The promo for the latest Chemical Brothers single, Believe, which premiered last month on MTV, offers an unnerving and blackly humorous glimpse of a mind at the end of its tether. Directed by Dom & Nic, and produced by John Madsen for Factory Films, BELIEVE features artful 3D and compositing work from the Framestore CFC Commercials team.
BELIEVE shows us scenes from the life of a young man whose job at a car factory becomes increasingly untenable as he starts to catch glimpses of a mechanical creature that seems to be following him. The creature an unholy amalgam of parts drawn from the car assembly line robots becomes increasingly threatening in its pursuit of our hero, and the video moves toward a surprising and ambiguous conclusion.
Directors Dom & Nic had recently worked with Framestore on the acclaimed HECTOR'S LIFE spot for Renault. During that shoot, the Framestore team had done some tests using a Mini DV camera, and Dom & Nic were keen to explore this medium further. "We loved the look of it it felt more 'real,' with the camera being hand held and everything," said Dom Hawley. "A narrative based promo like BELIEVE can be very expensive, with all the time required for 35mm shooting, and it struck us that by integrating CG into DV footage, we could dramatically cut the costs, while still delivering an exciting and intriguing story."
They discussed the logistics with vfx supervisor Ben Cronin, who realized that, with no bluescreen material planned, a straightforward insertion of the 3D elements was quite manageable. "They had their own Panasonic DV camera with a Leica lens, and that was it we were good to go."
So, with a crew that consisted of Dom, Nic, Madsen, a camera assistant, Cronin and actor Luke Jardine, the BELIEVE shoot took place over the span of six days in February. Cronin was impressed at the speed of the process. "It was a great shoot to be on no setting up, just shoot and hop on a bus to the next location," he recalled, "It got a little frantic at times. For the sequence on the bus we needed some reflection elements from the bus window. So the producer, the AD and I waited at a bus stop holding a black card. The bus approached, with Dom and Nic on it filming Luke and talking to us on the phone. When the bus pulled up, John got on and distracted the driver, while I ran round the back with the card and they filmed it."
Another key location on the shoot was the MG Rover car plant at Longbridge. "We tried about twenty different car factories, before Rover said they were up for it, "added Hawley. "So we were very relieved. We gave Howard Sly (Framestore senior modeler) some ideas for the design, and animator Alex Doyle came along to Longbridge and took further reference images. The look of the robot was a deliberate pick 'n' mix of elements from the factory machinery a sort of self-assembled, automated Frankenstein's monster. It lurches along with an ungainly, very mechanical gait." As Doyle recalled, "I used the reference images to Model the robot. These photos proved to be an invaluable source, enabling the robot to be built in proportion and move correctly when animated. They were also a great reference when applying the fine details to the model, which helped create a stronger sense of realism."
For the Framestore animation team, the stilted, robotic movement so unlike the organic, creaturely motion they're usually called upon to mimic was just one of the things that made this project a little different. In order to meet the deadlines and because he likes a gamble Andy Boyd, head of 3D, decided that BELIEVE would be a good opportunity to use Image Based Lighting with mental ray to light and render the creature work, marking a change from the team's previous working practice of using Maya's own renderer.
"With over 30 shots to do in a very short time," said Boyd, "the IBL/mental ray set-up meant that everything would be basically in one beauty pass. Taking the lighting information we'd gathered on the shoot, we would do a lighting set up and create a master shader, which senior technical directors Jamie Isles and Chris Syborn and I could artistically test for each shot. So all we had to do was replace the environment image, and we could race through it. So we ended up giving Ben a total of three passes to comp the beauty, the special multi-light pass that gave him some grading control, and a shadow pass and that was it. On some jobs we've handed him six to14 passes, which would have given him very little time."
Syborn created a set up to control the robot's cabling and wires via Maya's dynamic hair tools. Given that the schedule was so tight, there wasn't time to go in and hand animate secondary cable animation for more than 30 shots, so by treating each cable as an individual (albeit gigantic) hair, real dynamics could be applied to its movement. So a sudden stop by the robot would cause the cables to continue to move in a realistic way, softening the motion and making it very natural.
Finally, the look of the robot had to be quite grubby, given its origins in the car plant. So, while Isles hand painted and textured the dirt for the hero' pieces of the robot's body, for much of the smaller parts, Boyd created a procedural shader that actually put a lot of little bits of dirt in, avoiding the time-consuming process of hand texturing everything.
It took Cronin and inferno artist Chris Redding two intensive weeks to comp BELIEVE. 2D concerns they addressed included a careful grading of the robot, because taking an indoors object outside, where you wouldn't normally see it, can lead to subtle color saturation issues. For an interaction shot, where the robot clambers over a BMW, Cronin used a shiny new hire car, which he shot being bounced up and down and then vandalized further in inferno. Additionally, the robot's tail a huge piece of multi-core cable was given sparks as it bounced of some of the road surfaces.
London-based Framestore CFC is one of the leading visual effects company working on effects for feature films and commercials. More information can be found at www.framestore-cfc.com.