If you’re unfamiliar with the work of digital pioneers Wildlife (Scott Friedman & Jake Friedman) cast your mind back to the tuneful flexing of Terry Crews in the Old Spice Muscle Music video – they’re to blame for the interactive musical goodness which caused you to burn countless hours. The duo’s new project, You Only Live Twice, is a music video created for the Promax/BDA 2013 Videophonic panel, which called for the creation of a promo for a track from the pre-MTV era. Whilst it won’t have you manically tapping your keyboard, its emotional narrative of a marooned astronaut presented with the loving relationship he’s left behind may have you dabbing your eyes. Scott takes us through the process of combining VFX elements with the live action desert performance of their crash landed actor.
We didn’t have much time to pull together a concept, shoot it and execute all of the VFX we knew we’d need for the video’s premiere. We had an initial idea, I quickly wrote a treatment and then spent a few days storyboarding and cutting together an animatic before the shoot just to be sure we had a good plan of action once we got out to the desert.
We only had one day to shoot this thing out near Joshua Tree and of course the weekend of the shoot temperatures reached 106 degrees! Let’s just say our astronaut had an easy time getting into character as exhausted, sweaty and starving. He was a real trooper and gave an incredible performance that brought a heightened level of emotion to the video.
Along with the heat we had some hiccups with high winds, the park rangers (who were very understanding, thanks officers!) and our 3-ton grip truck which got stuck in the sand at the end of the shoot day. Our biggest moral victory of the day was the entire cast and crew pitching in to get that behemoth dug out and back on the road after 3 hours of trying, just as we were losing light in the middle of the desert.
Our DP Martin Moody brought a lot of creative lens choices to the project and really helped set up the look and feel for the live-action that would help compliment the VFX elements we were going to integrate. We shot on the Arri Alexa and made use of a split-lens diopter for those great blur effects in the closeups. We used a low-angle prism to get the shots along the ground and they really helped give a sense of scale to our astronaut towering over the little people forming in front of him.
We rented some great mechanical props for the cockpit scenes and we had a blast looking through their warehouse full of great old electrical panels. Those scenes were actually shot in our office on a Sunday and really helped tie the story together (plus we got to play with those incredible instrument panels).
The first part of the VFX process was to get a solid track and 3D camera created for each of our VFX shots. We tracked the live-action footage in PF Track and the software did a great job handling the shots quickly and consistently. The 3D cameras were exported into Maya where our modeller and character animator Michael Knobelsdorf built each scene and animated the characters with a lot of care and subtlety. It was really important for the personality and emotions to come through these small characters, to convey a lot without any dialogue or facial expressions and Michael did a great job.
Once animation was complete the Maya scenes were exported to Cinema 4D as Alembic files. This proved to be a great process and allowed us to quickly create additional crystal growth animation and dynamics simulations in C4D.
Many of the crystal elements were animated by hand keyframing to give their reveals a kinetic, almost time-lapse growth effect like you would see with high-speed footage of a flower growing. In addition, several key elements were simulated with cloth-dynamics to give organic animation effects to the cars, trees, houses and other structures that needed to emerge and form out of the ground.
Our VFX Supervisor Erick Scheile did an incredible job establishing the look and feel for our organic crystal objects. He setup an efficient pipeline to get the large amount of VFX shots rendered and into the hands of our compositors. Our lead lighter and texture artist Josh Kohlmeier and Erick worked overtime to prep each scene in Cinema 4D using Vray. We quickly worked through several iterations of look dev to create a texture that looked like natural, organic rock crystals that have formed from the ground. Both guys brought creative solutions to the project that helped push it even further and really blend our CG elements into the live-action plates.
Compositing was done in After Effects. The usual color correction, matching DOF with the plates and additional shadow passes were used to combine our CG scenes and characters into this desert landscape. We also had to create a variety of additional elements including live-action dirt and smoke elements, dynamic particle simulations and additional shadow and lighting passes to make it feel like these crystal objects were growing up from out of the ground.
The extra dirt simulations bursting from the ground and cascading down our CG elements really helped place the 3D into our live-action footage. We also created additional CG rock and sand elements to be placed around the scene and the edges of our 3D objects to make them feel like they were sitting “in” the sand rather than just on top of it.
We had just about 4 weeks for all of our post work with a small crew and everyone worked their butts off. It was a fun project and each team member really took a personal interest in making sure this thing looked great in the timespan we had. There were of course some late nights and weekend work fuelled by coffee and pizza but everyone brought a great attitude and we’re really pleased with the story we were able to tell.