Fool 

This is the official music video for the single ‘Fool’ from Lee Mvtthews, a New Zealand based Producer/DJ duo.

Credits:

Director Alexandru Popescu

Producer Rosalind Stratton

Director of Photography Eoin O'Liddigh

Focus Puller Graham MacFarlane

Gaffer Karl Saunders

Lighting Best Boy Brin Compton

Production Manager Fenella Stratton

VFX Supervisor Alexandru Popescu

VFX Production Manager Stefan Popescu

Additional Post Production Safe Frame

Landscape Photogrammetry Effective Technology Integration

Additional Models Denis Loginovskiy

Make up/Hair Aya Hirst

Clothing by Dead Studios

Camera Equipment Panavision Inc

Lighting Equipment Flashlight Film Services Limited

Studio Lot23

Making the video

This was a challenge I was very excited to take on, because I wanted to explore further the freedom of creativity that comes with using realtime rendering for VFX heavy content. Unreal Engine was my main tool, and it delivered an amazing experience from previs all the way to the final composited frames. Fool was created from initial idea to final delivery in a little under 3 months.

When starting the project, I was very keen to pitch a concept that would allow me to use a blend of CG and Plate Photography, to be able to create an otherworldly atmosphere. I wanted to build something unique, a music video that stands out as different. I wanted to take full advantage of the fact that I can control the world I was creating, so I based my idea on an otherworldly character that is experiencing the contrast between the word built by man and natural beauty.

So the video became a combination of realtime rendering of CG sets, all done in Unreal Engine and plates shot on green screen in a studio in Auckland, New Zealand on an Arri Amira. A lot of people are currently experimenting with using game engines for filmmaking, but there isn’t a lot of work out there using filmed plates. However, there is so much to gain from using this technique compared to the traditional vfx pipeline, that I really feel we should experiment as much as possible and push this workflow further.

With only 3 months for a very ambitious project, being structured was key. We split everything in 4 stages :

  • Pitch

  • Previs

  • Plate Photography

  • Post production

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The Pitch

This was a key step, because it wasn’t only used to sell the idea for the video, but also as a script, story board, visual development guide, character and environment reference. I wanted to do more than just a director’s treatment explaining the mood I was trying to create, but also have a very strong base for my previs.

So I built the progression of my simple narrative, the key shots and the overarching visual language, all put together in a pdf document that could explain at a glance where I wanted to go with the project.

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The Previs

This is where things started getting interesting. Once I got the go ahead, I started working on a full CG previs for the 3 minutes of animation I had to create. Having to build 3 very large sets, deal with the camera work, the edit, the character lighting blocking and fx seems insanely daunting for one artist to take on.

But building my whole project in Unreal Engine made all those challenges approachable.

  • The Sequencer

    • This is the one tool in Unreal that made my life so easy! From building all my shot structure, to creating all the individual cameras, animating them, editing CG shots in realtime on music, it was all possible. I made a point out of having my edit live, playing in realtime at 24fps. This way I could be incredibly flexible in my workflow, managing to work on camera, edit and light design all at the same time.

    • Check it out : https://docs.unrealengine.com/en-us/Engine/Sequencer/QuickStart

  • Unreal Marketplace

    • This collection of resources at affordable prices was the key to being able to build my world. The variety of assets available is just impressive.

    • The whole city is based on a level available on Marketplace, and using that as a base I was able to quicky set the stage for my characters.

    • All the FX were also based on templates from the marketplace. From the shooting stars to the Aurora Borealis, having a simple base to start from and to use for blocking was invaluable.

    • Check it out : https://www.unrealengine.com/marketplace/store

  • Character blocking

    • If you don’t know about the massive amount of Paragon characters made available by Epic games, you have to check that out

    • There is a massive collection of animation vignettes that is available with each character, and by using it in a creative way, framing and retiming to your needs, it makes telling a story achievable, without complex motion capture, or time consuming key framing.

    • This technique allowed me to iterate very quickly, and experiment with cameras and the way they relate the story.

    • Check it out : https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/paragon

  • Sketchfab.com

    • Another incredible resource for assets, with so many incredibly talented artists sharing their work.

    • I am a massive fan of drone footage that has been processed as photogrammetry, as this can be a fantastic base for your environment build.

    • For Fool, I used this amazing desert road scan from “Effective Technology Integration“ : https://sketchfab.com/eti

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The Plate Photography

The guiding principle in setting up the shoot was simple. Use the Previs and work with a very experienced team to make all the plate photography achievable in one day.

The project producer, Rosalind Stratton did an absolutely fantastic job in setting up the shoot in a very short amount of time. We wanted to be able to rely on a crew that has a lot of production experience, because the lighting setups we needed were not extremely simple and we were trying to achieve quite a large number of shots.

After a few chats with the DOP Eoin O'Liddigh we decided on the size of the crew we would need and got in touch with Karl Saunders, Graham MacFarlane and Brian Compton. The guys did an amazing job and created a fantastic atmosphere on set. If there is one lesson to learn from this experience for a director that is just starting out, that is to build a crew as experienced as possible. They made setting up each shot look easy and the focus on the day was on the creative, not on chasing the clock to get that last shot. Couldn’t be happier or more grateful for their help!

Because I had a full previs, we had a very good idea for what to aim for in terms of shot framing, lighting and performance.

I cannot stress enough the importance of a good flow between the previs, the plate photography and postproduction.

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Post Production

Once we had all the footage, I started working on the edit using the green screen plates . As soon as that was in a good spot, I did a quick pass at the keys so I have placeholder versions with alpha.

Next step was setting up all the shots with plates in Unreal. Using the keyed exr sequences as image planes in the engine, allowed me to very quickly adapt my previs shots to the new plates. The lighting was already in a good spot because of the fantastic job done by the team on set. So all I had to do is work on detailing things up and making sure the character sits in the CG environment.

Some shots required reframing, so I used a card with the plate offset to the right plate in space. The fact that the plate is part of the CG environment makes integration very easy, because all the volumetric lighting and atmospheric effects are already encompassing the plate, so no compositing work was needed on a lot of shots. Almost every WS or EWS in the video is a render straight from the engine, without needing any extra compositing work.

Of course, all the closer shots did need compositing, because a more careful integration was done with the background, but also with the foreground FX.

I would also like to point out that all the CG backgrounds have not been composited in any way. All the atmospheric effects from haze to volumetric lighting, and all the lens effects from DOF, to bloom and chromatic aberration are also done in engine. I wanted to make my life as easy as possible so the 4K sequence renders from unreal were my “final“ result.

Everything did receive a final grade and grain treatment for overall consistency before delivering the final product.

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 If you’d like to know more about it, just get in touch !

Here is a collections of stills taken from the video.