The idea had been swimming in the back of David Finchers mind for a number of years. On many occasions the cutting edge director discussed it with his longtime collaborators at Digital Domain.
David and I talked about a scene that takes place entirely in the confines of an executives workspace, explained Ed Ulbrich, Digital Domains svp/gm. He envisioned the objects in the office coming to life under the right circumstances. The difficulty was finding the right project.
When the opportunity to direct the latest Nine Inch Nails video arose, Fincher recognized the possibilities: The bands new single Only drives to a crushing crescendo, which was ideal for the timing of the visuals. And from a technical standpoint, both Fincher and Ulbrich knew that bleeding edge vfx software and hardware could now deliver Finchers project just as he imagined it.
The visuals we created for One represent some of the best photoreal imagery to come out of this studio, said Ulbrich. Even though wed been discussing this project for years, it could not have been done quite how we wanted until now. We tested some next-generation technologies on this project. This means new rendering technologies and new advances in CG were all used for this video.
The spot opens with an overhead shot of a pristine workspace. A mans hands move into the scene to tap the keyboard and start the song playing through the computers speakers (these brief shots represent the only live- action photography in the entire video). The camera surveys the office accessories a computer, a desk lamp, a white porcelain cup filled with coffee and two executive desk toys that play central roles in the video. The first, known as a Newtons Cradle, is a well-known executive toy consisting of five silver balls suspended from a frame by strings that knock into each other rhythmically. The second, sometimes called a pin block, is a collection of unsharpened pins secured in a frame. Pressing a hand against the pins creates an impression and holds the shape.
Objects on the desk begin to react to the Nine Inch Nails song playing through the computers speakers. First, we see ripples in the coffee. Then, small vibrations pass through the silver balls of the Newtons Cradle. When lead singer Trent Reznors vocals kick in, his face appears in the pin art. The pins, gradually growing more frenzied with the music, show an impression of Reznor as he sings and moves with the track. The camera takes impossible pathways around the scene passing through the computer screen to circle the pin art, and flying through the speaker grating for a close up of the speakers tweeters.
Digital Domain worked with Fincher to build the virtual space, create realistic lighting, and model and animate the objects. Eric Barba, Digital Domains visual effects supervisor, explained how he and his team built the space in a virtual world. We first used pan and tile technology to establish the scene, he said. This is a robot camera used to take pictures in every direction. Later, we assembled those pictures in the computer to create a 3D space.
Later, a digital still camera was used to photograph the scenes objects the lamp, the computer, etc. as references for modeling, skinning and texturing CG versions. The last major step before animation was to create perfect computer-generated lighting. This process, according to Barba, is remarkably similar to real world lighting. After establishing the placement and intensity of the lights in the room, we would line up a shot. If it needed softer light, we set up a virtual bounce card just the same way it happens on a set. Just as it would happen in real life, we make adjustments as we go.
Finally, Reznor was captured on video as a reference for animators creating his image in the pin block. Throughout the video, Reznor moves toward and away from the camera and sometimes slams his hand against the screen all excellent fodder for compelling animation using the pins.
One turned out to be the ideal convergence of the right idea, the right project and the right technology, Ulbrich offered.
With its cutting-edge production pipeline, Venice, California-based Digital Domain (www.digitaldomain.com) has established a world-class reputation for innovation and artistry. In its 12-year history, Digital Domain has won five Academy Awards: two for Achievement in Visual Effects (TITANIC and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME), and three for Scientific and Technical Achievement.