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Creator Q&A: Faking Paper

Riley Hooper
July 1, 2014 by Riley Hooper Alum

Several months ago, VFX artist Pingo van der Brinkloev released a video called "It's Paper."

It's not paper. The entire video is animated in Cinema 4D.

If you still trust him after that flagrant lie, read on to learn how he created this pulp-less paper masterpiece. We promise the tutorial series he just released on Vimeo On Demand is 100% truthful and 113% totally in-depth and amazing and useful.

Vimeo Video School: Tell us about the original video “It’s Paper.” Why did you make it, what was the inspiration?

Pingo: The whole thing was actually an attempt to test as many things as possible in one go. I’ve always been intrigued about the infinite loop, a.k.a. the zoetrope, which is a short clip that, when repeated, gives the illusion of perpetual motion. I wanted to test that, and I’d also been working on a simple way to simulate paper in 3D. I wanted to see if I could imitate the illusion of stop-motion and, finally, I wanted to see if it was possible to sell generic motion graphics as stock footage.

I visited iStockphoto and looked at the statistics and found the most popular stock footage clips, which turned out to be big cities, the earth, and highway intersections. Then I began developing them one by one as simple scenes. I thought it would be a major hit on iStock, but, as it turned out, nobody was interested at all! So after half a year, I decided to edit the clips into a short film so they wouldn’t just sit there. I put one clip after the other and called it, “It’s Paper," and thought it was kinda cute. I added some free sounds from the Internet. I had no idea it was going to get so much attention. It went viral very quickly. That was a big surprise.

VVS: So, it’s not really paper? Could you give a brief rundown of how you made it? What programs and equipment did you use?

Pingo: Right, no paper at all. Everything is modeled, animated, and rendered in Maxon's Cinema 4D. I’m using a module called MoGraph to drive the animation and C4D’s internal global illumination render.

VVS: It really looks like paper! How is it so convincing? What are your secrets?

Pingo: I think it’s a combination of many things. It’s the shading of the paper, which is a translucent material, meaning the light penetrates to the backside; along with the global illumination, which makes the light bounce around like in the real world; and then the pure helplessness with which the different models are built. I really made an effort to try and make them as simple and childish as possible. It’s not easy to build a Boeing 747 in paper, so I had to keep it simple. I tried building a few of the models with real paper and they were all really crumbled, so I made sure to mess everything up in 3D after I built it.

VVS: Is this a “new” technique? Or has this been done before?

Pingo: Oh it’s definitely been done before: paper animation is one of the grandfathers of motion graphics. It’s a universe that’s been revisited numerous times, and it will never die. It’s just too popular. However, there are just as many looks as there are paper types. This is only my take on it.

VVS: How long did the entire process of making “It’s Paper” take?

Pingo: The initial process of making the separate clips took about two weeks. But the actual editing of the short and the sound design only took a couple of hours.

So… why not use paper? I’m assuming one reason is that you work with computer graphics, not stop motion with real life materials. But, let’s say you did stop motion as well. Is there an advantage or a reason why doing this on the computer is… better?

Pingo:Well, it was part of the test to see if I could imitate real stop motion. I have no idea how long it would take to make this in real paper — It would be awesome if somebody actually took the challenge! But is it better? No, I don’t think so. However, if the scenes had been much bigger, I doubt if it would be possible to make them real life.

VVS: What is your background? What experience and skills did you have that prepared you for this project?

Pingo: I have a background in advertising. I’ve been an art director, as well as a commercial and music video director, before I made my hobby of computer graphics my career. I’ve been in the business for more than 20 years now.

VVS: Did anything unexpected happen that you had to adjust for as you were making this?

Pingo: I had a very good idea about the different ingredients I had to throw into the mix to get a decent result, but I was truly surprised to find out that the less detailed and the more childish I made it, the better the result became. I simply had to make errors on purpose to give it a human feel.

VVS: What was the biggest challenge in making “It’s Paper”?

Pingo: Probably that I knew what I had to make and that it would take a while. Knowing what you want to do and actually doing it are two different things. I had to really force myself into finishing the project, or I would procrastinate in all kinds of ways. I think this is something a lot of creatives will recognize.

VVS: What was the greatest reward?

Pingo: Seeing the finished project, and that it was actually better than I envisioned it. And of course that it was so well received! That was really cool.

VVS: So you just released, through Vimeo On Demand, part one of an in-depth tutorial, which takes the viewer, step by step, through the complete process of creating a looping paper city animation:

Tell us about the tutorial series. What level of experience does a person need in order to follow along? What can they expect?

Pingo: It’s full disclosure. This is not just a superficial breakdown. I’ve rebuilt the whole project bit by bit. You need to know basic Cinema 4D to tag along, but even beginners will be able to follow. More advanced users might be bored by the modeling, but I’m sure there will be a few tricks they didn’t think about. And the shading and rendering is production proven. You’re basically going to be able to recreate the whole film, or make your own paper universe if you wish. Part two, which is in production, is going to be more advanced and cover making digital assets. There’s going to be some excellent stuff there.

VVS: What was your motivation to create these tutorial videos? You could have kept your “secrets” to yourself. Why share the knowledge?

Pingo: It really is of no use if you keep it a secret. By sharing knowledge like this, you’re pushing the whole industry, or community, if you like, which is good for everybody involved — including me. I am also pushing myself. Now I have to come up with something new, because everybody can make paper. Knowledge really isn’t beneficial to anyone if it’s hidden away in a dark room.


Steven Prael Plus

really interesting! couldn't believe it wasn't paper..also very generous from him to share his experience!

Rob Corwin Plus

Love your work. We actually used it in a holiday video production last year, paired with some additional stock and some of our own real-paper stop-motion sequences.

Pingo van der Brinkloev PRO

Rob, that's awesome! Only found out now that somebody actually bought the clips. Great implementation. Exactly what they were created for. Cheers!


wow! cinema 4d it's amazing.

Tianyi Wang

Really love your work!! Can't believe it comes from post!

Great tutorial!

Want to see some real-paper stop-motion promo that I made several months ago?

Penina Mezei

Wow! Amazing Work! It's almost mesmerizing!

AliaMori.Com PRO

ooops my bad: posted the comment in the wrong place. My comment has nothing to do with this GREAT video!



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