Although my film is about two characters and the connection between them, theres a third very important character that will facilitate their story- The forest. Giving life to the setting and making the world feel magical and believable at the same time is an integral aspect to this project, also a very difficult one for a one man project with such a short timeframe. I have collated a large amount of reference material for the trees but setting a certain atmosphere has been somewhat of challenge.
As you will see below, forests come in all manner of shapes, sizes and colours. Some feeling warm and inviting, maybe relaxing and peaceful, others send a shiver down your spine and a chill in the air. Each of these have a personality. Beyond the real world reference there are also some technical challenges and visual inspirations further down below.
Aswell as the visual reference and personality of the forest itself, the technical aspect of creating it is something I have considered a great deal too. I am taking a lot of reference from a couple of sources in particular
The animated sequence in American Gods by Tendril Animation Studios was my first influence in both the visual and technical aspects of the forest. The high branched black pines they created make for some really great shots and parallaxes when moving a camera. It also means with the bulk of the foliage being far above head, we can afford to lessen their render quality and sparsely populate higher poly models for beauty shots. We can also create proxies for the trees further in the distance and use LOD (Level of Detail) settings within Maya to assist with processing power limitations. By applying these together even with a one person team the ability to create a dense forest is not completely out of reach, providing I cut the right corners and work smart. I can imitate the parallaxes and shorten the rendering times of the deeper forest by rendering single frames and setting up planar grounds during compositing, much like traditional animations techniques.
My main concern primarily is rendering times and scene complexity. With the decisions made above I should be able to bypass a lot of this, whilst still retaining the density I want. This answers a lot of the technical limitations I hope. But the mood in American Gods is very different to what I am aiming for. Whilst the atmosphere they created was dark, bleak and eerie, I want to achieve something much lighter that can also evolve into something spectacular as the story progresses. Much like a light show.
The video game firewatch was another big influence for both technical aspects and visuals. Jane Ng is the Lead artist at Campo Santo, the developers behind Firewatch. With a team of 10+ they managed to make a vast open and dense world by managing the project effectively and with some inspired art direction. Jane reveals during the GDC talk how they managed to tackle this task, Due to the staggering amount of trees in game they created 23 different variations of trees with most of the game comprised of 14 in particular to create over 4000 in game models. In order to render these in real time for wide vista shots they used several layers of LOD to create trees that were full of detail when close up, but as the distance between the camera and tree increased the trees became more stylised and simplified. (The further trees also had much more reduced shadow casting to help with render times too). This choice to have more stylised trees in the distant means that the player will always see a stylised vista in the distance much like the original concept work for the game. This technique allowed a much more graphic appearance which made every shot of the game worthy of a frame.
Olly Moss was the main influence behind the visuals of the game, creating most of the concept art for the project. It is his work that I will be most influenced by beside from the real photo references above.