Sentience is a short film made as partial fulfillment of MFA thesis in Digital Animation and Interactive Media at the Department of Design, The Ohio State University. Completed in 2017

Project Team

Graduate Researcher – MFA Thesis Project
Lakshika Udakandage

Faculty Advisors
Maria Palazzi
, advisor
Alan Price, committee member
Vita Berezina-Blackburn, committee member

Project Description

As humans, we have lived with the natural form the earliest times. We have seen and experienced nature and natural phenomenon in many different ways. In cinema, however, the use of natural phenomenon in its natural form is limited in the context of characters. This paper attempts to address the issue of how to use natural phenomenon and their inherent properties to create understandable and distinct characters. The design method introduced in this research includes a development structure that can be generalized for any natural phenomenon character. This paper also contains the documentation of production, results, and analysis of the short film ‘SentiencE’ which was made as a proof of concept for the approach proposed in this research.

Film Synopsis

A wondering sentient being found another similar yet different presence. During their time together they find themselves in a situation that will affect them profoundly.

Still from SentiencE showing giant wave crashing with cabin and fire in foreground

Production Notes

All most all the assets for the film were created using Houdini FX. The majority of the film included procedural animations such as pyro and fluid simulations. Fluid, ocean, pyro, and particle simulation systems were set up inside Houdini FX to create these assets for the film.

For the scope of the film, the elements had to be art-directable. These art-directable features were introduced by parametrically controlling the parameters of the dynamic, surface, and shader operators. The characters of the film are made using these art-directable procedural animations. Set modeling and shading also used procedural methods.

sentience sequence

Mantra renderer was used for rendering with HDRI maps and GI lighting. Volume lights were used to get the firelight and heat glow. Components were rendered in separate layers and composited in Nuke. Corrective and stylization color correction was done in Nuke. Finished shots were imported to Premiere for editing.

Music recording, sound editing, and mixing were done using Digital Performer. Cello, Flute, and finger piano were used as primary musical instruments. Surround sound setup with a subwoofer was used to create the sound space for the film.

SentiencE poster with awards laurels

Festival Screenings & Awards

Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (LAIFA)  |  Best Animation Short, February 2018

Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (LAIFA)  |  Best Original Music Score, February 2018
Top Shorts  
|  Best Visual Effects, April 2018

Top Shorts  
|  Best Score,  April 2018

Global Shorts  |  Honorable Mention, March 2018

Athens ANIMFEST (Athens, Greece)  |  Official Selection, 2018
Los Angeles Film Awards  | 
 Official Selection, 2018

NewFilmmakers  |  New York 2018

Columbus Moving Image Art Review  |  2018

Ohio Shorts  |  2018

Director's Bio

Lakshika Udakandage received his Bachelor of Science in Computational Physics from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He spent a few years working at SKY Entertainers, Sri Lanka as a 3D generalist. He then moved to the USA and started his graduate studies at The Ohio State University. In the spring of 2017, he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Digital Animation and Interactive Media from the Department of Design, OSU. During his time at the OSU, he worked as the Motion Capture Graduate Research Associate at The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD).

His area of interest is in VFX and simulations for cinema. The MFA research work focused on developing characters using natural elements and their inherent properties with minimal use of anthropomorphism. The short film 'Sentience' was devolved as a part of this research work. This research will lead towards a new reading and understanding of natural elements and how they can be used in cinema and storytelling.

Visit Lakshika's website

Technical Specifications and Credits

Running time: 3 Min 35 Sec | 1920px X 1080px (16:9) | animated | color

Directed, Script, Animation, Effects, Editing: Lakshika Udakandage

Original music, Sound design, Audio mixing: Caitlyn Trevor

Lighting design: Sarah Lawler

All materials copyright © Lakshika Udakandage 2017