Burning City

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something on this blog. I haven’t made any progress on my ‘End of the World’ project for a while now. Every time I’m working in 3Ds Max on windows and I have to use Photoshop for just a little thing I have to reboot to get into OS X, and I hate waiting. I will get back to that project soon, but in the meantime I have something else to show.

I’ve watched a lot of matte painting videos on the internet and I have always wanted to create one myself. There are some great videos out there(search YouTube or Vimeo for ‘matte painting demoreel’) but I never got to actually making one myself. Just to be clear, the definition of ‘matte painting’ according to Wikipedia is:

matte painting is a painted representation of a landscape, set, or distant location that allows filmmakers to create the illusion of an environment that would otherwise be too expensive or impossible to build or visit.

Now in my case it’s a bit of both, but mainly the former. The environment created in this video is somewhere in Greece, and I can’t really afford a trip to Greece for a 30 second video(wish I could though). Secondly, this location doesn’t really exist as seen in the video, it’s created using multiple images. And of course, finding a city that’s on fire or setting one on fire probably isn’t a good idea either.

I will tell something more about creating this video and show a breakdown video but first it’s time for the video itself:

(make sure to watch it in HD)

I really like the outcome of this one, I think it looks pretty neat. There’s a lot of stuff going on, this is how I did it:

I knew I wanted to make a burning city. What I had to do was finding pictures that I could start with in Photoshop to create the basic idea for the shot. After a few hours of searching around the web on free stock image sites I found some images, but that didn’t work out that well. I searched and I searched until I realized that I maybe I already had some of the images. I remembered a few photos I took while I was in Greece, and that was my starting point. I started with a photo of a little stone house, that would be in the foreground and that was where I was going to position myself. The background from that photo was quite nice but I decided to go with another photo to create the background, so I only used the house of the first photo. I found an image of a free stock site of a nice sky, that was going to be my background. On top of that I added a photo I also took myself in Greece with some mountains on it. Then it was time to add in the city, which I found on another free stock image site. I did some color correction on all parts of the image so that the colors and general mood would match. I also added some light wraps and some shadows just to make everything seem more natural.

Now it was time for the fun part, the destruction. I started working on the city with the burn tool in Photoshop, creating dark edges and burn marks. After that I added in some burn marks from VideoCopilot‘s Action Movie Essentials 2 (which is awesome by the way) and just tried to ‘destroy’ the city by erasing parts of it making it seem like there were holes. After that I was done in Photoshop and I brought in the file in After Effects. I added a little life to the background by animating the sky as if it was moving a bit using ‘Corner Pin’.

I started working on bringing in fire elements from AME2, adjusting the colors so that it would seem as realistic as possible. I also added glows to make it seem as if the fire was casting light onto the scene. After that I added smoke elements behind the fire, and also blended them in. Just to give you an idea on what I was dealing with, here is a screenshot from After Effects. I wasn’t able to fit all layers on one image because my screen isn’t big enough.

Screenshot of my 'Fire' and 'Smoke' layers in After Effects. (click the image for bigger version)

Now all the elements of the background were done. I shot some footage of myself standing in front of my green screen(with really poor lightning), but fortunately I was able to pull a pretty good key. I color corrected myself to match with the scene and I was almost done. The next thing was to add a subtle camera move. As all my layers were flat, I couldn’t get away with very much but a little movement really added to the effect I think. I distributed my layers in After Effects’ 3D space, but not that far away from each other in order to hide the fact that the layers were flat.

After Effects had a really hard time processing all these layers, and rendering just one frame could take up to more than 30 seconds. I tried to keep this project organized as much as I could and that worked out pretty good. Here’s one final screenshot from my final comp for the first shot in After Effects:

Screenshot of my final composition in After Effects (click the image for bigger version)

To see how I built this shot in movement I’ve made a quick little breakdown video:

Hope you liked it, let me know what you think, and check back soon for an update on my ‘End of the World’ project :).


Almost fell of a building

Had a pretty crazy weekend, I ended up on the roof of a building, just barely holding on to the edge of the roof.

Okay, maybe that’s not really what happened. I did actually hang onto my roof though, only the height was about a meter or 2. This was just a fun little project to test out my chroma keying skills. I tried it once before but that attempt totally failed, mainly because I used a DV camera that wasn’t that great. But now with the HV30 keying was no problem at all. For the background image I used a free image from stock.xchng. I didn’t use any lighting, the screen was placed outside and I made sure there were no harsh shadows so the lighting was even and it worked out perfectly :).

Normally I would just take some music of an action movie(like the music for the ‘Bourne’ trilogy by John Powell), but this time I decided to make the music myself. It’s a very simple track, just a few layers of instruments, most of them software instruments and one track which I played on my keyboard. It’s not perfect at all but I liked making it and now the final piece is something I completely made myself.

