Ultra-fast drone racing with Cinema 4D and Octane Render.
Drone racing is an exciting new sport that pits pilots against one another as they guide their aircraft through a series of obstacle courses. Drones are equipped with cameras that send a video feed back to the pilot's first-person view (FPV) goggles, enabling them to steer the craft as if they were actually on board.
For the 2016 TV season, the Drone Racing League needed a promo sequence to introduce the sport, plus a series of broadcast bumpers, leaderboard graphics and digital adverts. The task of creating these fell to Dazzle Ship, a production studio based in Shoreditch in London's East End, whose clients include Adidas, Asics, Bloomberg and Wateraid.
Creative director Alex Donne-Johnson describes how the DRL promotional video required a somewhat deft approach: "On one hand we wanted to educate the viewers about the technicalities of drone racing, and on the other we wanted to add a narrative that amplified the excitement of a race. You have highly skilled pilots, intense racing, crashes and amazingly designed courses. Our role was to look after the channel branding for the forthcoming broadcast series, and the most important part of this was the show opener."
To help deliver the project on time, Dazzle Ship employed Octane Render, the unbiased render engine from Otoy. Octane shifts the imaging pipeline from the CPU to the GPU while providing a fast, interactive preview right within Cinema 4D. "The reason we chose Octane was because of the short deadline, says Alex. "We knew that we needed to create proofs-of-concept pretty fast and in some cases do minor tweaks on-the-fly to send back to the client. Octane is very versatile in this respect as it enables you to make changes and render good-quality stills very fast. GPU render farms are becoming more common. However, we did everything locally and got as many GPUs in as possible."
The video begins with shots of the human pilots donning their FPV goggles, complete with the obligatory high-tech overlays and UI elements, which were added in Adobe After Effects. It then cuts seamlessly to the full-CG drones, revving up their rotors and taking off from their launch platforms, complete with a cool slo-mo shot. The drone model was supplied as a 3ds Max mesh but had to be 90% rebuilt to allow for proper texturing and animation in Cinema 4D.
Now airborne, our perspective switches to a drone's-eye view of the course, a futuristic construct of gleaming metal and glowing lights with a distinctly Tron 2.0 feel. "All of the race courses were built in Cinema 4D following strict art direction," explains Alex, "and everything was rendered in Octane for speed, realism and its ability to provide a very high-quality preview in real-time."