FranKo – Eye of the Storm :Making a green screen computer generated music promo
I wanted to share this and thought it might make an interesting post as it covers a lot of areas. First and foremost, leaving your comfort zone and entering uncharted personal territory. Scary stuff as there was money involved too! Visual effects, practical effects, 3D camera tracking, lots of caffeine/iced doughnuts and exploding graphics cards! Let me explain…
Music company Craker Music asked us to shoot a promo for a band they manage called FranKo. Their track “Eye of the Storm” had just been recorded and they wanted a promo to go with it. I had always wanted to shoot a music video in a storm and when this title landed on my lap, it was just fate.
So, no story or narrative, no quirky generic meaningless promo nonsense just a straight forward performance piece, playing in a thunder storm. Initially I had meetings with Special Effects technician Mark Turner of MTFX to see what could be done practically filming on location. We could do the rain part but if we shot outside and the weather was sunny, I couldn’t get in there and replace the skies and control the backgrounds as I would like to. If I wanted dark stormy clouds and such, it might be awkward so everything pointed towards doing it green screen and in a studio to have complete control. So I sat with Visual Effects artist Alan Tabrett and said “Can we do this?”, “Can YOU do this?”, “I don’t want to have to lock the camera down, so can we move the camera and still keep our computer generated backgrounds in sync?”. Both Alan and I had worked with green screen elements before but not on this scale. If we found it didn’t work, we would be…up the creek. This wasn’t a personal project, we were being paid. We both decided to go for it and take the plunge and learn what we needed to along the way. There is a difference between a fear of doing something because you’re not sure if you can pull it off and the other thing that is ‘this is the wrong thing to do’. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to that. Both Alan and I were juuuuust outside our comfort zone and the fear was the of the good sort and that’s the best place to be. Early concept art was drawn up and the ideas were sent to the record company to show what was in the works and keep them up to date every step of the production process.
The background environment was going to be Route 66 in middle America, complete with an old gas station and telegraph poles stretching as far as the eye could see. Alan would have to build all of this in the computer. The station, the fields, the poles, the clouds, the cracks in the road, the dirt, dust, and the low setting sun.
Some shots didn’t even have any live action elements and were completely computer generated. For the finale, lighting strikes the top of a nearby telegraph pole and travels down the wire connected to the gas station, blowing it up. A 3D camera was animated, moving with the electric charge until it hits the building.
The shoot took place at Vision Studios in Portishead, near Bristol, utilising their green screen stage. The regular camera team of Simon Pearce on camera and Roger Pearce as Director of Photography were called in to shoot the video. Each department followed with wardrobe, make up, and grips. The production shot on the PMW500 HD camera recording in 1080/25p.
The physical elements to help create the storm were provided by MTFX. Two big wind machines were used to blow the band around the stage to help sell the storm environment. In addition, before each take, make-up team Victoria Tiplady and Eleanor Roberts hosed down the band with cold water. Wetting their hair and clothe; the band really did suffer for their art. Stylist Felicia Pearce was also on board to get the right look and feel for the band with their outfits.
Gaffer Colin Holloway worked with Director of Photography Roger Pearce to rig some pretty big lights around the set to light the green screen and to light the band. Big 5k Tungsten lights were rigged with orange gel (CTO) to create a orange sunset look. A 2.5 HMI was used to create a cool feel from the opposite side. A dolly track was used to move the camera on the wide shots and a ladder pod was brought in to execute a really high angle on singer Tommy Bastow as he looks up to the rain in the middle of the track. The rain was added as computer graphics later on.
After the edit was completed on Avid’s Media Composer 5.5, all 110 shots were turned over to Alan to begin work. Alan constructed the entire 3D environment of the empty road and sky using software packages Modo and Photoshop. 3D tracking software PfTrack was used to create a camera in the virtual environment. This was then composited with the main live action band footage using Adobe’s After Effects; a split screen of which can be seen on the right. The plug-in Keylight was used for keying and Video Co-Pilot’s Optical Flares for some of the lightning effects as well as Video Co-Pilot’s Action Essentials package, which provided elements such as dust and smoke that were all inserted into the shots.
Alan was on set to make sure the shots contained the important tracking marker information. For those that don’t know, markers are used to allow the computer graphics software, like PfTrack and After Effects to track the movement of the camera and that information can then be applied to the CG background so objects/people move as one to sell the illusion of everything being one shot. If the tracking is not extremely accurate the two images will move at different times to each other destroying the illusion. 3D camera tracking was one of the big elements that neither Alan or myself had much experience with and where much of the video would depend on. Magic Bullet’s “Looks” was the final additional piece of software applied to the finished edit for creating the overall distinctive look of the video.
A behind the scenes video was produced showing the shooting of the promo and a visual effects breakdown of how the effects were put together.
After the last shot was rendered out, and imported back in to the Avid timeline, I get a call from Alan to say after three months of pretty much non-stop working by day and rendering by night, his graphics card inside his Mac had blown up. It gave up the ghost after being beaten for so long. So much was learned in the making of this video, first and foremost about leaving your comfort zone and moving in to uncharted territory. I suppose, deep down I did know a few other people that I could call on IF things didn’t work out that could get us out of trouble, but it never came to that. The three month post-production schedule was gruelling, every day, back and forth for each of the 110 shots. I remember driving home one night from Alan’s place, really wishing it was done and complete and then realised we were exactly half way through…
You can watch the full music promo to “Eye of the Storm” here: