“The Changing Gods” is a CGI short film by Lucio Arese, filmmaker/visual artist
which depicts the destruction and collapse of ancient Greek and Roman statues. Its meaning is left open to interpretation. And it’s a work of art in more ways than one.
Arese worked on the film alone from around November 2020 to March 2021, during Italy’s second COVID-19 lockdown. It started as a technical work, to study the fragmentation of 3D objects through dynamic simulations. However, the project has since gone beyond a simple 3D work, he points out, and in the end the filmmaker used his own concepts to make a short film with a philosophical scope.
“I had the idea the day I stumbled upon a 3D model on the internet of the Laocoon Group, a famous Roman copy of a Hellenistic Greek statue, made by the Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery of Denmark ),” says Arese. .
“The Changing Gods” depicts the destruction and collapse of the ancient Greek and Roman statues of the Laocoön group, Belvedere Hermes, Belvedere Apollo, Faun Barberini and Athena Giustiniani. “Its visual heritage is intriguing: the static, thousand-year-old beauty of these emblematic statues of Western history suddenly set in motion by a physical event, a bullet stroke”, explains the filmmaker. “Obviously, none of this is meant to happen in real life. The act of destruction is represented allegorically, as an uncertain process oscillating between negative annihilation and positive creativity readable on many levels and left open to the viewer to discern.
Arese, indeed, likes the idea that everyone can get their own take on the film with the iconic ending quote from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. It could represent the end of something, a transformation, a cycle, a reassessment of established values, the start of something new, or simply something mysterious or fascinating to watch, he says.
To create the film, Arese used Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Chaos’ V-Ray rendering engine. All fragmentation and dynamic impact/demolition debris simulation was done with RayFire, a 3ds Max plug-in developed by Mir Vadim.
The 3D scans of the statues, meanwhile, are available for free on MyMiniFactory from the Statens Museum for Kunst, with a creative common license https://www.myminifactory.com/users/SMK%20-%20Statens%20Museum%20for%20Kunst . “I selected the statues I liked the most based on my personal tastes,” he says.
According to Arese, this film aroused great interest from the museum. “The museum’s digital advisor, Merete Sanderhoff, says ‘The Changing Gods’ is a testament to the creative powers that bubble up at the intersection of crowd-sourcing and open heritage,” he says.
The models, obviously, are atypical of what one would expect in a CG short. “Everything in this film is meant to be simple and essential, with great care for detail and photography. I used black backgrounds, a single moving light source for each statue, and simple editing,” says Arese. “I wanted the sculptures to speak for themselves in light and dark. The Chopin’ Nocturne op. 27 n. 2′ as a soundtrack gives a French flavor to the whole work, which I like, but it’s also a great counterpart to the energetic visuals of the disintegrating statues. This creates a contrast of melancholy and primitive energy.
Although simplistic in style, the content creation process was quite complex. “Destroying such marble sculptures in a realistic way involved quite complicated simulations with tens of thousands of fragments, resulting in huge scene files and many things to manage at once,” says Arese. “It was a long process of doing and redoing things, tweaking the settings, worrying about the details to get everything right, and getting the right bumps and rough edges on the interior parts of the shards.”
Another challenge was to find the right compromise between image quality and rendering time to stay within a reasonable budget, since almost all the rendering was done via a renderfarm. V-ray, according to the filmmaker, performed quite well in that it allowed him to maintain average render times under 10 minutes per frame at 4K resolution.
On the other hand, texturing 3D “was a lot of fun”. He comments: “I did all the textures with [Adobe’s] Substance Painter, which I’ve never used before and learned about while developing this project. It’s fantastic software, one of the best I’ve seen in years, especially from a price/quality point of view.
Indeed, the aesthetic of this project is very unique and is quite different from anything Arese has done before. “My work has always focused on the union between music and cinema in a rather abstract way, with no specific message other than the audiovisual result itself. I kept the same approach for this last work, but I included a philosophical direction that was absent from everything I’ve done so far.
“The Changing Gods” can be seen on