, by Eddy Loukil

Distance: Creating a Unique Visual Style for an Animated Short

A design-driven, dystopian fable

  • Film
  • Interview

I took my first steps into 3D while studying at Créapole design school in Paris. I got my master’s degree there and directed two short films, “Infans” and “Calvaire Fruité”.  My very first work experience was an internship in interior design. I was in charge of doing beautified renders of high-end furniture. Shortly after, I ventured into video games and worked for a bunch of studios, on both AAA and indie projects, between Paris, London, and Rome. 

In 2016 I finally settled in Montreal and started working mostly in VFX and animated features. I am now a freelancer taking gigs in all those different fields. On the side, my business partner Félix Marquis-Poulin and I started a new studio called “Vert de Gris,” and we’re developing our own IPs. 

Working in game art, VFX, product design and architecture 

I was never quite sure if my tendency to move from one field to another was a strength of mine or a mere representation of my erratic behavior. I was always a little bit turned off by the exclusiveness displayed in each of those individual fields and would rather assimilate the best bits of all of them, in order to create something new. 

In hindsight, I think getting a broad spectrum of influences helped me define a kind of aesthetics that is more original and impactful, as well as to develop my own technical versatility. For instance, I was obsessed with video games when I started studying and I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of working in interior design or architecture. Now, it’s easy to tell how those fields have been a huge influence on my overall artistic process.


Distance is very much a design-driven project. I had some shapes and metaphors in mind and started a visual bible around it. The very first asset that I did for it in 2014 was this lighthouse:

With time, the shapes refined into designs and the metaphors turned into a story. 

There is now a team of artists working on Distance and we’ve added significantly more substance to its original concept. The ultimate goal would be to turn it into a full-fledged short film. 

How things have advanced since conception 

The project is already a small film production, with rigged characters, and animated and rendered shots. We are currently working on the first act of the film, which is 7 minutes long. We have a final previz and are focusing our efforts on finishing the animation and rendering it. We’re about halfway there. 

Art direction of Distance 

The art direction of Distance blends a lot of different iconographies that are sometimes antagonistic in their visual language. This is what gives it its distinctive look.    

The three main decorative movements used to design its universe are Art Deco, Brutalism, and Art Nouveau. Sometimes it can fringe towards Bauhaus or Futurism, but those are less prominent. 

The advantage of consolidating an aesthetic that uses a fairly broad spectrum of styles is that you can dose and mix them differently depending on the context. That allows us to have a pure, minimal look at times and a heavy, ostentatious look at others.  

The Substance 3D toolset 

I’ve been using Substance as a texturing tool on basically all the projects I have been working on for the last 5 years. It’s sort of a no-brainer for me, considering how artist-friendly, intuitive and efficient it is to get either quick passes or production-ready texturing with it.  


The craft of Distance revolves around 4 software tools:  Maya as a core, ZBrush for concepting and sculpting, Substance Painter for texturing, and Redshift for rendering.   

Substance Painter breakdown

I am going to use the Peacock’s bust for this example. After a quick pass of sculpting in ZBrush to get the bigger stone details and cracks, everything was auto-UVed with a consistent pixel ratio per material and laid out on multiple UDIMs in Maya. 

After that, the entire model was sent to Substance Painter where I set up a PBR metal/rough scene. After I baked all the utility maps directly inside Painter, my model was ready for texturing.

Material breakdown 

The material setup is mostly procedural and pretty straightforward. I always start off using the base materials from Painter’s library. In this case, I used Brass Pure for metal and a blend of Concrete Simple and Concrete Clean for the stone. That gave me a proper PBR base to start with. From there, I layered many procedurals, which I blended with the help of Smart Masks to add edge weathering, dirt, scratches, dust, oxidization, specular variations, and so on. 

UDIMs in Substance Painter

Multi-UDIM support came in very handy on this project, as we needed a high pixel ratio throughout all the assets so that the textures can hold up in close-up shots. 

I laid out rows of UDIMs per material and applied a texture set per individual row. That allowed me to build up my materials and have it updated on all the UDIMs in real time, which is great. After I was done with fine-tuning the materials, I exported all the UDIMS in 8K. 
Peacock final result:

Creating an indie animated short 

It is a rather beautiful yet tedious journey. Imagining something novel and visually pleasing is difficult to begin with. Now, trying to refine it into something tangible and pushing it to the standard that you are aiming for without major financial resources is altogether much harder. Like in any proper creative venture, there have been epiphanies, small gratifications, and moments of grace, but also tainted with periods of doubts and loneliness. 

Someone more pragmatic or less inclined to be driven by passion would say that doing something that ambitious with such modest means borders on insanity. There is some truth in that, however, some of us would live meaningless existence without deep, creative research. The latter group I am sure, doesn’t need me to convince them that this is the right thing to do. 

The next steps for Distance 

We are planning to turn Distance into a fully animated, 25-minute-long short film. We just launched a Kickstarter, and are inviting people to contribute to it, so that we’re able to craft the piece in its ultimate and purest form.

I hope my rambling will be useful to other artists. Thank you Substance by Adobe for your support. 


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