I am a huge fan of retro gaming. One evening while playing Super Metroid on the SNES I realized it’s one of the few retro games that has a cinematic opening sequence. I knew I had to recreate it.
Early on in my career I would compete in the yearly Dallas 24 Hour Video Race, and I would use that opportunity to do something new or challenge myself with something I had never done before. One year we did a full green screen video, when I had never keyed a video in my life. Another year we shot part of the video in anaglyphic 3D and handed out 3D glasses to everyone. It gave us an advantage against other competitors, but also allowed me to grow as an artist by doing something I’d never done. I’ve always brought that thought process over to my personal projects. For this project I wanted to use it as an opportunity to do a full personal project with Arnold render engine, an engine I hadn’t fully used in production before.
I knew the project was going to be relatively easy, because it was mostly modeling, lighting, and texturing, three things I’m excellent at. There wan’t much animation that needed to happen outside of the screens, the Metroid, and the camera.
First things first, I started work on the Metroid. I started by modeling out the shapes using simple sphere primitives, and then using the volume builder built out the bottom “teeth” and brains, as well as using displacement modifiers for the some of the geometry.
For the veins coming from the three spherical brains I wanted an organic branching so I used two different x-particles setups. One that would follow the geometry and create the branches along the brains, and another that would branch out to the green sac.
For the textures, I found that the Arnold standard shader texture was very familiar to Vray or Redshift textures. That standard shader has since been implemented into all the other render engines as well, which is just fantastic because of it’s ease of use. A good majority of the textures were made with several layers of C4D noise, as well as SSS.
Once I had the Metroid done, I moved on the the environment. Again, a lot of the environment was just simple primitives. Cylinders here, sweeps of splines there, and a bunch of cloners.
One thing I was worried about was the people. I knew I didn’t want to have to model and rig a character from scratch, but luckily Mixamo had just the model and animation i was looking for. I ended up using different “dying” animations, and mixed down each animation to a single frame.
Next i knew i needed some kind of animation on the screens. So I headed over the After Effects to build out the screens. Being a huge fan of Star Trek, I used inspiration from LCARS, and incorporated a few of those pieces, as well as stills of Samus from the game, and a rotating wireframe of the Metroid. To add an extra bit of fun, I added the lyrics to “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, as well as the script from “The Bee Movie” as the text that would scroll across the screens.
I also added some scene fog. I absolutely loved environment fog in Arnold. I wish every render engine had the same.
With the scene finished it was now time to render. This being my first time using Arnold Render and using mostly a GPU based workflow, I soon found out that Arnold wasn’t quite as fast as I had hoped. With the large amount of SSS I ended up getting about 45 minutes a frame on GPU. I tried switching over to CPU and sending it to a render farm, but the costs were going to be too much to spend on a passion project. I had the thought to see how long it would take to redo all the textures and lights in Octane. Which is what I ended up doing. After about 2 hours, I had fully rebuilt the scene in Octane and after switching my render time went down to 2 minutes a frame. I was really sad about that because I loved the look of Arnold, but ultimately I needed to get my render times down.
With the scene finally rendered, I comped in extra bits like flying particles and different blooms of light in After Effects.
Finally, the logo. The logo was the last thing I added to the scene, and having spent two years of my life working exclusively on creating logos, this was cake. The logo was comped into the scene in After Effects, but I wanted to make sure it would fit well within the scene so I added an upward green light to help it stand out and blend into the scene.
All in all,
Here’s a side by side video of what the original animation looked like, vs my remake.