Formula 1 Meets 3D

A conversation with Tim Kikkert on his viral fan film.
By Lewis McGregor

Hailing from the Netherlands, young and ambitious 3D artist Tim Kikkert has been making waves in the world of 3D. With a strong passion for animation and filmmaking, he has spent the past four years working on a range of commercial projects from high-end product stills to captivating story-driven animations.

It was his Formula 1-inspired fan film, created in anticipation of last year’s season, that recently propelled him to viral success. Utilizing a mix of Cinema 4D, Substance Painter and After Effects, Kikkert has refined his skills throughout his career to create visually striking work that captivates audiences.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Kikkert to learn more about his journey, as well as the process behind his stunning Formula 1 project.

Tell us about yourself
I’m currently a full-time 3D artist, specializing in motion graphics. I work on a lot of commercial projects, ranging from high-end product stills to complete story-driven animations.

I’ve always wanted to do something creative. Initially, I was really into filmmaking and editing and expected to go in that direction. During college, which featured animation and filmmaking, 3D was one of my main hobbies and passions, but I figured I wasn’t good enough to go for that as a profession.

Eventually, I found out through teachers and fellow students that I was a lot better than I initially thought, so I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time 3D artist.
At my first internship, I was able to learn a huge amount and I was quick to pick everything up from the guys that worked there. So quick in fact I was able to receive a contract while I was technically still in school. This year marks my fourth year in the industry and I’m still just as passionate as ever!

What are some of the places you learn from?
When I started out, GreyscaleGorilla was an amazing source to get started with Cinema 4D and to learn new stuff. These days it’s mostly self-learning. If I see a new method or software that I’m interested in, I watch some basic tutorials on YouTube to get a feel for the software.

Once I’m a little more comfortable with the software, I get to work on something and figure it out as I go. If I run into issues, Google and YouTube are my best friends to fix it.
It’s a lot more fun to figure things out yourself.

What inspired you to create a 3D short film on Formula 1?
Kikkert: It started out as a coincidence. Last year, I made a quick lighting test with an F1 car because I wanted to get more into automotive rendering. Racing and 3D are my two big passions in life. I was amazed at how good the look was, so I decided to make a short cool-looking video of all the cars in that F1 year.

Once it was done, uploaded it to Reddit not thinking much of it, but it went viral everywhere. That inspired me to do more. I really wanted to tackle a large-scale project on my own, some over five minutes and I wanted to practice creating interesting transitions between shots.

Around the same time, I was at a music festival and noticed some of the lighting setups they used for shows. They were really inspiring so from that point I was fully determined to finish the project.

How did you use Cinema 4D for this project?
After watching a Sky Sports F1 intro animation, I felt that the speed and movement of the cars seemed off. I wanted to see if I could improve on that, so I grabbed Matteo Forghieri’s Cinema 4D car rig preset and started to set up cars.

Since my plan was to make ten full animation sequences on my own, as many aspects as possible needed to be automated as I would only have time for small animation adjustments. I began by refining the car rig preset’s XPresso setup by adding features like controlling suspension, steering direction, and the direction the driver is looking with targets, as well as controlling wheel movement.

I also created a simple character rig that kept the driver’s hands on the steering wheel as it turned, and I added vibrate tags to certain parts to increase the sense of intensity and speed. With the cars rigged, all I had to do was draw a spline that the cars would follow and then animate the speed and pacing.

To achieve a realistic pace, I analyzed F1 TV footage frame by frame to understand the subtleties of movement. This allowed me to create a fully animated driving sequence complete with bumps, correct steering, suspension effects, and more.

Talk about how you approached lighting.
For the studio shots, I replicated the lighting setups I had seen at the festivals and created 2D animations for the LED screens. Abstract black and white animated masks drove the overhead lighting details, giving the shots a dynamic and exciting look even though not much was happening. I was able to easily change the mood and setting per racing team by simply choosing a color associated with the team for the animated lights.

How long did the project take to complete?
Kikkert: I spent about a month on the car rig itself to get it perfect and automated, followed by two weeks for the studio setup and building the car shaders. Then I spent about six months getting the shots done—from creating the cars and track, to animating the cars, refining the camera moves, and rendering. I worked on the project outside of office hours, so it was fairly intense. Finally, I spent a couple of days editing, sound designing, and color grading.

Are there any other personal projects in the works these days?
I don’t have any major projects planned. I do have some ideas on the shelf that I’d like to get into, like showing all the major F1 eras in one sleek animation. Or showing all kinds of different race disciplines in action. But for now, I’m mostly focused on learning Houdini and other software.

Lewis McGregor is a freelance filmmaker and writer from Wales.