Reengineering Timekeeping

By Helena Corvin-Swahn

Belgian-based Studio Plankton’s team of 3D artists and animators are skilled at telling brand stories of all sorts. One of their many clients is Ressence, a modern watchmaking start-up that has relied on the studio to transform highly technical specifications into meticulously detailed visuals with clear messaging and contemporary branding since 2015.

Using Cinema 4D, After Effects, Premiere Pro and Octane Render Studio Plankton has consistently created videos that have a narrative approach that communicates the watchmaker’s emphasis on user experience and functionality. And, over time, beautifully crafted still renders, exploded views and short animations have all been used to showcase the company’s unique approach to rethinking the modern timepiece.

To learn more about the studio and their latest project for Ressence, Maxon talked to Studio Plankton Co-Founder and Creative Director Bastien Genbrugge about project highlights and what’s next for the growing team.

Tell us about Studio Plankton.

Genbrugge: I originally joined the digital innovation company, Bagaar, to design technical renders and explainers. It grew into a busy motion design studio, and the need for a separate brand identity was growing too. That’s why we created a spinoff company called Studio Plankton, which took over the client portfolio and all of the cases and assets. We still work with Bagaar a lot, though.

Together with Vincent Dardenne, co-founder of Studio Plankton, we’ve worked hard on enlarging our client portfolio across retail, architecture, municipal sectors and the industrial sector.

What excites you about your work?

Genbrugge: I’m always excited by the diversity of creative challenges different clients bring to us, and by the different approaches that they require. That keeps the work interesting and helps us develop as designers.

Describe what Ressence asked you to do for this project.

Genbrugge: The client brief was to create a 3-minute reinvention story. The narrative challenge was to distil 30 pages of technical description into a visually effective brand story that communicates how Ressence has transformed fine watchmaking. We knew that realism and accuracy were important, so it was really interesting for us to think about how to achieve those things without compromising on imaginative elements that help tell the story.

Describe one of the video’s key moments.

Genbrugge: The animation opens with an hourglass full of beads that represent discrete moments of time throughout a day. That was a key sequence for the client because it introduced the backstory of how Ressence approaches time and fine watchmaking and applies principles of user experience and features. I like it because we used Dynamics, which is one of my favorite C4D features. It’s easy to use and, in just a few clicks, you can bring your whole scene to life, which gives us a lot of options.

The right marble effect was achieved by scaling down the bounce five percent, preventing the beads from jumping in all directions like rubber balls. We also drastically increased the friction to control the slide. Finally, increasing the number of dynamic calculations for each frame resulted in greater dynamic accuracy.

How were you able to convey a sense of time passing in that sequence?

Genbrugge: “We tested lighting as a metaphor and then experimented in C4D, using sunrise and sunset lighting to create a sense of feeling the time. It was fun using the physical sky feature to choose the location, date and time. It worked really well, but we ended up using our render engine, Octane’s daylight feature combined with a custom made HDRI, to achieve it.

How did you showcase the watches’ different design elements?

Genbrugge: Ergonomic and aerodynamic design are important elements in the watches. Originally, the client brief included a real human arm to demonstrate the ergonomic design, but we felt there was a better solution that was more consistent with the clean and minimal visual style and innovation narrative.

So we played around with a robot character inspired by a crash-test dummy, initially using a model we had from a previous test. We used the joint tool to rig the fingers to move as naturally as possible and applied a high-gloss porcelain material, using an Octane plug-in that integrates well C4D. Once we showed this polished robot to the client, he was immediately convinced that we had achieved the best solution.

We used feathers to illustrate the aerodynamics of the watch crown’s pebble shape. The simulation was achieved using the drag’ and lift force options of the dynamic body tag in Cinema 4D to demonstrate airflow and turbulence.

What were the major technical challenges you had to solve?

Genbrugge: Because photographic and technical realism were essential to the project, we focused on getting every detail of the watch face absolutely right. Reflections were a major challenge, affecting all of the moving parts of the animation. Every frame needed to be right, so it was very difficult to find the right HDRI. We ended up making our own custom HDRI’s for every scene and added a few animated lights that matched the moving parts of the watch.

Another challenge was to convey the user experience and functionality of Ressence’s interactive dials. Ressence watches are unique for various reasons, including how the discs rotate. There are eight discs nested with three levels of rotating discs, and they are all connected and rotating at different speeds.

Making things more complex was the fact that the main disc is slightly curved, which gives the axis of all the discs a different orientation. It took us some time to get it right but, thanks to the XPresso tag, we managed to connect all the discs and animate them with just one parameter.

Was there a design feature that was particularly challenging to visualize?

Genbrugge: One of the most interesting challenges for the team was how to communicate Ressence’s innovative oil-filled watch dial. Called water drop, the visual effect makes the graphic characters of the watch face appear to be projected onto the top crystal.

Our solution was to simulate the crown filling with oil. To get the right look, we had to match the refraction index of oil and the glass, and it took a lot of research. That innovation is unique to the company’s range of diving watches, so it was crucial for us to get right in the video.

How did you achieve the underwater sequence?

Genbrugge: We needed to demonstrate legibility of the oil filled watch from any angle, including underwater, so we created a sequence that dropped the watch into water. Underwater, the water drop effect means that the dive watch cancels out the refraction of light that turns the glass into a mirror.

We were able to simulate an environment that correctly illustrated the difference between the Ressence watch and the mirror effect on conventional dive watches, using the Hot4D plugin to create the underwater surface. We had to crank up the refraction index of the conventional watches to make them reflect enough underwater.

What do you think contributed to the success of the project?

Genbrugge: Over the past seven years, we have forged acollaborative client relationship, built trust and gained product expertise and all of that contributed to a successful project. The client is a product designer, and we really enjoy the innovation process that is part of the product. We still debate the best way to tell their stories and showcase their products and features, but that’s a positive. We motivate them to try things they wouldn’t have thought about, and they teach us to understand the product.

Can you tell us what’s next for Studio Plankton?

Genbrugge: Studio Plankton is an innovative animation studio focussing on merging creativity with new and existing technologies. In times where most of the world is making a digital shift, we are convinced that clear, high-end visual communication is essential. That’s why we specialize in 3D visuals, 3D animation and mixed reality, as well as in motion design in general.

Our team includes motion artists and 3D developers, making it possible to work on interactive 3D projects, such as 3D configurators, interactive 3D web design and phygital/digital installations.

Helena Corvin-Swahn is a writer in the UK.