fxphd prof Tim Clapham helps launch Tom Clancy’s The Division

fxphd prof Tim Clapham helps launch Tom Clancy’s The Division

| June 17, 2013

A launch trailer for Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment’s Tom Clancy’s The Division was shown at E3, and popular fxphd prof Tim Clapham, who teachers our Cinema4D courses, contributed 3D modeling and animation to the promo via Sydney studio Antibody. We talk to Tim and also Antibody creative director Patrick Clair about the work.

fxg: What was the brief for the launch trailer?

Patrick Clair: Ubisoft asked Antibody to create a trailer that could demonstrate to their audience some key facts about the risk of social breakdown, and scare them in the process. Antibody worked with creatives from Ubisoft and their studio Massive Entertainment to create a script that blended fact with fiction. Real world elements, such as the 2001 Dark Winter simulation and the 2007 Directive 51 laws implemented by President Bush, were combined with a hypothetical scenario encompassing bioterror strikes, a flu pandemic and subsequent economic collapse.


This terrifying vision of the future set the scene for Ubisoft to unveil the brand new story world featured in the upcoming game Tom Clancy’s The Division. Antibody drew on art direction cues within the game to inspire an aesthetic of dirt, grime, chaos, viral infection and collapse.

These visual elements became a world of typography built from virus cells, torn American dollars and fragile transportation infrastructure. Voiceover guided the pacing and direction of the visuals, while 3D elements were blended with 2D designs to create a unified and intense visualization of the story.

fxg: How was the idea conceptualized and boarded out?

Clair: The team created multiple rounds of extensive storyboards, exploring the best ways to communicate the script and create a visual world that could capture the themes of the game.

I kept a focus on making sure the story beats had impact and clarity, while the design team – lead by Phil Robson – tweaked the aesthetic to deliver the information in a striking visual fashion. At every stage, 3D guru Tim Clapham, was consulted on the technical limitations and possibilities of each concept – which would then influence creative choices about how best to execute each idea. By working this way, the design and logistics and storytelling evolved together to keep the process responsive and efficient.


As the approach for each sequence became clear, individual motion designs and compositors within the team would execute various sequences in parallel. As each sequence was finished, it was handed on to designer MARX who added a grading and dirt passes of glitches and stitches that brought the shots together into a unified world of breakdown and chaos.

At every point, the cliche but important principle “Story is King” guided the approach – with each decision about layout, typography, animation and camera movement was rigorously challenged to make sure that it delivered the story beats in the most effective way possible.

fxg: Can you talk about some of the specific 3D elements that were required and the tools and techniques you used to create them?

Tim Clapham: The letters for COMPLEX were designed and then built as 3D elements. These became key focus points in several sections throughout the piece. We used Cinema4D for the majority of the 3D requirements with some extra parts created in After Effects using Video Copilot’s Element3D. The MoGraph module in Cinema4D facilitated much of the building of the letters, we used it to create many repetitive elements such as the road barriers, streetlights and even used it to animate the vehicles around the motorway. Some elements were hand animated, while others were rigged using constraints and expressions. We also used dynamic simulations throughout, including the tower breaking apart and the containers toppling from the ship. Other elements made use of cloth and hair simulations to enhance the organic nature of the piece.


The letters themselves were polygon heavy even as individual scenes and to facilitate a smooth workflow, we made extensive use of external references (XRefs) and used layers to manage visibility to keep editor redraw speeds usable. The advantage of using Xrefs was that we could use the same object in several scenes and if we needed to update the master object, any changes would update in all the references. The use of XRefs also allowed us to disable complex objects in many scenes when they were not being used in a specific shot, thus aiding a smooth workflow.

fxg: How were the atmosphere and extra lighting effects created?

Clapham: Much of the volumetric lighting effects were created in 3D, the addition of particles and geometry added to the complexity and depth of these shots. Atmospheric effects were also created in After Effects. We were able to export the Camera information along with several locator Nulls from Cinema4D and import this into our After Effects comps. This ensured we had matching cameras between 3D and comp, therefore many elements could be added in 3D space within the After Effects project. The project also featured heavy use of 3D particle systems throughout the piece to add depth and space to the environments through the use of Trapcode plugins, Particular and Form.


fxg: How did you accomplish the molecular level effects with particles and typography?

Clapham: The molecular effects were created using particles generated with Cinema4D MoGraph. We built shaders using several layers of animated noise rendered with sub-polygon displacement which helped enhance the detail in the surface and provide the microscopic feeling when combined with a Fresnel shader.

To create the typography we used a similar technique. We cloned objects onto the surface of polygons built from typography and the particles were meshed using metaballs which had another layer of displacement added via deformers, this helped to bind the particles together and provide the elastic stretch as they pulled apart. The addition of particle forces and effectors combined with falloff allowed us to control the position and scale of localised areas of particles. By animating the effectors we could disintegrate specific parts of individual letters or create sections that grew into place.

Much of the look and feel of the piece was facilitated through multipass rendering. We rendered to half-float EXR with multiple of passes from 3D and separate mattes for hundreds of objects. This combined with the camera export from C4D to AE helped to ensure the 3D elements and composite were in synergy.



Creative Director: Patrick Clair
Design Director: Phil Robson
3d Modeling & Animation: Tim Clapham Via Luxx
Motion Design & Art Direction: Eddy Herringson
Motion Design & Grading: Raoul Marks
Additional 3d Modeling: Matthew Grainger
Compositing: Daniel Symons

4 Responses to “fxphd prof Tim Clapham helps launch Tom Clancy’s The Division”

  1. Anonymous

    A great trailer for an amazing looking game. Can’t wait for the launch of it

  2. Anonymous

    Congratulations, this is great stuff ; ) It would also make a great fxphd course, don’t you think?

  3. Anonymous

    Brilliant visually and superb sound design as well. Love the typography too – is that a custom font?

  4. Anonymous

    I second “Andreas Urra”, even if Tim was to reveal “how to’s” on smaller portions of this trailer it would make for some unique and much needed motion graphics tutorials. Really well done! The camera movement is awesome. That plus techniques on how he did the transitions would be great to learn about.



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