Studio Spotlight: Lemonade3D

This award-winning animation studio knows how to use LightWave to showcase their talent

Posted: Fri 18 Mar 2016

This month we shine the spotlight on the award-winning animation studio Lemonade3D, which has received over 50 international awards. Project manager and co-founder Milivoj Popovic explains how the team achieved such a stunning success with only one secret weapon: LightWave 3D. Let yourself be guided by the strong passion that rules this unique and extremely talented animation studio.

Hi Milivoj and thank you for joining LightWave 3D for this interview! You are the project manager and co-founder of the well-known CG and animation studio Lemonade3D! Can you tell us a little more about you, your background and the origins of Lemonade3D?

Hi to all the LightWave Community! Let me introduce myself: my name is Milivoj Popovic, I am a father, a husband, a spiritual wanderer and an artist with great passion for CG.  I come from different educational backgrounds:  I hold a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Sciences and Electrical Engineering as well as a Masters degree in Sculpture. I know that sounds crazy! :) I also love doing meditation and anything that involves being outside: free climbing, snowboarding... or simply appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. I'm also a pretty good drummer. In short, someone curious who loves to experiment new sensations.

Back in the Amiga days - when there was a strong and vibrant demo scene – my brother, Veljko Popovic, Marin Kovacic and myself decided to start doing Computer Graphics. In the early 2000's, we decided to expand our childhood passion into something more serious: Lemonade Productions was born, and became in 2004 Lemonade3D Studio. Later, when Marin went his own way, Veljko and I continued to spearhead Lemonade3D into the studio that it is today.

"Dove sei, amor mio" - Short animated film - 2011

What type of 3D productions, projects or visual effects do you specialize in? Who does what in the company?

One of the main features of Lemonade3D is our versatility. At the start, we were more like a Game Development Studio, but as we move forward, we came more into TV Commercial Production, Architectural Visualization, and all the way to production of short animated films, 3D Printing Modeling, VFX, etc. … Basically, Lemonade3D expresses our creativity to produce anything related to CG. As a small studio, although we have our specializations, we value people who can contribute in more areas than one.  For example, I'm the Lead Modeler and Project Manager, but I also take care of the Shading, Lighting, and Rendering. And this is the case with most of the people in the studio! Veljko is the Art Director but he is also taking care of all other aspects of the production. This is not a must, we do have people who are "just" modelers or "just" animators but being in the industry for over a decade, you pick up many tricks and expand areas of your knowledge. We encourage this.

You received over 50 international awards, including the Animated Eye Award for the best animated film at the Aspen Shortsfest (USA) and the FIPRESCI International Film Critics Society Award at Annecy (FRANCE). How did you come to such a success? Could you tell us a little bit about your creative process and how you go about starting a project?

Our first short animated film She Who Measures was a leap of faith. Everyone in the studio was convinced that we had the know-how and the tools necessary to create a short animated film with a unique visual style. It turned out we were right: LightWave 3D was a big part of it! Using this powerful 3D software, we were able to explore our unique approach to 3D Rendering. Everything started with this film!

Our creative process starts with our Art Director Veljko. He works on the script and the over-all art direction which is then elaborated and detailed by me and the rest of the crew. We are a very open group and our creative process includes everyone pitching in. It is truly a collaborative effort: it's not unusual for the sound guy to comment on the edit or modeler re-working the initial design to make it his own. We leave the door opened for people to bring their vision to the table. I handle the set and character design based on sketches and photos gathered by Veljko.

"She Who Measures" - Short animated film - 2008

What has been one of your proudest moment(s)?

Our proudest moment was when we won the FIPRESCI Award (International Animated Film Festival) at Annecy in 2008. For us, being on stage of the largest festival for animated films for our first animated film was truly a Cinderella moment. We feel blessed to be able to be there and enjoy the moment all together.

LightWave has always been there for us as well and gave us all the support we needed at this moment. I remember giving an interview about our film. It also resulted in us getting sponsored copies of LightWave 3D. We are a small studio and such things resonate with us.

LightWave 3D seems to play a very important part in your job: how have you come to use this software and how long have you been using LightWave 3D? What is your experience with the software?

We used LightWave 3D since the very first day: it's always been our favorite creative tool and came to us naturally. It was our software of choice 13 years ago when we were starting and since it's a great all-in-one software, we just stuck with it. By now, we know LIghtwave3D in and out and this knowledge allows us to really take advantage of everything it has to offer and gives us the flexibility we need to keep exploring new ways of approaching and creating digital art. The workflow is easy, gives results right away and is just fun to work with.

Why would you choose this software over any other?

