Interview with Kaleb Lechowski, the Creator of R’ha: from Film Student to Viral Sensation
February 08, 20134 min read
Just a few weeks ago, Kaleb Lechowski woke up to find that his first animated 3D short film, R'ha, had just reached 90,000 views on Vimeo. By January 19th, R'ha had been viewed a million times.
I asked Kaleb to share with us a bit about himself and what he is doing.
Kaleb Lechowski: I´m Kaleb Lechowski from Germany. I´m 22 years old and I study Digital Film Design at Mediadesign Hochschule in Berlin. I do a lot of different art like painting and creating creatures even, but lately I´ve been very much into computer animation.
Novedge: Where do you find inspiration?
Kaleb Lechowski:A lot of different things inspire me. I like insects and lobsters. Because of how they move and how they look. I found that if an animal appears not to be aesthetically appealing, you haven´t studied it enough.
A lot of sci-fi inspired me, like The Matrix, Terminator and computer games like Half-Life, but also anything that really transports you into their world. Also I´m a big fan of Christopher Nolan's work. He created a bunch of great movies!
Novedge: Can you tell us about the work behind R'ha? Are you currently working on another project?
Kaleb Lechowski:With R´ha I aimed for about 4 minutes of film and I wanted to try some new stuff like the Maya muscle system. Also I contacted David Masterson to help me out with the voice acting and later Hartmut Zeller to create the sound for it.
Since it was a solo project I could decide everything, so I went for Science-Fiction, with aliens and machines [this is Kaleb's 2nd big school assignment]. Only after writing the story for two months straight, I started producing the alien character.
In total I´ve been working on the project for seven intense months, including around the time of my own wedding in September. There are times when I worked over 10 hours a day and slept at the university about every two days, for two weeks. Although I think I worked really fast, I wasn´t always able to deliver at the right time. In the end I think I should have just taken my time finishing the movie after I had presented it to the professors.
Right now I am working on the story for R'ha as a feature film.
Novedge: R'ha is a huge success online. What surprised you the most about its popularity? Do you have tips for other artists looking to leveraging social media to promote their work?
Kaleb Lechowski:I didn´t expect that someone like Scott Glassgold would find the trailer so quickly and offer me such an opportunity to go further with this project. Once I uploaded the complete short film, he helped me get the impact it had, I think. I guess using Vimeo, Youtube, etc. is a good thing in itself, because people all over the world can see it and it can spread in a short amount of time, but I am really not sure if I can give any solid advice on how to create such an impact like R'ha had.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Kaleb Lechowski:I used Maya for a lot of things, since it was the first of the commercial programs I started learning. But I did a lot of modeling in Blender, because I've been using it for about 8 years and it is really fast when you know all the shortcuts. Besides that, it also provides the possibility to sort of sketch a model directly in 3D by just extruding model vertices and building free edge lines I can connect later on. So, the city was rendered and modeled using Blender.
For sculpting very high detail and for a lot of painting I relied on ZBrush which is really fast and easy to learn, in my opinion. Most of the compositing was done in Nuke, except for some layering in After Effects.
I really struggled with displacement maps and any kind of post production blur. Displacement just always appeared to be hard shaded in mental ray. I needed to create a subsurf approximation to get it smooth again, yet still a displacement nearly never looks like the sculpt in ZBrush.
Motion blur has a couple of problems, at least with Nuke's vector blur. If let´s say the head is moving fast before the torso, it has a blurry edge to the background, but it still has the sharp edge where there is the torso (see image below).
Also my depth renderpass always appeared to have cut off edges at least one pixel wide, so the blur thought parts of the character are from the background and need to be blurred a lot, so it got a glow around the alien. I ended up faking this by eroding the alpha and the depth to get the right edge, but it´s really not how I wanted to work.
For the head I really wanted these fine wrinkles, but since stress maps to drive bump or displacement seemed not possible in this short time, I decided to cut off the head and give it a much higher mesh resolution, so that all the wrinkles are actually 3D modeled blendshapes. ZBrush made it possible.
Unfortunately, since this was my second Maya character rig, I made a mistake not allowing me to turn the character upside down, which I wanted to do in the shot where the chair is rotated. Eventually I rotated the room instead of the alien. But I think it worked fine.
Novedge: So what now, what are your next steps?
Kaleb Lechowski: Next is R'ha as a feature film. On Saturday (February 2nd) I will go to LA to pitch my ideas to producers and studios. Stay tuned on that!