(I used YouTube instead of Vimeo this time because I YouTube lets me embed HD videos)

And just because I always love seeing the ‘clean footage’, here’s a frame of the footage without any of the effects:

Clean Footage

Clean plate (click the image for bigger version)

I will post an update on the ‘End of the World’ project soon, I just took a break from it for a few days because Windows and 3Ds Max were annoying me.

After I had tracked the footage from my End of the World project I brought it into 3Ds Max, which I have running on Windows XP with Boot Camp. I created a ground plane that matched the footage ground. I applied a matte/shadow material to that plane, so that whatever object I placed on top of it would have shadows that looked like they were actually on the footage ground. Now I was ready to start the destruction, so I started with making a hole in the ground. I placed some debris around and in it, and some dirt around that.


3Ds Max Screenshot

My scene in 3Ds Max. Ground plane, hole in the ground and debris. (click the image for bigger version)

I quickly rendered the scene just to have something to show. There’s only a little bit of color correction added over the whole image in Photoshop, but in the final render I will render the 3D stuff separately so I can color correct that separately. I think it looks kind of cool already :).


3Ds Max Render

Render from my scene in 3Ds Max (click the image for bigger version)

The next part is adding the meteor impacts using particle systems. That shouldn’t be that much of a problem, but it just takes time to create(and when I say it shouldn’t be much of a problem it probably is going to be a problem of course).



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Bouncy Circles

To take a break from the struggling with 3D stuff I thought I’d dive into after effects and do some animation. I just wanted to see if I could do simple animation with keyframes, and I think the result is pretty cool :).

The next part in my ‘End of the World’ project was 3D tracking (or matchmoving) the shot, which basically means matching the movement made with the camera while filming. This has to be done in order to incorporate computer generated imagery(which in my case will be 3d craters, debris, etcetera). For this I use PFTrack, a program by The Pixel Farm. I’m fairly new to 3D tracking(although I’ve tried I a few times before I’ve never really done anything with it). The program can do a lot of the tracking by itself, but I had to adjust some things. To begin with I had to make a mask to cover myself in the shot, as I wanted to move the movement of the camera, I didn’t want the tracker to pick up my movement. Then I added a few points myself which I thought were good points that stayed visible trough the shot and would help the program determine the camera’s movement.

PFTrack Screenshot 1

The shot in PFTrack after masking myself, auto-tracking and adding some of my own track points. (click the image for bigger version)

After that I had to make sure the camera parameters were set correctly, some things about the image I already knew and that helps the program determine the camera motion. For example, I knew the image size, the pixel and image aspect ratio and the frame rate. The focal length can be filled in too, but this caused some problems. First I let the software estimate the focal length and solve the shot, and although it looked good in PFTrack, when I brought in the data in my 3D program I noticed that the focal length was way off, the camera was really zoomed in where in reality it was not at all. So, I went back in PFTrack and adjusted that. As I had no idea how I was actually supposed to do this, I googled it and I found some posts about the canon HV30’s focal length(that is the camera that was used) so I could enter these values in PFTrack. That seemed to work out nice.

PFTrack Screenshot 2

The shot after the camera movement was solved. (click the image for bigger version)

You can also see the lines that were used to calculate the image distortion. Now as I said I’m not very familiar with this, so I have no idea if this actually the correct way to do it, but I just let the program calculate the image distortion and it seemed to have worked out.

Right now I’ve imported the data from PFTrack into my 3D program, which is 3Ds Max by Autodesk, and it looks like everything worked out. I’ve started creating a crater and some debris, I will soon start creating the impacts from the meteors crashing into the street. So the next post is going to be about all that 3D stuff, which I think is one of the more exciting parts :). Keep an eye out for that!

PS. I’ve had some problems with my iMac lately, my hard disk drive may be failing. I get an S.M.A.R.T. status failure, which according to what I read on the internet is not a very good thing to happen. I backed up all my important files, including every file of this project, so everything should be fine. In the worst case this projects gets delayed a bit, but I’ll still have the files so I can finish it. I will call Apple about this problem, as I’ve no idea what to do. The error says I have to back up my files and replace the hard drive with a working one. If possible I’d rather not send my iMac to Apple to get it fixed because then it will probably be gone for quite some time and it will also probably cost me quite some money..

