Art Under Quarantine

Motion graphics artist Fabian Aerts on the fictional title sequence he created during lockdown.
By Steve Jarratt

Spurred on by the free time imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Brussels-based motion graphics artist Fabian Aerts decided to fulfill his dream of creating a TV title sequence. The imagined show, We Were Young, chronicles what happens when a community is contaminated by a virus, and the military moves in to root out the infected.

Made using Cinema 4D, X-Particles and Octane, We Were Young may seem particularly pertinent given the coronavirus and mass protests for police reform and racial justice. But Aerts actually had the idea several years ago. Thinking of the fictional show’s initials, WWY, as an intentional play on WWII, the story is meant to be an allegory of the Nazis persecution of the Jews. We asked him to talk about his work and the making of these titles, and here’s what he had to say.

Tell us about yourself, and how you came to be a motion graphics artist.
I studied art in college and started out as a graphic designer, but I always had 3D as a hobby. After working as an art director for a few years, I opened my own studio, which was mainly focused on web and design technologies. I was mainly the guy responsible for the video work; as a director and also as a 3D digital producer. We grew to about ten people, and then we sold the company. Since then I’ve been focusing on video and motion design as a freelancer, working for daring brands and ambitious directors and studios worldwide.

How did you come up with the idea for We Were Young?
It was probably two or three years ago. I’ve wanted to create the opening credits of a TV show for a long time, so I made my own. I think I can easily say that I’m a TV and film addict. I binge-watch multiple different series at the same time, and as a motion designer, I’ve always been fascinated by some of the shows’ amazing title sequences. I saw this as a chance to make something quite dark and close to my own universe. I like to dive a bit deeper in my personal work and chase what scares me the most.

Describe your process for making this.
I mainly used Daz Studio to create and pose all of the characters. I also used some Kitbash 3D sets for the city, and applied some displacement maps to the characters in Cinema 4D to add the rough feeling they have. I tried it as a test on the dog and liked the way it looked, so I decided to do that with all of the characters.

Smoke, ashes and floating particles were all made using X-Particles. I just reimported the Open VDB files exported from XP into Octane to adjust the smoke and foggy effect the way I wanted. Floating particles were made using simple shapes with luminance texture and grungy outlines that were generated by X-Particles. I also scattered millions of illuminated, but not spherical, shapes on the character’s bodies to simulate the viral infection. That was driven by noise patterns in C4D to create variation and randomness.

Was this rendered on your machine at home?
Yes, I have a pretty nifty machine here with four Nvidia 1080Ti cards. But it wasn’t that heavy to render because there was just camera movement in the scenes. None of the characters were animated, so each frame was about four or five minutes maximum.

Do you already have an idea for your next film?
Yes, I’m working on several different things at the moment. The next one should be another title for another imaginative series, which I don’t want to spoil too much yet. I’m also working on some cool professional stuff for a well-known French cosmetics brand that will hopefully be released soon. There will also be a sequel to my experimental abstract piece called CYKLE, which quickly gained popularity in the motion design community a few months ago.

Steve Jarratt is a freelance writer in the UK.