BattleScar

by Nico Casavecchia and Martin Allais
The studio

Martin Allais, creator and director; and Nico Casavecchia, creator, director and writer

More than just beginner’s luck

L.A.-based Nico Casavecchia and Barcelona-based Martin Allais have been friends for 14 years. Both are part of the 1stAveMachine collective.

The two have deep roots in the art world of Barcelona. Casavecchia, a short-film director originally from Argentina, started from a scrappy place and “did all sorts of things to pay the rent,” such as VJing, illustration, music videos, TV spots, graffiti and toy design. He finally gained recognition when he created the world’s smallest stop-motion film (A Boy and His Atom), which he followed up successfully with the live-action film, Finding Sofia.  

Allais, a successful commercial and music video director, began his animation career creating performance visuals for Spain’s largest music festival, Sonar. Since then he has become a sought-after illustrator and a music video and animation director, describing himself as “a futurist and compulsive nostalgic.”

Last year, the duo merged their talents to make BattleScar, their first VR project. 1stAveMachine producer Andrew Geller challenged them: “Can you use this medium for real storytelling? Can you make an impact in the tapestry of narrative VR?” Allais’ response? “Yeah, but it’s gotta be punk!” It was actually punk music that inspired the duo’s creation, a stroke of genius from Casavecchia’s wife, who was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids at the time.

The project

BattleScar plays with mixed media throughout and the visuals aggressively change scale. You move from first-person POV to dioramas of the two characters – as if you’re watching them on a theatre stage – to looming over the runaways from 20 feet above a dirty NYC street. The animation is a collision of stop motion and graffiti, with the characters looking like little punk puppets.

In yet another unique narrative choice, the creators decided to constantly use an animated font and text to bring the character’s journal (and the music) to life. The text shoots off the pages and punk lyrics fly at you as scribbles and sketches, often reminiscent of punk tattoos etched on the screen.

Getting their hands dirty

Imagine you’re running through a gritty subway station in NYC when WHOOSH! – a graffiti-splattered subway train nearly takes you out. The voice of Rosario Dawson fills your ears with main character Lupe’s words, punk music’s blaring, and your adrenaline level is sky-high. Added to that, your POV is constantly switching, changing pace with the music. This is what it’s like to immerse yourself in the loud, aggressive, punk world that is BattleScar.

While BattleScar’s soundtrack – featuring some punk anthems, including by Iggy Pop’s The Stooges – grabs you by the ears, what truly sets it apart is its visual quality.

Behind the scenes — BattleScar
The reveal
Rocking the timeline

“Can you write songs?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“Do you like punk?”

“I do,” second lie.

“Run, then!” replied Debbie.

When asked what it was like to work in Unity, the filmmakers replied: “Don’t come to VR with preconceptions of the other mediums,” says Casavecchia. “You need to get literate in the possibilities of VR – so play video games, see theatrical plays ... and try to think spatially.”

As this was their first VR project, they learned Unity quickly and created the original prototype themselves. Their initial work on BattleScar gained the attention of Kaleidoscope and producer Arnaud Colinart, one of the founders of Atlas V, a French immersive-content studio. They partnered the duo with Fauns Studio in Lyon, France, who helped bring the entire script to life, with Colinart creatively guiding the whole project.

However, during production they suddenly found themselves under a huge time crunch: BattleScar had been selected for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibition, so they needed to work fast. “The fact that Unity allows the whole team to collaborate in real time was the only way we could deliver,” says Casavecchia.

Animating the fonts using Timeline

Animating the fonts using Timeline

This approach was ambitious for Fauns Studio.

“It was unlike what we knew from the video game industry … the directors needed to experience stuff with VR and we wanted the best for them.” But the schedule – like a Ramones song – was short and tight, so they “had to try a more organic approach in terms of iterations and creativity,” says Dominique Peyronnet, VR producer at Fauns.

“The result was unexpected – Unity gives everyone on the team plenty of room to do their work and it lets every idea take shape,” says Peyronnet.

Raiding the Asset Store for essentials

The Fauns team also grabbed a whole bunch of cool packages to help them complete the project in time: “LipSync Pro, Amplify Shader Editor, VR Panorama, and Hx Volumetric Lighting were really useful for us, saving so much time for the integrator and the developers,” says Peyronnet.

What Casavecchia and Allais were trying to achieve – using music, fonts and scale to move the narrative forward – was a new feat for the team at Fauns.

“The biggest challenge was producing great stages for every scene. It’s not like a movie – you don’t have the control of the camera at all. So we had to test camera placement, as well as scaling, in a 360° environment. We really worked on how to focus the attention of the audience in a specific direction. We worked with offscreen events such as lighting or sounds. We used every tool we could to focus the viewer’s perception in a specific direction.”

Lighting of the (literal) runaway scene

Lighting of the (literal) runaway scene

Using Timeline to provide rhythm

“Building narrative rhythm while leaving the viewer enough time to explore the environment was key,” explains Peyronnet, and a feature like Timeline “was fundamental for the process, as it was a traditional filmmaking approach,” Casavecchia continues.

Timeline was the bridge between their filmmaking background and this new medium. Fauns customized the tool to help overcome the challenges they were facing with creating the dynamic scenes. They made custom scripts to “access multiple objects from different scenes within a scene, manage multiple timelines, manage the Sound Mixer with Timeline and manage settings such as material and lights,” explains Peyronnet.

Animation layout of the Lupe character on multiple Timeline tracks

Animation layout of the Lupe character on multiple Timeline tracks

And they did it all in the nick of time for Sundance, in a production process that got the adrenaline pumping, just like the story itself!

BattleScar will be released on YouTube’s VR channel in spring 2018.

Storytellers of Tomorrow — BattleScar
Try your hand at Timeline and create the next breakthrough cinematic VR piece!

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. Click here for more information.