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NoWhereMan: Short Film Production Pipeline

Chong Liu, Kuan Ting Lu, and Han Chen Chang discussed the story and the process of creating their sci-fi short film NoWhereMan.

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Team Introduction

Chong Liu - Director & Concept Artist; I’ve set the goal of becoming a CG-related artist since high school. I’ve worked as an intern concept artist in several VFX & commercial studios such as Digital Domain, Morevfx, and Co_ed studios. Currently, I’m focusing on my personal project and looking for a concept & visual development artist job in the meanwhile. Apart from working as a concept artist, I also work as an independent animation director. I started to produce animation and live-action films in 2014.

Kuan Ting "CK” Lu - Technical Director; I'm a CG Generalist with specialties in Lighting/Compositing. Before I came to the US for academic pursuit, I have been working at Moonshine, one of the biggest VFX studios in Taiwan, for a couple of years and had some collaborations with oversea studios such as Digital Domain. I worked at Blue Sky Studios as a lighting intern last summer and was in charge of some shots in Spies in Disguise.

Han Chen "Verena" Chang - Creative Producer; ​Fate motivated my resolution to throw myself into the fantastic animation universe. I concentrate on project management and believe that a great story can always be inspiring and every project should have a story as its soul. Right now, I'm working on projects "NoWhereMan," "RenaiDance", and "HALLUCINATION" as a student creative producer at SVA MFA Computer Arts Department.

NoWhereMan: Story, Concept, and Design

We were inspired by the plot of a science fiction story we read about on the internet, in which the protagonist was trapped in an endless cycle of time because he set the wrong time node. We redesigned the story and put its concept into a different context that we're familiar with, to express our views on some historical and political issues. It can be said that this story is under the cloak of science fiction and has the core of humanity.

The inspiration for the protagonist came from the former Soviet space hero Yuri Gagarin, who won a huge success and reputation for his historical achievement. We think the constant smile on his face, as well as his modesty, are pretty impressive so we applied those characteristics of his to our main character. During the production, we changed the story structure several times according to the feedback from our advisors. But the final result of NoWhereMan is basically the same as what we've set at the very beginning. 

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In our opinion, the art direction should always be serving the story. For this project, we tried to pick some of the most suitable styles and elements to convey the emotions. As for the character design, our goal was to make the design look expressionistic and unique. During the research, we were greatly inspired by Lucian Freud's paintings and applied the vivid characterization and expressionistic feeling of the figures in his paintings to our design.

For the environments, we spent a lot of time on the color pallets. There are basically four main scenes in our film with 4 different color schemes. Apart from making the colors match the story in each scene, we tried to make them distinctive with saturation and color temperature in sequences. The final four color pallets are warm (saturated) - cool (desaturated) - warm (saturated) - cold (desaturated). We think this can constantly provide the audience with new visual elements and make them desire to continue watching willingly.

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Technical Development

We did the modeling part in Maya and ZBrush, texturing in Substance Painter, rigging and animation in Maya, - pretty much the standard workflow. However, since this film (duration is 4:30) needs to be done within 6 months, we have developed a workflow that can produce shots with high efficiency. Our school, SVA, introduced the render engine Redshift into our work machines this year and we adapted it to our workflow. With multiple RTX 2080 Ti rendering, Redshift significantly reduced the rendering time compared with most of the CPU based render engines.  However, using Redshift contradicts our goal of creating stylized images because the version we were using doesn’t support any type of toon shader. In order to fix that, we developed our own Redshift toon shader by using Maya’s built-in Lambert shader with some scripts which can generate a similar effect by controlling the locator and can be successfully rendered by Redshift. Then, we finally composed in Nuke with the original render pass from Redshift.

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To create clothes with high efficiency, we used Marvelous Designer 8 to design and simulate all the clothes for NoWhereMan. In order to make the protagonists more distinctive and unique, we not only added a lot of medals and decorations on his uniforms but also made the sleeves extremely puffy.  This is actually pretty challenging for Marvelous Designer 8 to operate because it currently doesn’t have a proper hard-surface collision function.  However, due to the large amount of cloth simulation needed for the project, we still decided to tackle all cloth tasks in Marvelous Designer. Note that in NoWhereMan, all the medals are just attached to points and are not even simulated.

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Most of the production aspects are not too difficult thanks to the help of each teammate and advisors. The toughest part is modeling the assets for the environments. As you can see there are various scenes in NoWhereMan and each of them is entirely different and distinctive, so we really spent a lot of time building the models during pre-production. To reduce the modeling time, we used a script to procedurally generate structures with various objects to create a stylish and industrial look.

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Production Challenges

There are various kinds of challenges that can be faced in production. For instance, our Creative Producer Verena works with brilliant talents in each field of production and organizes those with a tight budget and schedule together. Actively balancing the development and maintaining efficiency in close collaboration with team members and top-level executives is challenging, especially when working remotely during the period of COVID-19. Implementing effective workflows while keeping the processes productive and healthy is always essential. Yet, the health and mental conditions of the team members should be the top priority of the project manager. Although it might be tough for people to learn and to produce at the same time, excellent collaboration is often led by talented people who know their value and support each other with gratitude.


NoWhereMan is still not officially released and the release date is still undetermined at this point. If you are interested in the film, you can follow our pages:

NoWhereMan Team

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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