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Designing Weapons for Love, Death + Robots

A 3D Artist behind weapons from Love, Death + Robots Lennard Claussen talked about the production process, shared some thoughts about working on such a massive project, and told us how to make the weapons feel just right.


Since we last spoke in 2019, my life has gotten a little crazy. In a good way, of course. I've had the chance to work for a lot of great companies like Volkswagen, Unit Image, Beyond Frames, and others. I worked on big VFX projects like Love, Death + Robots Vol. 02, on car commercials, and VR productions. I never thought I could make as much money as I do today with my passion for art, and I'm learning more about the creative industry and business in general than ever before. I would describe it as Christmas but on an everyday basis.

Becoming a Part of Love, Death + Robots Team

I was recommended to Unit Image through someone in the first half of 2020, and they reached out to me as a result. To this day, I don't know by whom exactly, so if you, the person who referred me, are out there somewhere, I have to thank you very much! But aside from the recommendation, the story goes back much further. The reason I got the chance to join such a great team goes back to the fact that I pushed myself through many nights of work and hundreds of times of running into a wall. 

I was bad at school, actually, I was really terrible at school and hated every minute of it. I was always told that I needed good grades to achieve anything in life. I constantly felt like I was kind of a sucker who was going to fail big time in life. I never felt like my way of thinking fit society. I'm someone who needs to think outside the box and who needs the freedom to express myself.
My mother noticed quite early that I am not someone who holds back. Even as a young child, I asserted my will, no matter if it meant falling into a pond of cold water. Of course, asserting my will, even when I was wrong, led to many falls into ponds and many walls I ran into. But you know what? The day came when I broke through the wall.
When I started with 3D, it immediately clicked in my head. Was I a good artist at first? No, I was terrible, but eventually, I felt like I found my home. The creative industry gave me the freedom I needed to express myself and pursue what makes me happy. From the beginning, I kept pushing myself and often outside of my comfort zone and just tried to soak up as much information as I could. It took a while and a lot of failures for me to reach a certain level of quality, but eventually, I did and now I have the opportunity to work with clients I could never have dreamed of.
The reason I'm telling this long story is that I think it's extremely important to never lose confidence in yourself. Learning software and getting used to the rules of the creative industry is one thing, but I think it's much more important to build self-esteem, confidence in yourself, the ability to be persistent, and the will to go beyond limits. In school, you will always learn to be the little gray mouse.

Society teaches you that you shouldn't expect too much from life and that you shouldn't strive for more than average. In my eyes, this puts you in a box that leads to not trying to reach your potential. The energy to achieve something comes from within you, not from someone else magically creating a dream life for you. You must release the energy yourself. Aim for greatness, strive for the best you can imagine, and don't let anyone badmouth your mindset. Opportunity comes when luck meets preparation.

The Team and Responsibilities

I worked as an additional Character Artist and focused on the hard surface look development of the weapons. This included not only guns but knives as well. Since the style of the project is similar in several aspects to my personal portfolio style, the project was a pretty good fit for my skill set.

From 2D concepts provided by the very talented Felix Donadio, I developed 3D models that were used directly in the finished movie. Since the concepts were 2D side views, my task was not only to convert the concepts into three-dimensional models but also to conceptualize additional shapes that would support the visual language of the weapons. It was important to understand not only the narrative and visual goal of the entire project, but also how the world of snow in the desert works. The weapons had to fit the style of their carriers and also the apocalyptic sci-fi world.

Using previs data and mood boards gave me the information I needed to build both the shape language and the surface look. The key to success here was communication. In close communication with Unit Image's in-house team, we made sure that all the weapons looked different, but conveyed the same aesthetic to the viewer.

Designing the Weapons

The look of Snow in the Desert for me personally is a mix of the future and the past but in the age of science fiction. The technology doesn't look super advanced. It looks used and like it was used ages ago. Since Love, Death & Robots is an anthology, it is important that the viewer quickly understands the context of what they are seeing and can also quickly empathize with the characters.

