Indie Filmmaker Mark Kochinski Creates a Superhero's Challenging Past and Readies for the Silver Screen Using LightWave 3D

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The Search for Dr. Obsidian is currently being created in LightWave 11 on a dual-boot Power Mac; the director plans to migrate to LightWave 11.6 software to take advantage of new features like support for 3D printing, the ability to create or use existing CgFX shaders, Spline Control, a surface-baker camera, stereoscopic review capabilities, and Raycasting technology to make an object aware of its surroundings in an animation.

Dr. Obsidian's airship created with LightWave 3D software.

Modeling in LightWave has always been superb...the rendering out of the box is excellent, especially if you know how to use it properly. It is a very powerful tool.

Superheroes are conceived for the realm of myth and might. This is especially true for the masked character Dr. Obsidian, a comic-book hero created by Mark Kochinski in hopes of captivating movie audiences in the forthcoming movie "Lost Hero: The Search for Dr. Obsidian." Shot in a variety of styles—from film noir to psychedelic sixties to high-def—Dr. Obsidian includes numerous CG shots created with LightWave 3D software.

The plot to "Dr. Obsidian," which Kochinski is creating, directing, producing, and writing, is that the Dr. Obsidian character got his start in the business during the late 1930s. Production for a sequel began overseas, but a ship carrying the film seemingly was lost at sea as war broke out. Afterward, financial issues prevented Brazen Pictures from re-establishing the character. With the introduction of television, Brazen planned to resurrect the property some years later, only to have the plans thwarted by scandal involving one of the actresses. A campy, psychedelic version almost made it to television during the 1960s. Then, during the comic-book craze in the 1990s, the property was optioned and now appears ready for a near-future return to the silver screen, this time under the direction of a big-name VFX master and a team of CGI Jedis.

With LightWave 3D software, Kochinski is making his Dr. Obsidian dream come true. “We had to crank out the effects at a high rate of speed and at minimum expense, and LightWave enabled us to do that,” he says. So when it came time to create Dr. Obsidian’s backstory – and the premise of the film – there was no question that LightWave would play a major role in the production.”

A Matter of Style

According to the filmmaker, it was crucial to treat the film to reflect the period it is supposed to have been shot in. Because a large part of Dr. Obsidian uses the 1930s black-and-white style, the film has to be aged and broken down. This includes many green screen sequences in which the actors had to be inserted into CG sets built in LightWave or, occasionally, into photographs of old sets and locations.

A large portion of the action was filmed against green screen, so virtual sets were important, many of which were created within LightWave. One of the first and the biggest CG backdrops is the interior of a zeppelin, which serves as the villain’s command center. In all, approximately 30 to 40 percent of the imagery is, or will be, computer graphics (CG).

For constructing the buildings, sets, and “futuristic” weapons and aircraft in Dr. Obsidian, Kochinski relied on the LightWave Modeler. “Modeling in LightWave has always been superb,” he says. “I have been building spaceships for Star Trek to Babylon 5, and now for Dr. Obsidian, in LightWave. The rendering out of the box is excellent, especially if you know how to use it properly. It is a very powerful tool.”

Kochinski likes LightWave’s intuitive interface and the fact that everything is logical and where it should be. “It’s a hard thing to explain when you have worked with the software for as long as I have, but it is organized in a way that makes sense. The fact that the buttons have what they do written on them, as opposed to a funky little picture that you have to take time to figure out what it means, saves a lot of time,” he explains.

The filmmaker also likes that Modeling and Layout are separate sections, especially because it coincides with his workflow. When starting a project, Kochinski skips the sketch-design process and dives straight into modeling in LightWave. “The pipeline supports this. I design in 3D to see what works and what doesn’t, so I design and build simultaneously,” he adds.

One of Kochinski’s favorite features within LightWave is the Edge Bevel. “Adding beveling properly adds a lot of realism to what you are doing,” he says, noting that the Cloning tool also works well for the art-deco look of the sequences in Dr. Obsidian. “I am doing a lot of beveling and cloning, and repeating of geometric shapes, adding hierarchies to get the effects I need.”

Most of the digitally enhanced sequences are from the 1930s scenes, so Kochinski used bump maps for the textures. “They are almost all procedural textures at this point,” he says. “We are talking about flat, painted surfaces that are shades of gray. So when we do photorealistic renders [inside LightWave], they tend to look pretty good.”

Even though LightWave offers a virtual camera, Kochinski is incorporating subtle camera moves into the production, mimicking those used in the 1930s. He is also mimicking the period’s classical stage lighting within LightWave by using three-point lighting, backfill, and key lighting. He uses the Radiosity tool quite a bit, at times using an HDR image map to start out. For more of a studio look, he will use a few dome lights and Monte Carlo radiosity to get bouncy shadows and lights, which “usually generates a nice three-dimensional-looking render.” For interiors, dome lights are preferred; for exterior shots, aerial lights.

“The renderer is fantastic,” says Kochinski of the feature in LightWave. “When set up properly, you get really wonderful, photorealistic effects.” LightWave’s unique Viewport Preview Renderer (VPR) interactive renderer enables him to experiment with lighting, textures, volumetrics, and shading right in the LightWave viewport and get immediate feedback, thus saving valuable time. “There isn’t anything quite like it, and I use it a lot with the work I am doing,” he says.

Past, Present, and Future

Kochinski is currently working in LightWave 11 on a dual-boot Power Mac and plans to migrate to LightWave 11.6 to take advantage of new features like support for 3D printing, the ability to create or use existing CgFX shaders, Spline Control, a surface-baker camera, stereoscopic review capabilities, Raycasting technology to make an object aware of its surroundings in an animation, and more.

Kochinski has spent more than six years working on Dr. Obsidian in his spare time with approximately 15 volunteers. Now, he is pulling together enough footage to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter, the amount needed to complete the project. Follow the movie’s progress at http://www.doctorobsidian.com.

For more information about LightWave 11.6 or the LightWave 3D Group, please visit: http://www.lightwave3d.com.

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