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Pitch & Produce | SCHIRKOA: Moving from Traditional Animation to REAL-TIME iClone Unreal Pipeline

Ishan Shukla – 3D Filmmaker

Ishan Shukla

Ishan is an Indian animation filmmaker. He graduated from the 3D Sense Media School in Singapore in 2008 and since then has spearheaded projects ranging from TV commercials to TV series. His animation shorts and artworks, featured and screened all over the world, have won dozens of awards.

His first animated short film – Schirkoa, qualified for the Oscars 2017 becoming the rarest of Indian animated films to do so. It also won ‘Best in Show’ at SIGGRAPH Asia, ‘Best Animated Short’ at American Movie Awards, Bollywood Film Journalists Awards followed by 122 film festival screenings and 35 international awards.

Ishan is now working on his debut animated feature film ‘Schirkoa’ where Ishan is adding the use of realtime animation tools Character Creator, iClone Live Link and Unreal Engine to accelerate his traditional animation worfklow.

” If you are limited on resources, funding, team and time — then the smartest thing you can do is find and customize the tools that can serve YOUR purpose. What Reallusion tools and Unreal have done is exactly that. Giving independent artists like me the power of highly specialized tools that democratize the whole animation filmmaking scene and just let us focus on the creative aspects “

Ishan Shukla – 3D Filmmaker

Q: Welcome Ishan, and congratulations for your outstanding work in the Reallusion Pitch & Produce Program! Kindly share with us how you started SCHIRKOA, the premise of the story, along with all the awards you have won?

Thank you! It’s a great push for my feature film.

I started SCHIRKOA back in Singapore, when I was still working for an animation studio. I started drawing these concepts and story ideas while commuting everyday. At a point it became so big that I started working on a graphic novel. Due to work and life, I could never really finish that graphic novel. Along came a point when I decided to work on SCHIRKOA full time. Quit my job came back to India and started working on the short film with a few gigs on the side. It was a very tough 4 year period as I mostly had nights and weekends to work on it. Ultimately it paid off as the film premiered in LA Shorts where it won and got long listed for the Oscars. In the same year it won the ‘Best in Show’ at SIGGRAPH Asia followed by more than 30 awards and 120 festival screenings.

SCHIRKOA is a metaphorical reaction to the world I live in today. A perpetual conflict between two dimensions of our world. Against this giant backdrop, there’s an intimate story following a meek politician whose life keeps ascending to extremities as he travels through these two worlds trying to find meaning between society, religion and family. The film starts slow, in a relatable landscape. We will see glimpses of our own world’s reflection in it. As the story treads forward we transit from a relatable contemporary setting to an avant garde fantastical territory. I hope to create a film that gives each of us a contemplative aftertaste. A fast check on the plausibility of our idea of a perfect sane society and the ‘baggage’ it might carry along! 🙂

Q: In your Pitch & Produce proposal you were able to enhance your pipeline with real-time software. Can you describe your original workflow process, and how it compares to your new real-time production pipeline?

My original workflow was a traditional mix of standard 3d (Maya) and post (Adobe CC) applications. The GPU rendered Redshift and the Mixamo motion capture library were a huge boost to the workflow. The characters, props, rigs and animations were done inside Maya and rendered using Redshift. The character creation process took a long time and was not always an easy ride. I had a lot of characters in the film. At the end, I used 1 master rig that served as all the characters with modifications in cloth, facial and body structure. A lot of time was spent on texturing because of the flat look I was trying to achieve. It was a mix of hand painted and filtered texture. The renders were also a mix of traditional passes (diffuse, volume, depth) along with the special ones (toon lines, mattes, flat lighting). The renderer passes were then taken to After Effects for post, color and fx. Amidst all this the film was continually being edited in premiere pro at all stages. 

When I started thinking about the feature film I was sure I needed a radical shift from the short film pipeline. The short film was done on a single machine, with almost no team. The process was simply not scalable. The scene assembly for large sets and character numbers is always a pain, and the script I have is very ambitious in those terms. So I added Reallusion Character Creator (CC), iClone, Daz and Unreal Engine into the mix.

The props, sets and animations are the easy part and can be done in any 3D app (testing Blender for that part at the moment). The challenge is creating a very large number of unique, optimized, animation ready and great looking characters. With Character Creator I could do just that. Extremely fast iteration time on designs, a lot of customization and optimization options, auto-rigged, rig and shader compatibility with Unreal Engine, ready for mocap and more. So for my purpose my whole character pipeline from design to final mocap is based on the Reallusion tools. There are times when I still need some extreme characters going into that mix and I use Daz for that purpose. Again, Character Creator has great tools for seamless Daz integration too.

The next challenge was scene assembly, creative cinematography and THE rendering itself. After rigorous back and forth I realized Unreal was more than ready to handle everything I threw at it. What blew my expectations was the elimination of even the compositing aspect. From day 1 of animatic I can start getting the shots that can look close to the final look. This gives a lot of time to enhance creative decisions like cinematography, lighting,colors, and the narrative itself.

Q: From your experience what are the advantages / benefits of using real-time tools like Character Creator, and iClone Live Link with Unreal Engine? What would you recommend to other filmmakers?

Absolutely. I mean if you are limited on resources, funding, team and time, the smartest thing you can do is find and customize the tools that can serve YOUR purpose. What Reallusion tools and Unreal have done is exactly that. Giving independent artists like me the power of highly specialized tools that democratize the whole animation filmmaking scene and just let us focus on the creative aspects. 

“The biggest advantage with my new iClone Unreal workflow so far is the amount of time spent on ‘actual creative work’. I simply spend more time now in creating cinema rather than a say- a highly optimized shot that renders in record time. As an independent  filmmaker that’s a game changer for me.”

Ishan Shukla – 3D Filmmaker

Q: Now that you have won your grant, with tools and support. What is next for Schirkoa ?

The next is to set all the hard work to motion. Since I finished the script, I have been working very hard on several fronts to realize this feature film. Pitching it to several film markets, planning the team and timeline, holding intense meetings with my amazing producers, reaching out to voice actors and music composers, and of course testing the most feasible animation pipeline. At this stage all those blocks seem to be settling in their places and I am hoping to start the production soon. Moreover, I would very much like to make sure that after Schirkoa I have a solid DIY pipeline that’s scalable for my future films.

Read more about Ishan’s story on Befores & Afters:

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1 comment

  1. cool I am 10th class student deciding whether I will go for animation or something other I am very impressed by your story and also inspire

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