In this article Yiyuan Yuan talks about his short film Whale Fall. A film that he dedicated to his grandfather who was a great writer in China and passed away 6 years ago.

I read an article about how a whale will affect the marine ecosystem after its death. The story reminds me of my grandfather and how he will influence his students, reader and me after his death.

3D modeling

The story is based on my own story that happened at my grandfather’s house. I tried to make the 3D models as same as the reality. Later I made some changes to serve the story and the style I want to approach.

Style reference - Gong bi Artist: Jiaying He

When I started the project, I had a vision to make my film with traditional Chinese gongbi art style. It is a style with delicate line and it is different from traditional Chinese ink painting.  

I did a lot research about how other artist wrote code to approach the traditional ink style in 3D. I never learn programming so I started to do experiences in Maya and Photoshop to figure out the workflow.

Compositing Process


I rendered out three layers from Maya: texture pass, light pass and line pass. In texture pass, there is no light but flat color.

The light pass has no color but the information about where the light is and also ambient occlusion.

The last layer is rendered from Maya software for toon line with white flat color shader. With these three basic layer I start composting in Nuke.  

Nuke Setup

Because the Gongbi style is visual flat with light shading so I added a layer of gradient with texture in nuke to create flat fake lighting.

Later I applied the light pass for the light shading.

Yet, the opening and ending of the film do not have any 3D elements but only compositing.

It indicates another world in the film, and it is also my style key to settle down the tone for the film. I did all the color correction based on it.

My professor told me the thesis project probably will be the last project that I can do whatever I want before working. At that time I decided to make my memory with my grandfather visualized into this Chinese gongbi ink style animation short film.

It is a combination of traditional art and modern computer art, a combination of my past life and future dream.

Past never just past, it will always be part of now and future. Like that gentle and lonely whale in the sea, the sea will never forget her as her corpse nourish hundreds and thousands lives for the next century.  

Watch full short here: https://vimeo.com/276118919

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