With "Twosret," Karim Moussa takes his mastery of arch-viz into a beautiful and compelling short film. Find out how he made the jump from artist to director.
Karim Moussa has already proved himself to be one of this generation's most impressive architectural visualization artists. Through his Mozses studio, he uses V-Ray for 3ds Max to create eye-catching imagery which adds precisely the right amount of cinematic fairy dust to photorealistic renders. The quality of his work has attracted some big-name clients: KPF, Foster + Partners and Woods Bagot, to name just a few.
With "Twosret," Karim takes his formidable skills into the moving image. This short film, first shown in full-HD at Total Chaos 2019, depicts one of the few female Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt as she takes to the throne. For Karim, Twosret's story was a chance to pay homage to his favorite movies — Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven — while shedding light on a heroine largely unheard of outside his home country.
"I love cinema," explains Karim. "I am passionate about movies which show the rich historical and cultural aspects of ancient civilizations and countries. For example, Cleopatra is one of those movies where you can sense the civilization in everything you see on screen. A lot of passion, dedication and effort went into designing and creating everything about it. And that, for me, can live for generations while being an inspirational work."
Lavish sword-and-sandals spectacles require spectacular amounts of money, but what convinced Karim that he could make "Twosret" was seeing "The Ningyo" at Total Chaos last year. Produced on a minuscule budget and mostly shot at their own home, Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma's period creature feature made smart creative decisions to create a deft sense of time, place and tension. With influences big and small in mind, Karim set about making "Twosret."
"It was a scary experience because I'd never done anything like this before," Karim says. "I started with a very rough concept, and I didn't really have a plan on how to use green screens and CG and live-action. I was just trying to learn through online resources or inspirational projects such as “The Ningyo.” I didn't even believe in myself to begin with, but I thought: 'I'll just keep going and trying my best until I fail!'"
V-Ray was an intricate part of “Twosret” from the very beginning. In order to previz the short film, Karim used a rough concept in V-Ray for 3ds Max. With a speedy light setup — usually V-Ray Sun or V-Ray Dome Light — he explored the environment in a video game-like fashion to see which elements stuck out and which compositions worked best, giving him a very clear vision for every shot.
Shots from Karim's previz in V-Ray
With a stronger idea of how the film would play out, Karim assembled a crew in Cairo. To ensure authenticity and attention to detail, he hired a make-up artist and jewelry and costume designers, while a director of photography, a camera assistant, a photographer and a production manager covered the practical shoot. But, the most important part of the show was in front of the camera.
"The core of this experience is the queen and her tale," Karim explains. "I love to capture the essence of a human story and make the viewers connect with it. I had planned from the beginning to shoot an actor with the right looks and emotional presence. Luckily, I found an amazing model in Egypt named Zayneb Azzam, who was just perfect for the project — she looked and acted like a real queen."
With the practical, green-screen shoot in the can, Karim set about post-production — he estimates that 98 percent of everything in the short is CG, except for the actors and some of the composited fire and smoke effects. This phase is where Karim's enviable skills and extensive experience as an arch-viz artist kicked in.
"My daily work involves art directing architecture projects and creating visualizations for unbuilt projects," Karim says. "We are always trying to create custom-tailored visual directions and experiences to unfold design identities and connect narratives. The only difference here is that I needed a new skill set for the camera movements, and the whole project required a different approach compared to still imagery."
The amazing quality and speed that V-Ray offers cannot be matched, especially with huge, heavy and complex scenes such as the city's horizon.
Karim Moussa, Mozses
Again, V-Ray helped Karim bring his vision to life. "I couldn't have done it without V-Ray," comments Karim. "The amazing quality and speed that V-Ray offers cannot be matched, especially with huge, heavy and complex scenes such as the city's horizon. I used V-Ray Environment Fog extensively, and it was one of the main pillars in getting the evocative, immersive atmosphere I had imagined."
The short film was released on the internet, where it received a rapturous response and racked up over 13,000 views on Vimeo alone, with viewers praising its style and substance. It even attracted the attention of AROMA Studios, one of Egypt's most prominent TV production companies. But for Karim, it's opened more opportunities for himself and Mozses.
"The guys at Factory Fifteen do arch viz projects, but at the same time they do animations and short movies, or sometimes architecture projects, music videos or ads," Karim says. "It opens up — it's not only arch viz, but it's also more like a directing career. In the future, I'd love to use the skills of being an architect, and building spaces, in a more cinematic way."
Want to know more about Karim? Visit his site at mozses.com and be sure to listen to the insightful CG Garage podcast: