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3D Short Production Process - The Making of Dragon Slayer

Author: Robert Kuczera
Date Published: 2007-04-07
Page Visted: 68962 times
Website URLs: http://www.3dcharacters.de/
Contact: contact@3dcharacters.de


A short film by Robert Kuczera In a time when dragons threatened mankind, there was only one man who fought against them all. His name is Tarragon and riding on his brave battle horse Black Bull he is on his way to work.

But things don't always turn out as they should... one day ...mhh...

Dragonslayer is a 3D animated fantasy short film of 8 min. length. The Project was completed during a period of 24 months. It took about 9 months of preproduction, 12 months of production and 3 months of postproduction.



Many people have jobs they don't like, but they do not even try to change their situation. Maybe its just because they do not know what else to do. Often it takes an unexpected, outstanding event which gives someone the chance to change.


But not someones job is the only thing that counts. It's about your goals of life, your very own and individual life-task which is important. It's different to everyone. Some people take care of external people, others raise children.

Our character

The main character, the dragon slayer, faces a situation in which he has to decide either to fulfill his job or follow his heart. He leaves his old life and routine job behind him and moves on to his dream job. He becomes a forger. He also takes responsibility for what he did, killing a mother dragon, and raises a couple of baby dragons.What will he tell the baby dragons when they get older? Where do they come from, where is their real mother?


The film is based on a basic idea from Michael Sieber, a workmate at filmschool. Although i think that similar stories exist. I can see some parallels to the movie Leon for example.

Inspiration of the characters

The characters are designed by Michael Sieber and Klaus Morschh?user. In my eyes the hero looks a bit like the gladiators from Asterix and Obelix. The dragon looks a bit like the dragon from Shrek.

What I hope people will take along from the movie, Think about your life, about your job. Do you make the right decisions? Or is it just the easiest way to go?

Finding the Story

Development of the story

There were a lot of different versions of the story. I learned, that it takes a long time to get a good result. At the end it took us about 9 months to find the final story. Even during production we change and added things to the story. So I think finding a good story is one of the most difficult parts in making a good movie.

There are 5 different versions of the story fixed in treatments and screenplays.


We only made one Storyboard for the last version of the movie. We should have done storyboards for every version. They are fast to make and changes can be applied very easily. Next time I know better.


There are 5 different versions of the animatic. Four 3D Animatics and one life action animatic.

Every time we finished one Screenplay, we thought "this is the story". We passed the storyboard and got straight to the animatic.

But after watching the animatic we realized that this was not the final version of the movie.

The good thing about the animatic was that you get a very good feeling for the story. Whereas it is much more difficult to judge the story by just watching the storyboard.

It was a lot of work making the animatics over and over again, but your well-advised putting a lot of energy in the storyboard and the animatic at the beginning of a production, otherwise you will waste a lot of time when you find out somethings wrong with the story.

What I learned from this, next time I will definitely start with a storyboard and get assistance from an experienced person fot the shot break-up.




In the beginning I worked together with a screen writer, a production designer and a dramaturgic advisor.

Screen writer

The first version of the story was developed without the help of a screen writer. This was no good idea, because of my inexperience in developing a story this process was very time consuming. This changed immediately after I started to work with the screnn writer Philip Koblmiller. He exactly knew how to structure the story. Which saved us a lot of time. Apart from that it helped focusing on the actual story.

Dramaturgic advisor - Storyboarder

I worked on the storyboard together with Gerd Schneider. He is an experienced story boarder with dramaturgic skills. Which was very helpful for the project.

Production Designer

In order to get the best results I was working with two character designers. Michael Sieber who did the designs for the hero and the horse as well as for the environment and Klaus Morschh?user who took care of the designs of the baby dragons.


