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Six days in the Valley

R!OT creates major soundtrack visual effects
video for Mike Lipscombe in six days

by Ryan Thompson
May 21, 2002

May 21st, 2002 from Santa Monica, California Premiere visual effects studio R!OT Pictures recently created all visual effects work for RAW Independent director Mike Lipscombe's new Bryan Adams, Here I am music video in six days. The studios provided fully integrated creative services, from visual effects photography supervision through delivery of final master. Interscope Records and Dreamworks SKG jointly commissioned the production to promote the release of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron; for which Bryan Adams wrote the soundtrack songs.

Director Mike Lipscombe considered the characters in Spirit, the feature's beautiful visual effects and Bryan Adams' Americana image to develop his creative proposal for Here I am. The resulting treatment juxtaposes giant Western performances against dramatically rendered crags a la Monument Valley. Bryan Adams approved the concept, while Interscope and Dreamworks knew Lipscombe would deliver stoic performance and uncompromising visual effects. Interscope Records executive and music video commissioner Randy Sosin confirms, "Mike was the perfect choice for this video." In finished form, the cast of Here I am towers above arid crags and riverbeds as they traverse through the valley. Lipscombe directed the cast to interact with Earth's elements for added realism kicking up dust, splashing water and breaking rock. In a more typical VFX schedule, there would be 3 weeks of 3D CG environment builds following about 2 weeks for tracking, animation and rendering. Yet with award in hand, Lipscombe and producer Michael Pierce were burdened with a 14 day schedule to produce and deliver the video in time for the theatrical release of Spirit. This equated to a 6 day VFX schedule from start to finish wherein R!OT would overcome complex logistics.

In haste and where the only options are solutions, Lipscombe, Pierce, R!OT digital effects supervisor Verdi Sevenhuysen, visual effects photography supervisor Ed Chapman and producer Ryan Thompson plotted production via international conference call. Ramsey Nickell, known in the music video production community for quality and speed, shot Adams and the female models in one day on a greenscreen soundstage. Superior Assembly editor Joel Marcus captured camera footage from the set video tap to build a cut prior to film transfer. This footage and other selects, along with Chapman's detailed camera reports served as reference for background plate photography in Arizona and Utah 72 hours later.

The morning after talent photography, Nickell shot horses galloping at a ranch in Valencia against exterior greenscreen. Sevenhuysen requested the stampede interact with practical ground, as loads of dirt divots kicking up into the air achieved realism beyond compositing foreground dust elements at each hoof strike. The crew wrapped at 3:00 PM; following which Lipscombe, Pierce and Chapman immediately departed for background plate photography in Northern Arizona.

Preparing for the background shoot, R!OT provided the aerial crew with 250 square mile geological survey maps of the proposed vicinity in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Aside from serving as detailed scouting reference, these maps allowed crew to plot moves at factored scales of the talent plates. For instance, a 6' dolly move tracking talent on greenscreen would need to be shot as a 384 foot move on the background if talent is to appear roughly 64 times the original size.

Although extensive preparation and accurate references significantly aided a 14 day production, it wasn't a guarantee of success when photographing moving plates for visual effects composites. Some scaled moves were simply too far a distance to travel, even via helicopter, at the proper runtime for given shots. Other dolly-and-pan shots had moves too complicated to match outside of motion control systems; note that no motion control systems were available for aerial photography appropriate to this production.

The opening sequence where Bryan Adams awakens and stands from his resting position against a large crag is a good example. Lipscombe, often unimpressed by 3D CG prior to Here I am, only accepted R!OT's proposal to use CG because the intended backplate composition was impossible to match using aerial photography.

