Animation News: How Cinesite and Substance Recreated a Legendary Medieval City for Liongate’s ‘Robin Hood’
The city of Nottingham perpetually exists in two states: the metropolitan modern city center it is today and the fictional home of one of the world’s most famous outlaws. So when the filmmakers behind 2018’s Robin Hood looked to recreate the fictional Nottingham, they needed to build it from scratch with help from London’s Cinesite Studio.
The Re-Creation of Nottingham
Cinesite started working on this film by creating a digital model of Nottingham built to scale. Then working closely with VFX supervisor for the film, Simon Stanley-Clamp, and director Otto Bathurst, they created a series of settings and backgrounds for the film. Given modern-day Nottingham, using the physical city as a model wouldn’t work, so the team chose instead Dubrovnik, Croatia as its template.
London’s VFX studio Cinesite used Allegorithmic’s Substance software products for all texturing and 3D painting work for the 2018 Lionsgate film ‘Robin Hood.’ As detailed here on Architosh in prior features Allegorithmic was a software company on a rapid rise. Not surprisingly the company was acquired by Adobe this year, sparking an interesting twist and first step, perhaps, in Adobe entering markets where they will compete with VFX leaders like Autodesk, The Foundry and others.
The Croatian city is well known to fans of Game of Thrones’ Kings Landing and as a popular spot for filming historical fiction thanks to its famed stone walls and medieval structures—in other words, an ideal starting point for a film set around the time of the Crusades.
“Robin’s Nottingham is a teeming industrial city dominated by global influences, politics, and religion. It’s also full of posh grandeur, but populated by soot-choked mines and sprawling slums reflecting the gap between haves and have-nots, and we needed to establish that at a glance for audiences,” said Cinesite’s head of assets, Tim Potter. “With so many buildings making up the city, the Substance Suite allowed us to achieve the many variations and looks that were required for the large city of Nottingham in a very quick and easy manner.”
Maya, ZBrush, and Substance Designer—Pipeline Talk
While Maya was used for the builds and ZBrush for sculpting and displacement, the VFX team relied on Substance Designer for creating stunning materials that help tell the story of the life and world of Robin Hood. Materials ranged from the nobility’s grandiose environments to the dirty slums of medieval Nottingham. Creating these swings from oppressors to the oppressed was often a matter of dirt, dust, and grime—all of which were added to the RGB channels over the textures to add wear and tear to the city.
With so many buildings making up the city, the Substance Suite allowed us to achieve the many variations and looks that were required for the large city of Nottingham in a very quick and easy manner.
Once the models and layouts were finalized, Cinesite then added even more intricate details using Substance Painter, giving an already realistic recreation additional touches to reflect the sometimes messy lives of the people that would inhabit a city like Nottingham.
At its peak, Cinesite had 145 artists working on the film project, including 10 artists focusing on texturing and lookdev (look development). Cinesite spent six months alone on creating the reimagined Nottingham and another three on developing additional scenes. A massive cathedral had to be created from scratch was not based on any help from the city of Dubrovnik.
Recreating Robin Hood’s Childhood Home
The team also created Robin’s childhood home of Loxley Manor, which was loosely based on a real structure in Završje, Croatia. Two versions of the manor were created, including a version meant to convey the Loxley family in better times, and another seen after years of neglect and damage, created using models and digital texturing.
Cinesite also helped to create one of the film’s most integral and complex moments, which saw Robin engage in action-packed wagon chase through Nottingham. The scene was far too dangerous to use real animals in most shots, requiring Cinesite to dip back into its toolbox to create the texturing and look of the horse and its groom, along with the rigging and CFX.
The Growing Use of Substance Tools at Cinesite Studio
Cinesite Studio has steadily increased use of Substance Designer and Painter since 2016 when it first started to experiment with the tools to create digital props. As Substance Painter and Substance Designer have continued to evolve and introduce new capabilities specialty built for VFX community—from subsurface scattering to 8K support and more—Cinesite began to further integrate Substance into its pipeline.
Using various layers, the Substance Suite gives Cinesite the ability to make changes to models or UVs without having to constantly refine textures, while keeping the maps live and unbaked. Substance also allowed the team to create highly detailed textures and variations quickly and easily on films like Robin Hood, the Liam Neeson movie The Commuter and more.
“To create the world that the filmmakers wanted, we started by going through the process of understanding the story. From there we saw what the production had filmed and where the action needed to take place within the city, then we went about creating something unique,” said Potter. “The scale was massive, but the end result is a realistic world that will feel somewhat familiar, and yet still offer plenty of surprises.”
03 – A complete reel on the VFX work of 2018’s Robin Hood by Lionsgate.
Robin Hood was released on home media on 19 February 2019.
Allegorithmic, an Adobe company, is the industry leader in 3D texture and material creation technologies. More than 150,000 users in the domains of games and entertainment, film and VFX, architecture, and design rely on Allegorithmic’s award-winning Substance texture and material authoring software for developing the next generation of digital content. Clients include: Naughty Dog, Activision, Sony Computer Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Double Negative, MPC, Foster + Partners, Gensler, Louis Vuitton, Mercedes-Benz, and IKEA. Founded in 2003, Allegorithmic is based in France with offices in Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, and Paris, and has global offices in Los Angeles, Cleveland, Montreal, Singapore, and Seoul.
Established in 1991, Cinesite is one of the world’s most highly respected independent digital entertainment studios, producing award-winning animation and visual effects for film, broadcast and streaming media platforms. Alongside global VFX services, its feature animation division works with IP creators and filmmakers to create high-end animated features, based out of Cinesite’s Montreal and Vancouver facilities. Cinesite continues to forge new partnerships and collaborations with leading studios and filmmakers to deliver stories that resonate with a global audience.
The company is headquartered in London with studios in Montreal and Vancouver alongside group VFX brands Image Engine and TRIXTER; collectively the group has a capacity for over 1,550 artists and filmmakers. For more information, visit Cinesite.com.