Part 1 | Part 2

As the footage for my ‘End of the World’ project was shot I recorded it onto my computer and imported it into after effects. I hadn’t decided if I wanted to do the 3D stuff first or the teleporting in after effects, but I started playing around and before I knew it I finished the teleporting. As I want it to be a smooth shot I stabilized the entire shot (in 2D in after effects). This turned out pretty well, the only thing is that there’s some random motion blur going on, as the actual camera was moving and caused motion blur, and when the footage is stabilized the motion blur doesn’t go away obviously. However I don’t think this will be a big problem, because in the final result there will be all kinds of stuff going on, meteorites crashing, cracks in the ground and camera shake, so I don’t think it will be really noticeable in the end.

What I did was precompose the footage, and stabilized that. I tracked the footage in the precomp and applied the motion of the footage to my teleport elements, which I added in the precomp. I could have added the teleport elements in the stabilized comp but because the stabilization is not perfect I thought that wouldn’t have looked that good.

On projects like this the layer count can really add up quickly, so it’s important to stay organized. Most of the time I start out pretty organized, naming layers and stuff, but in the end I find myself quickly adding just a few new layers and I don’t think about naming them. This is what my precomp looked like after both the teleport-in and teleport-out where finished:

After Effects Screenshot 1

Messy precomp before clean-up (click the image for bigger version)

Now because this might become a kind of big project with a lot of layers I decided to keep it organized, so I renamed a few layers to keep things as consistent as possible. What I also did was to give the layers color that matched their function. Nulls that other layers are parented to are fuchsia, nulls with controllers on them are red, lighting effects are orange, etcetera. I also changed the layer order, I couldn’t change the order of the actual elements, but I could change the order of the nulls, and that also made things a bit clearer. You might also notice that I’ve broken the top layer up into 2 layers, this is because of the next step.

After Effects Screenshot 2

Messy precomp after clean-up. Names changed, order and colors. (click the image for bigger version)

It took me a while to figure out which footage I was going to 3D track, the footage before it was stabilized or the actual stabilized footage. I went with the footage before it was stabilized because of the motion blur issue. But that meant that I would have to composite al the 3D stuff in this precomp, so I decided to make things a bit more organized by precomposing all the teleporting stuff, making a precomp for both the teleport-in elements and the teleport-out elements. This really makes stuff a lot clearer, the only thing you have to be careful about is that everything blends the same as it did before precomposing. Turning on the ‘Collapse Transformations’ switch does this, the layers in the precomp react as if they were actually in the comp itself. (I don’t know if that’s easy to understand, if you have no idea what I’m talking about you may want to check out this page.)

After Effects Screenshot 3

Messy precomp after clean-up and precomposing teleport elements. (click the image for bigger version)

So, that’s about it for the teleporting part, I think it turned out pretty nice. Here’s a little still from where I teleport in for your viewing pleasure 🙂 :

Teleport Still

Me teleporting into the scene. (click the image for bigger version)

Now this still doesn’t show that much, but I thought I had to show something, right? Basically what you see is parts of me already teleported in, some light, and some light casting on the rest of the scene, but all of that will be much more nicer when you see it in motion. I’ve applied a little color correction, I have no idea if this is going to be the final color correction but it works for now. I’ve also added the letterbox to give it that cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio which I really like. So that’s it :).

If you have any questions be sure to do that in the comments. Next up is 3D tracking, expect to see a post about that soon!

The End of the World

The End of the World

What if you would discover that you can teleport? You can’t control it and before you know it you end up in a place you don’t want to be in, like a parallel universe wherein the world is coming to its end! Well, that might be a little too far-fetched, but I’ve got to have some story behind my new project, right?

After seeing all of those ‘End of the world-scenario’ movies, I thought I’d give it a try myself. I was especially inspired by the trailer for the ‘2012‘ movie that’s coming out in a few days(make sure you check out that trailer if you haven’t already!). I also really liked the ‘Jumper‘ way of teleporting, so I wanted to do something like that.

What I’m going to be trying to create is one shot, a little over 10 seconds long. The goal really is to make one epic shot filled with VFX. I teleport in, falling on the ground(I can’t control the teleporting), I start running, trying to avoid meteorites that are crashing into the street. At the end I jump and manage to teleport out.

I like working with some kind of storyboard, so I fired up after effects and quickly made a little storyboard, just to have some sort of reference, and to show my father what I wanted to achieve, as he was going to film the shot.

Remember, this is just for reference, none of this will actually be used in the final shot, I didn’t really pay that much attention to artistic detail in here ;).

I made this storyboard very quickly on saturday, and we filmed it on sunday. We shot a few takes, and I think I have one that’s useable. In the next posts I will keep you up to date on how I’m doing on this project. I think this is a cool project, and I certainly hope I can finish it. There may be some difficulties later on(3D tracking is NOT something I’m very good at to say the least), but I’ll see about that when the time comes. See you next time!