Best Still 2016: The making of “52Hz”

In 2014, Cornelius Dämmrich just missed winning the Best Still award for his work “Haze”. In 2016, however, the 3D artist from Germany finally got the win with his latest creation, “52Hz”. Taking inspiration from a number of sources and references, he produced his image of an astronaut floating next to a phone booth in a foggy night-time landscape using Cinema 4D, Fusion 360, Marvelous Designer and the render engine Octane, the latest system to be integrated into his workflow.

Dämmrich’s Pinterest account is packed with images of foggy petrol stations and works by photographer Todd Hido. He had been planning to convert his personal pipeline from V-Ray to Octane for a while anyway; so, seeing as one of the big themes in the Octane 3.0 Roadmap is Fog, Dämmrich thought it was a good opportunity to explore a “car park in the mist” motif. After choosing the theme, he started working on the project at the end of 2015 in a winter break from his freelance work; it took him four months to finish.

The loneliest whale

Dämmrich derived the title “52Hz” from a species of whale that sings at the very unusual frequency of 52 hertz. Seeing as other whales do not communicate at this frequency, this 52Hz whale has been referred to as “the loneliest whale in the world”.

Dämmrich took inspiration for his astronaut in particular from Jack Crossing’s iconic image “6th Avenue”, which depicts an astronaut on fire crossing the street. In order to find the perfect setting, he also studied a photo series by Todd Hido featuring homes shrouded in fog. The original idea was to have the astronaut in “52Hz” not floating at all, but instead standing next to the phone booth. However, that image didn’t live up to Dämmrich’s standards. Instead, he used Jeremy Geddes’ series of paintings with floating astronauts as a reference.

Image composition & modelling

The main task facing Cinema 4D was to bring all of the elements together. For more clarity, Dämmrich sorted the many assets using the object manager and subdivided them into groups. Seeing as subdivision surface modelling (SDS) for the image would have taken too long, Dämmrich decided to carry out the modelling process using the Autodesk-CAD tool Fusion 360. This way he didn’t have to pay attention to topology, plus the surfaces between the vectors could be presented “on the fly”. This allowed him to realise very complex forms.

Each asset in “52Hz” was first pre-blocked with simple, non-textured basic forms. A number of the assets, such as the exterior of the phone booth, were created in SDS modelling; in these cases, the pre-blocked geometry was used simply as a basis within Cinema 4D. If he used Fusion 360, Dämmrich copied the pre-blocked templates into a new file, aligned them as symmetrically as possible and exported them as .obj, so as to be able to open them in Fusion.

The astronaut consists of a pre-fab rigged character from the Marvelous Designer presets; that gave Dämmrich more time and more flexibility to work on the astronaut’s pose. The plastic bags and garbage bags were also made using the clothing tool.

Lots of dirt & doodling

For the weathered surfaces of the objects, Dämmrich most often used a dirt shader in the majority of materials. As is usually the case in real life, the interior of the phone booth is full of doodles, partly of an obscene nature. In order to achieve this, the artist carried out an UV unwrapping of the inner layer of the phone booth, which he then wrote on in Photoshop with the help of a Wacom tablet. After that, he used an alpha map to assign the doodle texture over the phone-booth texture and also added stickers from


Thanks to the Octane Live Viewer, Dämmrich had constant, real-time rendered feedback of the whole scene during the entire creation process. The fog was not added in post; instead, it was rendered in a pass, which was only switched off for the Octane Live Viewer. In the course of his work, Dämmrich replaced an HDRI for the lighting with a simple, single-colour background lighting; also, instead of an endless medium for the fog, a fog-filled cube was laid over the scene.

“52Hz” is now the official log-in screen of Octane 3.0. Plus, the still now has an animago AWARD to boot. Dämmrich is currently working on a new project which will be the largest he’s ever done.

(Mirja Fürst)

The other two “Best Still” nominees in 2016 were:

Halloween Pub Crawl

Artist: Michael Fedichkin – Country: Ukraine – Software: 3ds Max, Corona

The Experiment

Artist: Manuel Peter – Country: Germany – Software: Blender, Marvelous Designer

NEC sponsors the category “Best Still” again in 2017. All infos here.