Ultimately, emotions transport the movie experience. All of the characters in Snow in the Desert are unique and can be easily distinguished from one another. However, they also all fit into the same world and function as a unit. The same goes for the weapons. When you look at the weapons, which are made of bones, you can quickly see that these are weapons of enemies and are probably not carried by humans. Mainly because they are massive and rough and look brutal.
If we look at Snow's weapon, it is much more delicate, just like Snow himself. Additional shapes that I added to the concept of the model had to be inconspicuous and support the elements already present in the concept and the characters themselves. Since there were also organic elements on some of the weapons, it was especially important to dive deep into the references.

Each of us artists in the world, when we first modeled something organic like a rock or a cliff, started just slapping some alphas on a mesh and that was it. The problem with that is that it also looks like an alpha. In modeling, and especially in organic modeling, it's important to build up the shapes step by step, adding more and more details from time to time. And for this, it is important to look at references and try to replicate them. Once that's done, it's easy to abstract from there and adapt it to a more stylized look.

So when I looked at references, I had to abstract and deviate from realism to achieve the look which was required for the movie. My rule of thumb for texturing is to always support the shape of the model with the texture, not the other way around. This is also why I add as much detail to the model as possible. The texture will follow these details with the help of the curvature and ao and strengthen the visuals that are already present in the model.

For production, it's important that all materials look good under the lighting conditions of the final scene. So in texturing, I made sure that the materials used color values that were within the gamut of the render engine, and I also made sure that they would work under the fairly diffuse lighting conditions of the movie. Through previs shots, I knew when and from what angle you could see the weapons. That helped me focus the detail in certain areas and also scale the material elements. If you don't know the scale of the scene or the distance you're seeing the asset from, it's hard to know how much surface wear to add, for example. If you see a gun from 300 meters away, you'll see basically nothing, so why add detail? If you see the asset up close, you'll need to add a good amount of detail.
As always with texturing, it's also important to look closely at the references. The movie has a pretty realistic style as far as rendering goes. However, if you look at the assets, they have a certain degree of stylization. On Trot’s SMG, you can see that the magazine doesn't look realistic in terms of shape. That also implies that the texture has to follow that style.

So when I looked at references, I had to abstract and deviate from realism to achieve the look which was required for the movie. My rule of thumb for texturing is to always support the shape of the model with the texture, not the other way around. This is also why I add as much detail to the model as possible. The texture will follow these details with the help of the curvature and ao and strengthen the visuals that are already present in the model.

The Favorite Part of the Workflow

Seeing the final result on Netflix after seeing the previs and building the content was a surreal moment. It's one thing to work for car commercials, architecture, or even games, but for film production, it's a completely different feeling for me. When I see my work on a stage as big as Netflix, I get goosebumps.

Working for world-renowned companies like Volkswagen is a privilege for me and makes me extremely proud, but working for a movie/series has been a dream for me for a long time and is the absolute highlight of my career. The thing I’m most proud of is myself. I have to thank myself for always believing in me, for never giving up, for always going the extra mile and not settling for average.

I’m also extremely proud of the people who are close to me in my life. Their selfless support and constant encouragement to keep up the pace helped me build my career in the first place. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today.


I had confidence in my ability to get the job done. From start to finish, it was an extremely creative and productive experience. I had the opportunity to use my creative thoughts and skills to help produce a product that a lot of people enjoy. That's something that gives me a lot of gratification.

In terms of mindset or thinking, it was a challenge. Because it's a big and important IP, the work had to meet an extremely high level of quality. I think it's pretty normal to start thinking about whether the work you're doing is good enough or whether you're even good enough for a company like Unit Image or Netflix. Even if I know I'm good at what I do, I'm still sometimes in a battle of "I know my worth vs. Is my work even good." No matter how chilled out production is, sometimes you have quite a lot on your plate and then you start thinking these things. An important lesson to learn in these situations is to stay calm, be rational and look at the facts.

Aside from getting faster at 3D production work, I learned a lot about myself. This project helped me figure out what my passion even is in the world of 3D, how I handle fast-paced productions, and most importantly, I learned that I have a lot of unused potentials and can push myself even further. Love, Death + Robots made me feel that anything is possible and I can achieve any goal I want as long as I take care of what is important to me.

Lennard Claussen, Hard Surface Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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