LightWave is just a great fit for smaller studios that need to get results quickly. It also offers the power to produce high end results that look like an army of people worked on them. Honestly, for us it has always been about having fun, exploring and twisting the software to produce never before seen renders and digital collages which if we succeed keeps the viewer wondering how the hell did they do that. Aside from this, most of the time our commercial work has some very short deadlines and clients that need world class looking results. Lightwave3D simply delivers this for us.

"Father" - Short animated film - 2012

What makes the difference between LightWave 3D and other existing software?

As artists and not technicians, we found in LightWave 3D a software which delivers what we need. We never looked elsewhere. For someone else it might be some other software, but for us it has always been Lightwave3D. If I would have to pick one thing, it would be the Surfacing capability. Sure there are many software which can render out realistic chrome or glass, but we have made some out of this world surfaces with LightWave 3D over the years with ease and speed.

Which are your best plugins to use with LightWave 3D? Is there any plugin that you cannot live without?

Our Technical Director creates some funky plugins and scripts for us which become paramount to our visual styles for different films we did. For our latest animated short film “Planemo,” he made a script which scatters the MDD's by playing the MDD for each polygon at different speed. If you see the trailer you will see what I'm talking about.

What do you enjoy the most in LightWave 3D?

LightWave has been our best friend through all of these years. We feel the people behind the software and we really appreciate that. Lightwave3D is a part of our studio and of our creative journey. The philosophy behind the software fits us and we always get great results.

"Planemo" - Short animated film - 2016

“PLANEMO” is your latest animation project. Could you tell us more about it? Could you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

Planemo is I think our most complex and for me the most beautiful project to date. We are super proud of this film. As we explored the moving hand drawn line so much with great success in our previous films, we wanted to do something completely different for this one. So we turned to documentarist black and white photography and cubist painters for inspiration. The result is a film which has a totally different feel to it than our previous films but you can still see it’s a Lemonade3d film. The most interesting thing and the most difficult one is that we used orthographic camera. To those who do not know orthographic cameras do not have any perspective at all. This means for example if you have a shot of a train coming towards the camera the train would appear as if it is just standing as it would not become larger as it approaches the camera cos of the lack of perspective. This created some bizarre and unique visuals in the film. Aside from this we agreed not to use any textures in the film. So the entire film is just gradients and surface values, without any images. Well 99% of it anyways :) We just signed a distribution deal for the film and are very excited about the upcoming festival season as Planemo just got accepted at Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the biggest festival for animated film in the world- so we are off to a great start!

What’s your favorite part (modeling, sketching, rendering, effects)?

I love modeling as much as I love telling a story through my work. This is really important for me, it's not just like showcase a model. When you bring life into something you create... this is just, well, magical :) This is also Lemonade3D's main strength: storytelling.

"Pixletown" /  2D-3D animation

If you were asked tomorrow to choose 3 functions/improvements of which you would dream of for the next version of LightWave 3D, what would you opt for?

The most obvious would be an improvement of the undo function in Layout. At the moment it's limited to animation, which can be annoying. The other would be a better integration of Modeler and Layout. In the beginning, it just made sense to have these separated, but now I feel that Modeler and Layout should be merged.  The last thing will be for sure a much better Surface Presets that come with LightWave 3D. In a lot of scenes, there are some basic materials which are always used and these should come with LightWave 3D and they should rock! Sure, we have our own preset library which we created through the years but LightWave should come with a kick ass Surface/Environment library which can get you started creating awesome scenes right out of the box. Because LightWave 3D has this power!

You have your own graphic style, a kind of signature. What do you think makes up that style? What kind of treatment do you do to your images and your animations to make them all coherent? Are there any particular techniques in LightWave 3D that you use often?

As most of the studio has a classical art education, we all love the analogue feel of drawings, sculpts and paintings... I would say the aesthetic of mistake - which is so natural in the analogue world - is so difficult to find in the digital, especially in 3D. This is how our unique style could be defined: trying to bring this human aesthetic into our 3D work. The movement which exists in chalk drawings, the richness of line, nuances which you find in classical art. We love to mix this with the awesome power of 3D and the digital environment to create new exciting visual styles. I think we succeeded in our short film “She Who Measures”! Using LightWave 3D and his powerful and very useful tools like Nodes, Displacement, Outline Rendering and Motion Blur, we create the most successful and beautiful approximation of hand drawn visual using 3D animation. Even today, people still ask me how we've created this effect and want to know if we overlaid hand drawn animation over 3D rendering. They are just blown away when I tell them it's all straight from LightWave 3D. We used this technique of Displacement and Motion Blur and explored it to the maximum in a lot of our films.

"City Zagreb in EU" /  2D-3D animation

Looking back over your career, what have been the highlights and struggle points, and how do those experiences combined keep you motivated for the future?