R!OT digital matte painters Kenneth Nakada and Michelle Moen re-transferred 1080i HD reference plates of the backgrounds Lipscombe wanted to include as compositional elements of the sequence on an in-house Spirit / DaVinci telecine bay. In fact, the director insisted only photographed elements be used as CG textures and displacement maps to preserve the highest level of realism available. Lead 3D CG artist Dominic Daigle tracked the nearly 180 camera move on Adams against greenscreen using Realviz,roughly modeled the crag and ground planes in reference to the photographed background textures in SoftImage and rendered wireframe stills from various points in the move for Nakada and Moen. Nakada and Moen used Daigle's wireframe stills as topographic, lens distortion and perspective references to create filmic matte-painting textures from Lipscombe's plates. Daigle projected the series of matte paintings onto his geometry and rendered out final elements for lead Inferno artist Kiki Chansamone. Chansamone then composited Bryan and all the CG elements using Sevenhuysen's prior setup for the sequence, passing the work to Fire artist Jason Frank for final animated lens flares and color grades.

Another important aspect to background photography requiring the helicopter mount was altitude. One example is an eye level shot of a model filling her canteen from the riverbed. Nickell shot the wide talent plate with the model in a shallow, green duvatine water tank, employing lens distortion to convey depth while capturing water elements for true interaction. Since the talent plate was shot a few feet above the model's head, aerial crew positioned their helicopter at about 400 feet altitude to capture similar perspective as it would apply to photographing a giant in the background. Additionally, all background subjects were shot from afar on telephoto lens lengths that were multiple factors of the wide lenses used on talent. This method compressed the compositions to enhance a sense of scale when combined with talent.

Once the edit locked, Lipscombe worked with Sevenhuysen, Claus Hansen, Stefano Trivelli, Kiki Chansamone, Jason Frank, Lisa Tomei and Nigel Randall to vastly enhance natural landscape compositions. Sevenhuysen created custom environments and setups for each shot using elements from many different aerial plates, while Trivelli and Chansamone focused on 3D CG compsin the riverbeds and opening sequence. To create organic camera moves in post, Trivelli sampled motion from the helicopter camera mount using Inferno's tracker. Digital artist Sean Wilson enhanced composites by creating foreground matte-painting elements when tighter talent shots posed challenges to a sense of scale. Hansen created background matte paintings and 3D camera moves on overhead pullout shots of Adams for which the helicopter mount was unfeasibly situated for background photography. Hansen and Frank also digitally graded many composites and liberally added camera shake to further enhance visual aesthetics.

Notably, digital artist and manufacturer's representative Jason Peters composited a handful of shots for Here I am using an alpha version of SONY's upcoming realtime compositor SOCCRATO. R!OT is one of SONY's main testing sites for the SOCCRATO system, and the studio is impressed with the application's ability to final composites prior to completing development.

The Bryan Adams Here I am video exemplifies R!OT Pictures as a studio with enough talent and horsepower to complete major feature visual effects productions like The Scorpion King while offering the same benefits on tight turnarounds to commercial and music creatives in a boutique atmosphere. Mike Lipscombe affirmed this position stating, "this is the best experience I've ever had in post I've had to wait weeks before to see comps at the quality R!OT produced in two days."

The Bryan Adams Here I am music video was produced by Michael Pierce for RAW Independent in Hollywood, California. Mike Lipscombe directed the video and is represented by Janet Eisner at RAW for music videos and commercials commissioned in the United States. The video is from the soundtrack release of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Ramsey Nickell shot the video for Mike Lipscombe. Joel Marcus edited from Superior Assembly. Clark Muller colored the video on a Spirit / DaVinci system at R!OT Colors. R!OT Pictures produced all visual effects under the auspices of effects supervisor Verdi Sevenhuysen and effects photography supervisor Ed Chapman. Bryan Adams is signed to A&M Records, a division of Interscope Records. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a new motion picture from Dreamworks SKG.

R!OT Pictures is a modern, full service digital visual effects studio producing high-quality work for leading creatives in the motion picture, music video and commercial production industries. The studio is located by the beach in Santa Monica, California. Ryan Thompson is a visual effects producer for music videos and commercials at R!OT Pictures. Richard Cormier is the managing director of R!OT Pictures; leading the company's successful growth since opening in 1998.

The above article was originally posted on the music video mailing-list and is reprinted here in agreement with the author, Ryan Thompson, who retains all rights over the text.

this article is copyright (c) 2002 by Ryan Thompson

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