Nako Baev – alumni of ARC Academy and creator of the short film Till This Day

Nako Baev is an alumni of ARC Academy. We invited him to talk about the short film he developed entirely in Unreal Engine – Till This Day. The film won a number of international awards, and Nako continues to work hard and explore the capabilities of 3D as a means of design and personal expression. 

Tell us about yourself—where are you from, what do you do, what are you interested in, what are your hobbies?

I was born and live in Plovdiv, but I grew up in a small town called Topolovgrad. I specialize in computer graphics, such as lighting, real-time visualization development, and forward-thinking design. I create aesthetic and high-quality visuals/rendering of products, cars, realistic scenes/worlds, etc. I develop games and short films using the Unreal Engine, and I also do graphic design and photography professionally. I have always been interested in the latest technology, gadgets, and innovations. I have a huge interest in the NFT space and I think there is a lot of potential in it. This is a huge boost for us artists and our independence.

We live in a world where everything is accessible to us and we can retrieve any piece of information in fractions of a second. Why not take advantage of this? But, everything good comes with its downsides. It can be overwhelming to take in a huge amount of information every day. In that case, it’s good for us to take a break and get out into nature. Speaking of nature, one of the things I like to do in my spare time is to run away into nature and photograph every single detail that catches my eye. To explore new paths and challenges. I like reading about human psychology and business around the world. I also try to mix electro house music every now and then, but I don’t really get it, we’ll work on that lol. 

Tell us about your film Till This Day – where did you get the idea for it, and how long did it take you to create it?

Till This Day is a thriller/mystery about a man haunted by his past. He returns to the city, where an accident occurred that killed his brother. The main character faces his past, but not everything is as it seems.

One day, I came across on YouTube a short real-time movie made entirely in Unreal Engine. I was so enthralled that I watched it several times in a row. Now the idea has come to me-why not make my own short film? I sat down and in 2 months came up with the whole story concept, script, camera shots, characters, and time management. I made my own pipeline to run on. I love atmospheric scenes filled with fog and mystery. I wanted to do something original on my own, which was a difficult goal. I wanted to mix a real-life story with my fantasy. I’ve been researching the Silent Hill video game, which I really liked for its feel, atmosphere, and mystery.

I came across the information that the town of Silent Hill is based on the real town of Central, Pennsylvania. The true coincidence of the Centralia disaster was the coal seam fire that ignited in the maze of abandoned coal mines beneath the city. I dug deeper and found more information about the actual coal mine fire, and the idea immediately popped into my head. It has the perfect story concept, which was created by combining several real and personal stories. 

I wanted to try something new with the exclusive technologies that Unreal Engine provides. Here comes the exciting part – achieving such results using UE version 4.27 is not only for production purposes but also for faster workflow. It uses NVIDIA’s latest real-time RayTracing plugin, RTX GLOBAL ILLUMMINATION (RTXGI), to provide the most accurate lighting possible. The Motion Capture was very limited, so you had to be careful with the character’s behavior given the circumstances, but you used MOCAP Online, which does an amazing job for more budget projects like mine. Facial animations and images were made using the METAHUMAN Creator by Epic Games, created from my iPhone. The whole process takes 4-5 months. Overall, I truly believe that real-time rendering is going to play a huge role in filmmaking in the near future, and that’s what I’m here for – to be a part of that adventure.

More on the story:

The story is about a man who works in the coal mines of Central, Pennsylvania. A fire breaks out in an accident. He works there with his brother, who disappears within minutes of the fire. Many years later, he decides to return to this ghost town because he continues to have memories and hallucinations about the incident. He returns to find his brother. The incident is based on a true story. The Centralia Mine Fire is a coal seam fire that burns beneath the township of Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA, Monday, May 27, 1962. When he returns, he experiences visions and hallucinations, he panics and starts running. He then ends up in the control room where the coal is processed. He wanders around, where he sees his lost brother for the last time, and then the movie ends. At the very end, we find out that the man never had a brother. It was all in his head.

Although most hallucinations reported in primary psychotic disorders are auditory, they can also be visual, olfactory, tactile, or gustatory. Visual hallucinations are reported in 16%-72% of patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. On the day of the crash, he unleashed this beastly disorder in the accumulation of stress and emotional life events such as the following. Physical, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop this condition, even toxic fumes from a mine fire can trigger a psychotic episode. The reason behind his smile at the end is that he realized that there was no one around him the whole time. His brother, his visions—it’s all in his head. He is insane to the point where his imagination becomes reality. And his smile at the end is a hint that he is not mentally stable so that the audience gets a better idea of the ending and that the whole story is an illusion created by his sick mind. Everything could fit perfectly for a finale, so I left a bit of a mysterious twist at the end for the audience to draw their own conclusions. So whatever you imagine will happen in the end, that’s precisely what will happen. It is left to your imagination. What is the end of your story?

The film has participated in international festivals and won awards – what are they?

– Platinum Best Young Filmmaker, Best Animated Short, Best Sound Design, and a Silver for Best VFX

– Los Angeles Short Independent Awards, where it won four awards

– Best VFXMotion Design Award at the Reale Film Festival in Milan

– Video Of The Day – The film has garnered over 200,000 views from various platforms across the internet.

How has your training at ARC Academy helped you develop as a 3D Artist?

I have great respect for the teachers at ARC Academy. They introduced me to the game industry and how it works. They taught me teamwork, patience, and perseverance. With their help, I developed the habit of being more persistent, confident, and creative with my work, as well as various methods and tricks for certain software. If you are pursuing a career in the Rendering field and are looking for ways to improve your skills and advantages, then Simeon Balabanov from ARC Academy is the man for you! I had the chance to work with our unique team “Second Term Productions” from ARC Academy, and we developed the Action-adventure side-scroller demo game “Caim”. It’s worth a look or direct download!

What is next for you after the success of the movie Till This Day? Are you working on new projects? How do you imagine your professional development in the future?

I continue to grow professionally in my career as well as as a person in my everyday life. My focus is simple – to not stop. I strive to continually expand my practice through experimental projects as well as partnering with brands, agencies, and designers to explore the capabilities of 3D as a vehicle for design and personal expression. To create/evoke feelings through my work on a global scale. The sky’s the limit. I am working on NFT projects that I hope will be available to you very soon, as well as commercial projects from clients and interesting personal projects. Honestly, I would happily put together a team that develops video games. I can’t wait to get my hands on a video game!