A crashing wave of a city, seemingly ready to inundate old Paris reduced to amusement park status; and us, the spectators, with a sense of nostalgia. That is MEGALOPOLIS. A Digital Art project by Benjamin Bardou.
Using Clarisse to push the limits of digital world building, he has created a concept that holds the middle between Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and HBO’s West World series. How can it be melancholic and dystopian at the same time? Find out in this all new ARTIST FOCUS.
MEGALOPOLIS - Benjamin Bardou
Hi Benjamin! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your 3D/VFX background?
I started tinkering with 3D images in the late 90s and first touched a graphics tablet in the early 2000s during my studies at the Méliès school in Orly near Paris.
The short film I made with two other friends caught the eye of Christophe 'Tchook' Courgeau, then head of matte painting at Mikros Image, because it combined a pictorial sensibility with camera mapping, which gave a little volume to the sets. Since then I have specialized in digital set design and concept art.
How did you first hear about Clarisse?
It seems to me that it was during a demo that Isotropix came to do at Mikros that I heard about it. Shortly after, Christophe Courgeau did some test scenes and we were immediately seduced by the software's ability to handle very heavy environment scenes.
How would you describe Clarisse to someone who’s never heard about it?
I would say without going into technical details that it is a software more oriented towards the user as an image creator than the more traditional 3D software.
I feel more efficient with this one and its great reactivity allows me for example to generate more iterations of the same image which makes it a perfect tool for lookdev for example.
And of course, its great strength is that it can handle a large number of polygons, which makes it a tool that can generate large and very detailed sets.
How smooth was it integrating Clarisse into your workflow? What’s the learning curve like?
Getting to grips with the software was very easy. It was made by graphic designers for graphic designers first and this can be seen in its philosophy.
It's very curious but I really like using this software, I feel good about it. It's like when an artist finds that he makes better drawings with this type of pencil and it allows him to develop a style of his own.
What resources did you use to learn Clarisse?
I mainly use the online video tutorials from Isotropix, the forum and lately I ask my questions directly on the Clarisse Discord channel, which is very active and user-friendly.
MEGALOPOLIS B&W - Benjamin Bardou
MEGALOPOLIS tells the story of a Future Paris, where the city as we know it has become the playground to live out simulated experiences from the past. Meeting Baudelaire at a café or for the more adventurous, participating in the French revolution, just for thrills. All around the old city centre lies MEGALOPOLIS, a rather dismal vision of a future city, with sombre high rises, contrasting with the romantic city at its heart. Will future cities lose the charm old Paris has? What inspired this vision in the first place?
My main source of inspiration for MEGALOPOLIS is the book Paris, Capital of the 19th century by Walter Benjamin.
In this book, many themes are treated, such as the dream, collective memory, history, personal memory, etc...
Benjamin deals at one point with the notion of threshold and applies it to different subjects (the threshold of a door that separates the interior from the exterior, the threshold between dreaming and awakening, etc.) and in a way, the general architecture of the city and the project itself have inherited this notion of threshold.
In Megalopolis, when one crosses the threshold of the main enclosure, Paris becomes a stage where one can relive all the stories that may have taken place there.
It was the Future - Benjamin Bardou
How is Clarisse helping you make these images? What features help the most?
In my case, Clarisse's great strength is that it can easily manage a large quantity of assets. The scatter tool is very powerful and flexible enough to generate a large amount of details without having to place them by hand.
I can also easily manage my assets through a very easy use of references.
The organization of the project then becomes simpler and more readable.
When working in Clarisse, do you plan everything beforehand or do you use the software to try out ideas, does it help in the creative process?
For this project, I have several districts of the city to create. I try as much as possible to create as many buildings as possible and that they are all different so as not to have any repetitions that you can see at first glance.
I am working alone on this project and therefore I have to find a good compromise between quality and quantity produced. If I could, I would give a specific life to each window of a building. :)
Then, I use a lot of scattering to make all this little world random. That's where it becomes interesting because I can wander around my scene like if strolling in the city. Assets that I know perfectly well become strangers to me. It's the same kind of impression we get from a street that is familiar to us from our neighbourhood, but taken by another path and which then appears foreign to us.
MEGALOPOLIS - Benjamin Bardou
Do you plan to one day create animated sequences in the MEGALOPOLIS lay-out?
Yes, I plan to do several episodes in different tones with the city as the subject.
If you were a MEGALOPOLIS resident, what would your favorite era to spend time in Paris be?
My dream would be to return to Paris in the 1850s and to attend the meeting of the poet Charles Baudelaire and the engraver Charles Meryon in a café near the Gare Saint-Lazare. Or else, to meet the painters of that period. And even a little later to relive certain moments of La Commune and to understand what was really at play there.
You have used Clarisse for a few years now, how do you feel the software is evolving,are you satisfied with the progress it has made for the way you are using it?
I am very pleased with the progress made by the software and the responsiveness of the Isotropix team to integrate the main user requests.
Which feature would you like to see implemented the most in Clarisse?
I think the layout tools can still be improved. Having an orthographic quad view is for me essential to be able to position the assets precisely.
It should be possible to prioritize between several 3D views. For the moment I have to wait until the refresh of a 3D view is finished before the 2nd 3D View is updated. I should be able to refresh or stop the 3D View I want.
What would be a dream project for you, direct a feature film on the MEGALOPOLIS story line? Or something completely different?
MEGALOPOLIS is a vast construction site. The whole structure is still under construction but we can already see several episodes online.
The project may be confusing because of the apparent absence of a story or linear narration, but here I try to stage different temporalities and different memories that can circulate in a city. It can be collective moments like revolutionary movements or much more intimate and personal like a feeling of spleen or alienation in front of the big modern city. In short, I am trying to make a collection of sensations that a society can experience today in the megacities.
What does the future look like for MEGALOPOLIS?
The main project site is the creation of the city in Clarisse. All the images I have so far published of the city are still a work in progress and I'm waiting to have enough elements to make more finalized images. Eventually, when it will be done, I would love to be able to walk around and stroll around there as I can do Today in Paris.
The development of Megalopolis also depends on experiments with other techniques. I frequently use the point cloud and have integrated it in several episodes of Megalopolis as an imagery of the simulation, like in the two videos below:
I plan to use GAN's for some episodes as well.
All of this is available on my site in the form of episodes but I would love to see this project take the form of a very graphic book. In short, I think it's a never-ending project and that Clarisse is an indispensable tool to put some order in a enterprise like this one. :D
THANK YOU VERY MUCH BENJAMIN!
Check out his work on his website and social media channels listed below:
MEGALOPOLIS Sketches and 3D viewport - Benjamin Bardou