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Capturing the Warmth of Space in a Video 80lvl

Pavel Kaplia talked about the production of his impressive animated music video WARM SPACE made with 3ds Max.


Hey. My name is Pavel Kaplia, I am a CG artist from Belarus. I was doing 3D graphics and music for about 8 years, so one day I decided to combine these two things into one project. This is how Captain Suror, a musical and visual project, came about.


The Start of a Big Project

At the very beginning, I thought it would just be a teaser for a music album, where the astronaut puts the cassette in the cassette player. But in the process, I decided to expand the script. I added more and more new elements until the project grew into a fully-fledged musical clip.

In general, it took me about 9 months to complete my work, and these were not easy months. This did not come as a big surprise, as I had to work on large personal projects before. But I must admit, this one was the most difficult.

The most difficult thing in such big projects is to continue working after inspiration has been exhausted.


I used 3ds Max as my primary tool. There is no particular reason why I chose it, I’m just used to working in this software solution.

Also, I used Substance Painter for texturing and ZBrush for modeling some elements. The most unusual tool in my arsenal is Agisoft Photoscan, which is needed for photogrammetry (because many things are easier to scan than to draw by hand (but this is a secret)).

And finally, Adobe After Effects for compositing and additional effects.

General Assembly of the Project

Creating this project, I tried to use only my own models, and 99% of the geometry in the film is my own. But there are a few things that I took from free libraries, for example, I took 70% of the leaf models from the Epic Games library.

To create an astronaut costume, I used the free low-poly model as the basis and completely rebuilt it to suit my needs. I used cloth simulation to create folds and a Displacement map for extra details. I also made a barely noticeable fur, so that the costume looked softer. The helmet was made earlier for another project, so I just adapted it. I also created different versions of the costume: for the cabin, for open space and a dirty version for the last scene.

The soft part of the rocket was also made using fabric simulation. I simply created a cylindrical shape and “crumpled” it into the shape I needed. This is a good way to quickly create an object with high details, and it also gave the rocket an unusual look.

In general, the average scene uses about 1,500,000 polygons. This is not a lot by industry standards, but enough to make your home computer sweat.


I used Substance Painter for texturing most of the models. The exception was the models of leaves for which I used photos with different angles of illumination to make a realistic normal map.

Glass materials are not something special, it is just a modified V-Ray Standard with dust and dirt textures.

As for the skin, in fact, I used montage for super-close shots. Throughout the video, there were two frames where I used real hands, in combination with a digital background. It doesn’t fit perfectly, but in my case, it was just not rational to animate them for such a short take.

Material Setup

Black Hole & Texts in the Screens

I created the dynamics of the black hole surface using the flex modifier and simulating particles from the real flow. Mercury-like material was used for rendering, and additional details like glow and electrical discharges were added later in After Effects.

As for the text on the screens, there’s nothing special. I just prepared the frame sequences for each screen in After Effects and set them up to match correctly.


I have experience in animation, but I’m not a very high-level animator, so I try to build my scenes according to my skills. I think the story can be told in different ways, and if you want it to look good and you work alone, it is important to use your strengths.

As for the animation in zero gravity, I rather imagined it as movements underwater, where the environment has resistance. I tried to do animation as if objects stuck in space, losing energy.

I also find it important to work with the camera. I tried to animate it as a real physical object with a mass.

Simulations: Leaves, Tentacles, Portal

The whirl of leaves was animated using particle simulation with randomization of weight, size, and type of leaves. Tentacles were animated in various ways, most of them with bones, and some with splines.

The “Leaf Waterfall”, as well as the passage through the portal, were created using a physical simulation of solids. I used the Mass FX embedded system in 3ds Max. Initially, I was going to use particle simulation, but then I decided to make each leaf as a separate physical object and this method turned out to be very effective.

To be honest, I didn’t really think about physical accuracy, so there may be some mistakes. I just wanted it to look beautiful.

Outer Space & Inside the Black Hole

Creating space, I was inspired mostly by the Space Odyssey 2001 movie, I didn’t want space to look colorful and bright like in the Guardians of the Galaxy. In my case,  space should create a feeling of infinite distance and emptiness, so that the transition to another dimension has greater contrast. Technically, nothing complicated, just white dots on a black background.

The world of the black hole was much more difficult to create. Initially, I planned to do everything using fractals, but after the first test frames, I realized that it looked trite and lifeless. Then I decided to use real objects, toys, books and miniatures, something that could reflect the inner world of the main character. I used a lot of photogrammetry filming on a green screen and editing to put it all together. The grow ivy plugin was also very useful for creating roots. As a result, the world of the black hole is a mix of real-world photography, graphics, photogrammetry, particles, and physical simulations.


I used about 10-20 light sources, depending on the situation. The most important of these lamps are: Global HDRI, soft fill light outside the cab, rotating bright sunlight, six different lamps simulating on-screen light with special color sequences for each of them, backlight for the character and important details such as hands, and some lamps for the back of the cab. In addition, all the small lights on the control panels use a glowing shader and affect the global lighting too.

After passing through the portal, the lighting changes. There, I use four rotating lamps outside the cabin to simulate strange foreign light and several flickering light sources inside the cabin.

As for the render, there was no special optimization. I used 5 computers for rendering. The whole video was rendered using V-Ray, Brute Force. It took about 2000 CPU hours, 25-40 minutes per frame.

Many shots were quite noisy, but in my case, it was suitable for the film effect. Many elements were added in the post-production phase, for example, color correction, distortion, dirt on the windshield, various gloss, lens effects, smoke, fire, stars, planets, the final clean up – all these things were added later in After Effects.

Speeding Up the Workflow

In this project, I didn’t use many ways to speed up the work, but still, here are some of them. First, footages. This is a very useful thing, in many cases, – the real footage of smoke, fire, sparks will look better and more realistic than a computer simulation. And more importantly, it will be faster and easier.

Some things are easier to take on camera than to draw or simulate. It’s like combining CGI and practical effects, it can speed up your work and breathe life into your project.

Portal filming:

Finally, photogrammetry. This is a relatively new technology that will allow you to transfer real objects to your project. This can speed up your work and make it more realistic.

You can try and experiment with different approaches and tricks. This will speed up your work and diversify your skills completely legally.


I am afraid that I can not name any specific resources for learning, because I usually look for information only on specific tasks.

I think, the most important thing is to learn how to formulate the questions correctly and I am sure the answer will be found on the internet.

Also for lighting setup, it can be very useful to study how it is done in the real film production.

Pavel Kaplia, CG Artist

Interview conducted by Daria Loginova


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Post tags: 3d art, 3DS Max, Adobe After Effects, animation, gamedev, indiedev, music video, simulation, Substance Painter, v-ray

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