EK Interview: Polynoid

Polynoid is a CG animation studio based out in Berlin, Germany. The team’s stunningly beautiful work thus far is merely a testament to their devotion to conceptual design and storytelling. The main Polynoid family consists of Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck, Csaba Letay, Fabian Pross and Tom Weber. Their strides in both commercial and independent projects have continued their ongoing success in the visual arts.

Jan Bitzer, one of the five brain-powers, graciously contributed to a “one-on-one” Q&A session. Check out the full spread down below!

Frame from Infiniti Blue Essence.

Greetings! First off I want to thank you for taking the time and consideration to do this interview. Let’s begin with a little background about yourself and your role on the Polynoid team.

Greetings to you! My background is relatively unspectacular. I wasn’t one of those talented kids that could draw or started using their 8mm camera early on. I kind of got into the whole CG thing by chance and then got stuck there through internships in smaller companies. Then, after a while I realized that this might be a thing to spend more time on and I started to study animation at Filmakademie. And that’s where everything started with us as Polynoid. We all met there and became friends. Then we did the first shorts together and the collective basically formed itself. At Polynoid, I am 1/5 of the creative brainpower and as an operator I work at the look development side and editing.

What is Polynoid? What’s the story behind the name?

Haven’t heard that question in a long time. The wikipedia definition says something about a ‘multi-segmented’ deep sea worm. We just thought it’s a nice name that also combines things like ‘polygon’ and ‘paranoid’.

Another frame from Infiniti Blue Essence.

What personally got you into the world of 3D animation?

Also a very ‘unromantic’ story. Basically after school I didn’t have any clue on what to do now, so I went to this job-advisor who was trying to figure out a job for me by giving me a questionnaire to fill out. And of course I wrote the standard ‘I wanna do something creative’ thing since I only knew I didn’t want to end up in a 9 to 5 job somewhere filling out paperwork. He then came up with this internship at a very very small production company. One of those companies that couldn’t afford employees and was fully run by interns. But they had this machine with Softimage 3D standing there, I think it was version 2.5 or something like that. And nobody was using it. So I just sat down there and started playing around. That was in the late 90s and since then I haven’t stopped.

I am a huge fan of Loom. It was a wonderfully immersive experience. How did that story come to fruition? What was the behind-the-scenes process for that particular short? Any memorable moments you’d care to share?

Since we worked on it for one year of course there were a lot of things that happened during that time. Like every short we produced so far, it all started with us (in this case Ilija and me), sitting at the kitchen table with some wine and just throwing around ideas and images. So we did that for a couple of weeks, and at the end we had a loose idea in our head of a moth being caught in a spiders web and then being devoured by the predator. We also knew already what kind of emotional impact we wanted the viewer to have, we collected several ideas of parallel strings of storytelling that would melt with the primary story and enhance it. Like for example, we wanted to start on a macro level of scale, then dive down to an atomic level and back up to where we started. It was something we wanted to be an interpretation of the classical dramatic arc of exposition, conflict with climax and then the resolution.

Once we set up the basic layout of storytelling, we went into production which wasn’t any different from other productions I guess. A lot of blood, sweat and tears if you wanna call it that way. It’s something we where trying to describe in an earlier piece of ours called ‘Mindplotter’, which was an interpretation of the creative process. It’s a two headed living thing, one side being inspirational, creating moods and feelings, the other side sticking to that blueprint and ‘plotting’ it out. For the memorable moments, we totally mastered ‘Rockband’ on PS2 during that year! At the end every song was a piece of cake for us on the ‘pro’ level.

Concept art for Loom.

Polynoid works on both independent projects as well visualizations for other companies. Can you compare the differences, or similarities, between those two workflows?

Our internal workflow is basically the same. Of course the only difference is that on commercial projects there is always an instance above us that restricts us on a certain level. Which is fine with us, since it’s their product and they’re paying for it. But on our side, since we’ve been working together for so long already, it’s always a similar workflow we’re having and depending on the type of project, we start with conceptual work or go directly into production.

What type of equipment / software do you use?

We have a bunch of workstations here and a small render farm. Our software for production is Softimage on the 3D side, and Fusion for compositing. And then the usuals such as Photoshop, After Effects etc.

Scene from Mindplotter.

Who are your heroes? Artistic role models? Major influences in your work?

That’s a tough one. I don’t think we have any of that to be honest. Of course we always draw a lot of inspiration from a variety of artists but those are too many to name here. I also think that the times of the big artistic role models is over. Nowadays it is possible for anybody to expose his work to a wide range of people with a minimum amount of equipment. And we can see that everyday by checking blogs and websites that feature creative content.

Do you have any favorite movies, TV shows, bands, video games, books, or other things you love to loose yourself in?

I’m on a 80’s run right now in terms of movies. Watching a lot of martial arts stuff from back when I was a kid. Bloodsport, Kick Boxer, that kind of stuff. I think the last movie that really impressed me was ‘Drive’. I thought it was an extraordinary accomplishment from a director’s point of view. Musically, I’m listening to a lot of ‘Mastodon’ lately, although I couldn’t say that I’m a metal head. On a normal day I listen to a lot of IDM and for the contrast, stuff like ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ or ‘Kyuss’. Lately we tend to sit down at the kitchen table a lot to play the board game ‘The Settlers of Catan’. But that might be connected to the fact that winters in Berlin are quite cold.

Another conceptual rendition from Loom.

What’s the craziest / coolest dream, or nightmare, that you’ve had? All those imaginative ideas must’ve spawned from somewhere.

Hmm can I skip this one? Talking about my dreams over the internet makes me feel a bit uncomfy. But for ideas I would say that somebody sometimes just always has one. Maybe it’s like in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ universe, where there are ‘idea particles’ flying around, and sometimes by chance one of us is in their trajectory path and gets hit?

Again I can’t thank you enough for contributing your time and effort into this Q&A. As a final note, are there any upcoming projects or potential ideas in the works that you’d love to share with our readers?

My pleasure. Project wise, we have a couple of things cooking right now, but nothing that’s far enough to announce. We definitely want to make another independent project this year, possibly a short film. But for that we are also just tossing ideas around right now.

Frame from Rebird.

A treasure cove of embeds can be viewed down below! Check ’em all out!

Spider-hunting-moth action in short film Loom.

Loom (shot breakdown).

Loom (early R&D work).

Rebird, a short for the Resonance project (posted earlier at EK here).

The living battle between imaginative and procedural in Mindplotter.

An amazing spot for Infiniti’s EMERG-E electric concept car (Polynoid’s latest efforts).