Taragon is an experienced Dragen slayer, about 40 years old and kills dragons for money. No one knows how it started. Was it greed or hatered? Nobody knows why. But one thing is for sure, he is just doing his job. He never considered the idea of changing something in his life. He never thought about what consiquences it might have, him killing a dragon, maybe a dragon mother.Lonely and without fullfilment in his beeing he is riding from one commission to the next.For some Taragon is a hero, a shining hero who is saving them from all evil. But for him its all nothing but tedious work.


Bullie is an old fighting horse, who knows a lot about life and how to behave. Most of the time he knows much more than our hero. But Taragon has to find out by himself.


Otis the baby dragon, hasnt seen much bad things in life yet. That is the reason why he isn`t afraid of Taragon. Even as Otis sits besides his dead mother, he doesnt realize what is going on.

Mother Dragon

The mother dragon may look terrifying, but in her heart she's just a care taking mother who looks after her children. How ever, people are afraid of dragons, they don't realise that the mother dragon only wants to protect her children like anyone of us would do.

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith is pleased with his life. He has a fulfilling job and a son he loves. He knows about the importance of the dragon slayer and his job he is doing for the community.

The Blacksmith's son

The Blacksmith's son admires Taragon. For him he is a hero, who lives an adventures and brave life. But the one he looks up to the most is his father.

Character Designs

Taragon - First designs by Michael Sieber

Taragon - Final Designs by Michael Sieber

Horse Bullie - Design by Michael Sieber

Final Version

Final Version

Otis - designs by Michael Sieber and Klaus Morschhauser

Otis - Final Designs by Klaus Morschhauser

The Blacksmith - Designs by Michael Sieber

The Forge

The Blacksmith and his son - Final Designs by Michael Sieber

Environment Designs

Designs by Michael Sieber

Character Modeling

Every character has a low resolution poly version, which is used for animating and a high resolution poly model which is used for rendering the final images. The high resolution poly version is the result of smoothing the low poly version.

Taragon first two versions

Taragon final version

The basic model is a low poly model. The higher resolution model is the result of a smoothing operation.

Blend Shape modeling, about 40 blend shapes for the hero.

In addition to the blend shapes, stretch and a squash deformers are used to achieve non symmetrical and cartoon animation.

To correct binding problems correction Blend shapes were applied to parts like bizeps, shoulder, neck etc.

All blendshapes can be mixed with one another

Bullie first and final version

Otis first versions

Otis finalt versions

Problems resulting from bad modelling. Otis is a good example for that. Not enough polygons were created around the joints where a lot of deformation takes place.

Otis Deformed

Otis Normal

Mother Dragon

The Blacksmith and his son

The environment is made of polygons. The sky is a nurbs surface.


In general I used the Setup from Jason Schleifer with some modifications. It was very important for me that the rig was very easy to handle and clearly arranged, so animating would be fun. I am not a genius in rigging, so it took me some time to complete the rig.

Rig of Taragon

Each rig includes over 400 nodes.

In order to achieve a good overview over the different parts like IKs, clusters etc. used in the rig, I worked with layers to make it easier to hide not needed groups. To obtain a good pick mask I colored the left,right and middle handles.

All animation controls were put onto selection handles. This made the interface fast and intuitive to use.


My first approach texturing the characters I used projection maps. In order to avoid floating textures while moving the character I used texture referenced objects. But this technique slowed down the rendering process. So I decided to work with uv based texturing.

UV Based Texturing

The textures are loaded faster as well a the renderer. You can do very precise painting work on the textures, depending on the uv layout

Projected Textures

You can get a very high detailed look in the rendered images but the render time time get very high, because of the amount of texture you need make one character working It is more difficult to handle projected textures. Because if you use different images from different angles projected onto one object you need some very good masks to fit the images. And you need a Reference Objekt, which can cause some problems.

UVs from Otis and from the dragon mother

UVs from Bullie and from Taragon

The Texturing of the blacksmith's son

The face of the forgers son - Color - Bump - Specular

Taragons Texture - Color - Bump - Specular

The Forge


The animation process is pose to pose. So you can assure in a very fast way that the shot works. You also can check on the timing this way. If the poses are final I begin to animate forward. I start with the body (Hip) move on to the feet, arms and the head, then hands.