Speaking for the studio, I think our biggest struggle was to survive in these recession years which have followed us from early on in 2008. Looking back, the reason why we are still here is our ability to be flexible, to move from one field of CG creation to another and thanks to LightWave 3D, we can do that very easily. We started as a Game Development studio, moved into TVC Production and then Architectural Visualization. In 2008, we follow our path with Independent Animated Short Film production and now we do quite everything: from Motion Graphics, 3D Printing Modeling, Special Effects for films, Short Animated Films, Content for Games and are gearing up to tackle VR as well. This comes from our fight to survive and to keep going..., even if nowadays it's becoming more common to see studios closing their doors. Lemonade3D highlights are definitely our short films, our crew and all these years creating amazing digital content with such a great team. This is what keeps us motivated. These little things like the excitement of a next project or the phone call that makes your day ….   It is wonderful to work for a living and get paid for just creating art and amazing images.

Since a lot of changes happened in the industry over the last couple of years, in your opinion, what makes a successful 3D animation company in the current climate?

These days, I think the way to be a successful 3D animation is having both of these capabilities: creative thinking and problem solving. Clients want someone who can solve their problems. If you are the right guy, they will keep coming back to you. Aside from this, it's an ability to be flexible, to be able to change and evolve as the market requires.

What inspires Lemonade3D team? And how do you keep your creativity going?

We are inspired by art, life and have a “childlike wonder” in ourselves. We love collaboration. We love the fact that we truly don't know what we will be doing next month. It could be a film, it could be 3D Print Modeling, it could be amusement parks or a new computer game. To all of these jobs, we bring over 10 years of experience and passion. Aside from this, we are inspired by the greats that are working today or have created a legacy which we are trying to continue. The creative, the crazy, the amazing and the different: musicians, painters, sculptors, cg artists, filmmakers, poets...

"Planet Brush" /  2D-3D animation

Do you have any new projects that you’re presently working on? Could you tell us a little more about it?

We are in the pre-production phase of a new animated short film based on the amazing Croatian painter and sculptor work Vasko Lipovac. We have been contacted by his sons to create a short animated film based on his work. It's going to be something different for us, but we love challenges. As we are all Vasko Lipovac fans, we were really happy to get this opportunity and we hope to create a film which will be worthy of his legacy.

Are you involved in any other projects?

2016 for us brings many opportunities which we hope will come to fruition. We have been approached to join the team which is creating amusement parks in China. This sounds really cool as we would love to be able to see some of our designs brought to life in this way. Let's not forget “Pirates of the Caribbean” were first an amusement park theme :). We have also set up a London branch this year and hope 2016 will be the year in which we will see our growing expansion into the London market.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

We would love to have an opportunity to work on a feature film, to continue doing our shorts and to keep getting those calls which get you excited and which start those awesome creative roller-coasters that result in work that makes us proud and happy to be part of. Most of all, we want to keep the studio going strong and keeping working with our fantastic team.

Can you offer any advice to those interested in producing their own independent animations?

Pre-production is everything. Great script, great storyboard, set and character development are what will get you the funding you need to make a film. Keep exploring, never fall asleep on the job and have fun with it. When you sit down to work on a film, leave your ego at the door every day, because films are a collaborative effort. Never do films based on what you think the audience will like, create films which you are passionate about. That is the only way you will make something which will stand the test of time and which you will be proud of.

What does a day at Lemonade3D look like?

Our working day starts around 8:30. We take a small peek into the day and see what it has in store for us. We sit down, work hard, listen to music and be careful to not get sucked into our small part of the creative process, but to communicate and collaborate. We play some drums as we have an electric drum set in the studio and jam a bit with some percussion and mandolin. We laugh, drink coffee and try to catch some sun on the balcony. We work hard some more. We dream of what we will be doing next, where will we travel with our film, what cool job will come. Usually during the week someone is off teaching as we have three people in the studio that are lecturers. If it snows we stop everything and go snowboarding! Fortunately, as we live in a Mediterranean country it does not snow a lot :) We go home to our families and hobbies around 3:30 - 4 pm. We are strong believers that overworking people never breads excellence and creativity so we make sure we all have time to have lives and experience new things.  We come home and replay what the day brought, we think of new ideas for films and projects. We call each other in the wee hours of the night excited as we think we have the next Oscar winning script, or a million dollar game idea or a concept for an art piece that will have the world stand for a minute and think! We go to sleep and repeat everything the next day. Except on weekends :)

A last word or tips to share with the LightWave community?

Follow your "glowing yes", that thing that you absolutely love doing, whatever it may be. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it and never give up on it. This is a sure recipe for success in life, because being successful is doing what you love, and if you do what you love you will for sure become great at it.

Thank you for talking to me, and to all your readers a big virtual tip of the hat from myself and the whole Lemonade3D crew.

Facebook: lemonade3d