Making of “Tales of Mystery And Confusion” with Clemens Ascher
“In this series, I show mystical figures from a vaguely remembered tale performing cryptic gestures and ominous rituals.” – Clemens Ascher.
Collaboration with Clemens is always an extraordinary journey. In this series, retouching combines CGI with fine art.
The concept was to have the look of a 2D collage, with fabric and other props produced in 3D and then combined with the figures which were shot in the studio.
As CG artists, normally we are purely concerned with getting an image as close to reality as possible. In this case, Clemens wanted a combination of photo-realism with perspectives that are just a little ‘off’, to give a surreal, disjointed feel. This is a fine line to walk in post-production, and an exciting challenge for us, with a huge amount of creative freedom and input. The details of our renderings and lighting were very much an integral part of the artistic process.
For instance, the floors for some images are correct in 3D space for shadows etc., but their texture is applied almost like a 2D collage, without much depth in the perspective depth happening. “Amber Queen”, below, is a very good example for this effect.
Conceptually this references medieval art with its odd sizes and perspectives, which is also referred to in some of the props we created like armour and shoes. These tensions of opposites are present in many aspects of the series, producing the effect of strangeness that Clemens wanted.
We began each image by setting up a CG space as a match for the camera and model, for shadows, indirect light and reflections.
Clemens provided a sketch for each figure, and from this, we began to block out shapes, exploring forms and thinking about the silhouette. With every element, we started with reality.
Here for instance, for the armoured dress, we looked at real armour, how it’s made and jointed, and how this would wear – before working with the shapes to give it uniquely unreal, skewing asymmetry.
Substance Painter gave us the possibility to create a realistic, used appearance for our materials, and we then used our virtual lighting rig, adjusting the original settings to make them work for the completely different properties of armour.
We had previously developed our own system for making realistic amber with flaws, shapes and colour all generated from our own observations. Using this ultra-realistic natural material to make a hat was typical of the tension between reality and unreality that Clemens was looking for.
We generated the amber again for this image and also a mysterious mountain range to set the figures in.
For “EXORCIZE” we used Houdini again for the pink hair, inputting geometrical parameters to produce a true natural feel – a great opportunity to push this software in an unusual environment.
We built this tutu in a completely different way, as if this was a real life fashion project with the correct crinoline construction underneath it. We tested this with different materials such as lace, bringing our machines very close to their computational limit!
Working like a fashion designer would, we tried many different fabrics to get the rich, ruffled texture that we wanted, to complement the severe geometric shape of the skirt itself. Here you can see two other options in lace and chiffon.
With the final decision to use a light tulle, we achieved the affect we wanted: a solid block of fabric with a light, foamy texture, that tension of opposites working again to destabilise perception. Zoom in for the details that make the difference
With the series complete in structure, the files went from Germany to Recom Farmhouse London for Creative Supervisor Kate Brown to fine tune the compositing from all the different applications, and colour grade the images.
For the grade, she took inspiration once again from paintings – ranging from medieval icons to renaissance masterpieces in oils. A simplified, painterly treatment, giving the sense of collage whilst bringing detail out of the blacks, and enhancing the sense of archetypal forms. Here’s a view of the full process from original sketch to finished image.
We’ll leave you with some thoughts from Clemens Ascher:
“Seeing these naturally raises some crucial questions:
What is their message?
Can they protect us?
Will they guide us in our search for salvation?
And can we even trust them? – Probably not.
But you can worship them, let them take important decisions or cure your agonised bodies – good luck! “
Photographer: Clemens Ascher
Creative Director: Kate Brown / Recom Farmhouse London
CGI Artists: Sebastian Schierwater, Richard Jenkinson, Dennis Brinkmann / Recom Stuttgart
Post Artists: Jonas Braukmann, Stephanie O’Connor / Recom Berlin