love story between a pilot and her drop ship. It’s both a love story, a war story and a tragedy. To tell this story, Imageworks team built new tools, refined techniques and explored new ideas - it was a great opportunity to do something different."

- Director, Jerome Chen

The Look

Once the project entered the Imageworks pipeline, it was full speed ahead. A photoreal treatment was decided on fairly early in the project and it became such a collaborative effort that artists in all departments had a huge part in designing every asset on the project.

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Many departments were working in parallel, which became a necessity as the story evolved and benefited from Imageworks in-house editorial team.

These departments included the animation team lead by Rich Smith, CG Supervisors Stirling Duguid and Jim McLean, Layout Supervisor Simon Dunsdon, CG Modeling Supervisor Marvin Kim, Texture Paint lead Jeremy Sikorski, DMP lead Alyssa Zarate, Environment Lead Jeremy Hoey, and Compositing Supervisor Trevor Strand.

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The Animation Style

The animation was achieved with a combination of keyframe and motion capture. Performance capture was used for the facial animation. The recorded facial performance was used to solve (or recreate) the actors facial movements using Imageworks proprietary facial rig. Imageworks collaborated with SIE (Sony Interactive Entertainment) which was a great experience and led to the development of many new tools.

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Chen wanted to create the most photo-realistic CG character, while establishing an animation style that looked as if it had been shot on film.  The Imageworks team researched actual cockpit photography, combat footage, and aircraft hangar reference to help create what we hoped would be accurate cinematography on a distant planet. 

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“Jerome wanted the team to push the photoreal CGI aesthetic. We had to cross the Uncanny Valley. I think this project gave all of us on the team the visual freedom to explore our animation medium in a unique way - differentiating this short from previous animated projects here at Imageworks”.

-VFX Supervisor Chris Waegner


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The Environments

Using the painted keyframes as a starting point, the main landscape forms of Proxima B were built by the modeling team using World Machine. The artists took those models and ran them through a Houdini erosion sim to generate a range of different maps to simulate erosion, water flow and deposition. These maps were provided to the lookdev artists, led by Brian Kloc, Joosten Kuypers and Kieran Tether to produce more varied materials across the landscape.

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On the texturing side, the artists created a series of tileable textures using Substance Designer - sand, rocks, and so forth. The team used these textures inside a proprietary texturing tool called FearowPaint. That allows the artists to layer up multiple tiled textures and blend between them using the height data to create detailed, natural-looking transitions. The whole environment was textured using only tileable pbr textures.

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On top of the textured landscape, the team used Imageworks scattering tool Sprout to litter the landscape with millions of rocks and boulders. Sprout is Imageworks proprietary Maya plug-in that the artists use to hand-paint instanced geometry into a scene. It's very direct and very intuitive, and every single instance can be tweaked by hand by just clicking on it and manipulating it.

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The DMP work was a mix of 2.5d projections and full 3D projections. The team created three master 360 skydomes for different scenes, as well as the HUDs and planet exteriors.

The project was completed February 2018. 

Release Date: March 15, 2019