The first main poses are done for the animatic. If the animatic works with those poses I move on. I really like to keep some time, maybe a day before finishing one shot. And so I polish the animation until it is final.

In general the rig worked fine, but for the next rig I would like to do some modifications. Additionally FK for the arms and FK for the upper body.

Visual Effects

For additionl effects like rain, dust, fire we used the particle system of Maya and 3ds Max. The dust was done in the compositing by using real footage layering over the images.

For the rain we used a particle tool in Maya written by Mathias Zeller. A simple interface, so you don't have to take care technique behind it.

The fire effects were done in 3dsMax. We tried to achieve a special look, something between realistic fire and comic fire. After that the fire was composed in Combustion.

We also used Maya cloth for the loincloth of Taragon. It was simulated after his animation was final


At the beginning we tried to render in 3ds max (Vray) and Lightwave, because these renderers are famous their high quality, without having to adjust a lot of parameters. Maya's software renderer often has problems with antialiasing, depth of field, and has no build in GI-renderer. We tried both Max and Lightwave. The main problem was the translation of the Maya files to Max and Lightwave format without losing any data.


We tried the Beaver Project, and it worked fine. The motion-file containing the deformed objects on a per frame basis, were imported into Lightwave. But unfortunately our Lightwave artist didn't have enough time for the whole preparation process, which included assigning the textures an lighting the scenes.

3ds Max

We tested a freeware tool that exported the deformed objects on a per frame basis as OBJ Files. We imported them into 3ds max as morph targets. During the import process 3ds max assigned vertices numeration in an unpredictable way, so already prepared morph targets in 3ds max didn't work anymore.

Mental Ray in Maya

We also tried mental ray with its GI-feature in order to produce a realistic behaviour of light. We used Mental Ray 1.5 Beta Plugin for Maya. One of the problems was Mental ray needed very high quality settings in order avoid flickering shadows. Render time was much to long and the plugin was very unstable. So we stopped using Mental Ray.

Finally we rendered with "GI Joe Dome Light" using the standard Maya software renderer. The light dome was built of 80 directionals lights with soft shadows. We used them as ambient lights with a blue color. To simulate sunlight, we installed a directional yellow light with a sharp shadow. To ensure that the sunlight shadow was sharp we used a raytrace shadow on this.

The light setup was divided in an upper and lower section. The upper section was used as primary light source casting depth map shadows. The lower section did not cast any shadows but brightened the scene.

We did a Network render, using 80 CPUs, with 2 Ghz each. To distribute the render tasks over network, we used the render tool "Render Royal".

Rendering with Light Dome

Rendering with Light Dome

Rendering with Light Dome

HDRI Tests. Look was too realistic



The compositing was done with combustion. For most shots we used 3 layers. Background layer, character layer and foreground layer. For some effects shots we used up to 20 layers.

The reasons for working in different layers are:

a) modifying the images is more easy, more control, color correction.

b) saves render time

For shots where the camera does not move you only need to render one background image.

Background and Character Layer

Foreground and Depth Mask

Alpha Mask

Color Correction Avid Symphonie

We used the Avid Symphonie to make some final color corrections.

The original images were very yellow and green, so we added some red and blue.


The music was done by Julian Pesek and played by the Ludwigsburger Music Orchestra.

After we recorded the music we made some shortening on the movie.

So we had some trouble to comply the picture with the music. But at the end it worked


The Sounddesign was done by Frank Casaretto. He worked on movies like Resident Evil.


The Dragon Slayer webpage was done by Michael Ponciano


The Dragon Slayer DVD was done by Michael Furtman



Robert Kuczera

Am Hollerbroch 64 51503 Germany


Related Materials:

Dragon Slayer Scene Files Download >>

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