VFX artists Leo Weston, Richard Russell, James Dooley and Lorenzo Newell create a viral video sensation in their spare time.
The video “Solving 3 Rubik's Cubes in under 20 seconds whilst Juggling Mills Mess,” uploaded by RuboCube to YouTube on March 15, 2016, was created by VFX artists Leo Weston, Richard Russell, James Dooley and Lorenzo Newell at Deluxe Entertainment-owned Rushes, based in London’s Soho district.
To answer the biggest question about the video: the skill on display here is expertise in seamless digital effects work -- not physical solving of the Rubik's cubes.
In their own time, and in between working on commercials for leading global brands, Rushes VFX artists like to indulge in a little creativity of their own. Lead VFX artist Weston has had a passion for juggling, since picking it up at 12 years old, and a fascination with the Rubik’s Cube. However, as accomplished as Leo is in both skills, it must be confessed that not everything is as it appears in the video.
A lot of the visual effects created at Rushes and across the industry are “invisible VFX.” These days, CGI is ubiquitous across film, TV and commercials, and even the most unexpected spot will involve some skilful yet discreet tinkering. Most people would not be aware of the kind of hours that go into creating those illusions, but that just means the artists are doing their jobs right. The whole art of it is making sure that the work doesn’t stand out. Like with great lighting, or sound, if you notice these things it actually means that something’s wrong; these crafts should not be noticeable!
Nowadays, the magic of VFX and post-production help filmmakers conjure up anything they imagine, but aside from spaceships and fantastical beasts, there’s a painfully real paradox that emerges when VFX is so skilfully crafted that it passes unnoticed -- and so commonly relied upon that it’s often taken for granted. Can we ever trust what we see, an initial response, predominantly and often reasonably asked: Is this real, or is this fake?
This question has dominated the comments sections wherever Weston’s video has been posted, from YouTube, Facebook and Reddit to The Huffington Post, The Mirror, The Metro, USA Today and The Telegraph. Intended as an exercise in creativity, providing training for more junior members of the team and as an example of the kind of invisible visual effects done at Rushes, Weston has been astounded by the pick-up of the video across the internet, which has already been watched more than 15 million times:
So, how did Weston team go about accomplishing this viral video?
- Leo performed the trick, juggling solved cubes.
- The cubes were then digitally painted out to create a clean background.
- Next the scrambled cube faces were photographed using the same lighting for all of the positions seen in close up at start of the video.
- These cube faces were then tracked on top of the original solved cubes.
- For the shots when the camera goes a bit wider, 3D models of the cubes were built and animated to match the original juggling pattern, to solve each time a catch was made.
- The sequence was timed so that it took about 20 catches of each cube to unscramble it and get back to the solved cubes shot originally.
- Finally, lighting and shine were added in the final composite to make it more believable.
Watch a breakdown of this process with Weston describing the work in the player below: