Martin Klekner is a freelance director and CG artist from Prague, Czech Republic who is also a Blender specialist, an instructor on CGBoost.com, and an Ancient Greece enthusiast.
Martin has embarked on an ambitious project “Heroes of Bronze” where he will be creating his own CG short film project from the Ancient Greek era, while documenting his workflow and sharing with the audience all the tools that will help them create their own CG projects.
Heroes of Bronze is an upcoming “proof-of-concept” short film set in Ancient Greece, showcasing the magnificence, beauty and horror of the time set between two famous battles of ancient history – Marathon (490 BC) and Plataea (479 BC).
It will be a three minute CG animated short film, using Blender 2.8 and variety of other software, including Substance Painter, Marvelous Designer, Character Creator and iClone.
“I’m mostly working alone on my personal projects, so I really need to focus on how to automate or make easier, parts of my pipeline. Reallusion tools help me speed up several crucial steps: character mesh creation, texturing, rigging and animation.”Martin Klekner – Cinematic Director / Blender Specialist
Q: Greetings Martin, and welcome to the Reallusion feature stories! Kindly tell us about your background, and your vision for your upcoming film project “Heroes of Bronze”.
Thank you very much! My name is Martin Klekner, I am from the Czech Republic, that lies in the very heart of Europe, and I am a cinematic director, a 3D generalist and a tutor at CGBoost. Throughout my 10+ years journey, I’ve always loved to jump into huge personal projects, from Star Wars fan films to historical VFX films.
Along the way I’ve also had the opportunity to direct cut scenes for the 2017s acclaimed Kingdom Come: Deliverance – that was a huge experience for me! Seeing so many creative fields working together in a game development process of a huge RPG was amazing. I worked alongside a team of talented cinematic artists, animators and 3D graphics, and it was really unforgettable.
Shortly, after finishing the works on Kingdom Come, I decided to get back to freelance life and apart from doing some client work, also return to my own personal projects. That’s where Heroes of Bronze comes in. I really really love the ancient Greek setting, with all its culture, drama, conflicts and battles. I felt like there is not enough of this in popular culture nowadays, so I decided to change it. First, by making a CG short film depicting how I imagine this period of history might have looked.
Q: When working on such a monumental film, what are the main challenges that you feel most filmmakers will encounter?
The challenges are many, especially when it comes to organizing the assets, render times, and being able to handle most of the pipeline alone. Fortunately, throughout the years with trial and error, I have developed a pipeline that allows me to handle this without going crazy. 🙂
A major part of this is automating a lot of the processes. From being able to quickly reuse smart materials in Substance Painter, simulating clothing in Marvelous Designer, having a large library of ready-made assets in Megascans, to being able to have automatically rigged characters animated by a specialized software.
First and foremost, it is about the script and the storyboard though, knowing what you want to tell with your story. Having a clear idea about the shots you want in your film informs you about the various assets and scenes you need to create. That way you do not get bogged down in fiddling with details that won’t even be seen.
Q: From the beginning of this project what software were you using, and what made you switch to Character Creator and iClone?
I am using Blender as my main 3D tool and in it, I create most of my Heroes of Bronze assets, from weapons to armor, ships and buildings. Then I usually switch to Substance Painter and texture important assets there, unless I decide to use procedural shading in Blender. My character pipeline revolved around an Adobe tool called Fuse, which allowed me to generate semi-realistic characters, and send them to Mixamo to rig and animate. However, the tool was discontinued in 2020 and I knew I had to find a substitute.
Fortunately, right around that time, I found this video below, and thus discovered Character Creator. I also found out about its amazing add-on SkinGen. Well, I was hooked immediately, and led me to try out the software and I realized how much I liked it. Later, using iClone was a no-brainer – as with it, my new pipeline was complete.
Q: Based on your experience how much time can you save with Character Creator, what are the key advantages in using this tool? Also, can you share with us the usual steps in creating a CC character?
To be honest, it’s been 10 years since I’ve modeled my first character model and I absolutely sucked at it! 😀 So ever since, I knew that to achieve the sort of projects I wanted to achieve, I could not be making everything from scratch. With software like Character Creator and iClone, I save weeks of time, avoiding all the crucial steps like modelling, topology, and rigging. The texturing is super easy and fun, and animating is just a matter of tinkering with animations Reallusion provides.
My CC3-iClone process usually starts with reference images of men or women I’d like to recreate. Sometimes, I just play around with some basic human meshes, other times I use the Headshot (face maker) plugin, which allows me to capture a likeness from a single photo of a person’s face. I then proceed to tinker with the body and face proportions and add some nice texture overlays using Skingen. That’s always super fun, like character creation in The Sims but on steroids… and much more advanced, of course.
Once I am done with the character, I send it to iClone to create a rigged character and I add animations if I have a particular shot in mind that I need it for.
“Creating human models in Character Creator reminds me of creating characters in video games. It’s fast, easy and fun, while still giving me great results and the ability to export the characters anywhere I want.”Martin Klekner – Cinematic Director / Blender Specialist
I then export everything to Blender, where I play with the shaders and put clothing, armor and other assets onto it, skinning and appending them, to prepare a final version of the character, ready to be used in my Blender scenes.
Onto its armature, I can then put other animations I export from iClone. (You can watch more on this in my video here):
Q: Before, how were you animating your character faces and bodies, and why did you choose to use iClone and ActorCore’s mocap motion platform?
Truth be told, I don’t really animate my characters. I always either use database animations or mo-cap data created for my projects. In fact, I have never really animated a character before, from scratch I mean. Yeah, I animated cameras, trees, some birds, flags, and maybe rolling dice or stones. But I really suck at all of it!
Therefore, I go to great lengths to avoid animating characters on my personal projects, and using automated solutions is the best way for me. The ActorCore site is amazing in that I can see right away, a list of animations I can download, and I’m able to really quickly search for the type that is required.
I then only adjust some animation curves in Blender… and that’s it.
For facial animations, I am currently pretty happy with the Live Face tool Reallusion provides, allowing me to capture basic facial animations using just my iPhone. I am also thinking about getting myself a mo-cap suit like Rokoko, which is supported by iClone. With such a tool and Headshot (face maker) plug-in, my animation pipeline would finally be complete.
“My whole animation workflow has been sped up significantly, using the automated CC3 characters rigging in iClone and then choosing from the many motion capture data clips provided through ActorCore.”Martin Klekner – Cinematic Director / Blender Specialist
Q: You are actively documenting the creative process for Heroes of Bronze. What kind of materials are you sharing with the community, and when can we expect to see the final film? Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
That was always one of the goals for the Heroes of Bronze project: to share my findings and workflows on my YouTube channel. And it’s awesome to see how it can inspire others to make something of their own. I share mostly tutorials, but I also have a Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/MartinKlekner) and there I go a bit more in-depth, providing some of my assets, tools and more behind-the-scenes info.
Lately, I have also experimented with live streaming, where I document my workflows in greater lengths.
The film project is planned as a large on-going project, but I would really love to finish up a first short film from the Heroes of Bronze “universe” (I mean, it’s more of a history than a fictional universe) at the end of this year—lots of work ahead! After that, I would really love to continue with this Ancient Greece setting, because it is really close to my heart—my dream project, so to speak. Maybe a feature length animation? A series? Who knows…
If you want to know more about the project, just visit www.heroesofbronze.com , where I share most of the info.