When Paint Attacks - The Making Of A Movie

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It all started about three or four years ago, when Robi Michael was shooting a commercial in Israel with the post-processing done here in the States. He needed some 3D effects done so he placed an ad on a Los Angeles user group for motion graphics. Thomas Marinello gave Robin a call and that was the “beginning of a wonderful friendship.” Thomas’ first job was a few shots for this first commercial and they soon began working on more projects together and finally started getting some paid projects.

A Can of Paint is a short science fiction story written by A.E. van Vogt, in which a space scavenger/junk dealer finds a can of paint that begins to spread over his body. His attempts to stop the paint from spreading and remove the paint are the focus of the story.

When asked what made him choose this particular story, Robi laughed and said that it chose him. Winston Engle, the Executive Producer wrote the screenplay based on A.E. van Vogt’s short story and got funding for the film. Winston was looking for someone to direct the short and Robi knew him through mutual friends.

Robi was given very little direction on the film since Winston trusted his experience based on his previous directing work so he was left alone to do what he wanted to do. Don Anderson, an acquaintance of Robi and Thomas was brought in to design the space ship. Before shooting began, Robi, Thomas, and Don storyboarded the script, especially the more difficult scenes. This gave them a clear understanding of where Robi was going with the film and what it would look like.

The short was shot in five days with editing done over a couple of months by Robi using Final Cut Pro. At the time, Robi only had a Powerbook so all the editing was done on that machine. Immediately after completing the filming, he traveled to Israel and back so having the Powerbook allowed him to continue editing the film during his travels.

Once all the editing was completed, post-production began and continued over the next two years. CINEMA 4D was used for pretty much all the 3D work, except for using an outside company to produce the particle effects in Maya for the end of the film. Post-production included color correction, roto-scoping of the paint, 3D modeling of the ship and other elements in CINEMA 4D, and special effects done using Shake from Apple. Thomas did the majority of the modeling work with some outside help for roto-scoping and some of the more difficult effects.

The post-production began based on the designs on paper from Don Anderson with Thomas translating the design into an actual 3D model in CINEMA 4D. The filmed environment reflected an industrial but grungy, broken down interior suitable for a space junk dealer, with salvaged and mismatched equipment needing repairs. The lights worked fitfully and he had to bang on equipment to get it to work. Because of the industrial nature of the interior, Don designed the exterior to match the industrial feel.


Sketch design of ship


The modeling of the ship took a couple of months, then they started animating the scenes based on Robi’s direction. The animation entailed combining outer space with the external space ship, the tunnel, and getting the environments half-way realistic. There are several exterior shots of the ship, both coming in and out of the ship, that show how well the design of the exterior of the ship matches the interior used during the actual filming. This included seamlessly integrating the animation with the live action shots with Robi directing the camera moves and shot setups.


3D ship modeled following the design sketches


The sound stage, where the filming was shot, contained some of the interior elements of the space ship but not everything, so during the filming various sections of the interior are missing. The missing pieces of the interior were added using 3D models to once again integrate the 3D animation with the live action shots. One example of this is during one shot where the camera was pulled down a long hallway inside the spaceship. The camera was pulled back very slowly revealing more and more of the stage around the tunnel as it was pulled back. The camera is finally pulled out through the window, which doesn’t actually exist in the stage scenery. The actual shot was filmed up to the point where the camera exits the window and Thomas took it from where the window is supposed to be. He added the window in 3D and animated the scene, continuing to pull the camera out until the entire space ship was revealed.


Rendered Ship


The focus of the film is the progress of the paint as it covers the salvagers body and his attempts to stop the spread and to remove the paint. For those who have seen the first Matrix movie, the spread of the paint is reminiscent of the scene where Neo touches the mirror and his body “liquefies.” When the live action was shot, they used a latex body paint that becomes like a glove once it dries.

The problem with using the paint, was that when it covered a lot of body area on the actor it started to wrinkle and looked too much like a glove instead of paint that was supposed to be shiny and smooth. They ended up having to paint over most of the paint areas in post-production. This was extremely time consuming and the reason the post-production took almost two years as almost every frame had to be roto-scoped in order to fix the paint.

The majority of the roto-scoping was accomplished by David Cimaglia (along with Rohini Una) which included re-painting the painted areas blue and making the paint shiny and smooth. According to Robi, the difference between the original frames and the roto-scoped ones is “pretty amazing.” It ended up looking just like Robi wanted it to look but for a long time he was afraid that it wouldn’t come out right.

The actual work on the film didn’t take two years of constant work since both Robi and Thomas were working other jobs at the same time in order to pay their way. Much of the work had to be done during their spare time on nights and weekends. They also had to work with the schedules of those working with them, like Don and David. This added time to the post-production and required being able to effectively use the time they had available.


Alien ship


According to Thomas, 98 percent of the work was done using CINEMA 4D, with the particle effects being done in Maya. To see examples of the different compositing, color correction, and addition of effects, the official A Can of Paint website has three QuickTime movies on the “Making Of” page. The first movie shows a 3D wire frame of the hatch in CINEMA 4D. The hatch opens and a small object is shown coming towards the camera. The image slides over to replace the wire frame view with the rendered view just as the can shoots past the camera. Color correction is shown next followed by the addition of smoke.

The second movie shows color correction and the addition of a flare to a scene. The third movie is more extensive than the first two and shows the actor against a green screen. Color correction is then shown along with the addition of a flickering light effect. A 3D background plate is then added followed by smoke and glow from an open hatch. Finally, the addition of the exterior of the ship is added and the interior scene is shown through a window.


Final compositing prior to placing behind modeled window


The finished film has been shown at 50 to 60 film festivals since it’s completion in 2004 winning several awards. Because of the work they’d done on this short film, they knew they could work on a feature film they just finished. It gave them the opportunity to show what they could do between the two of them instead of a team of hundreds and on a limited budget.

Invisible Films has not limited themselves to films. The gallery on their site shows a wide range of work from commercials to motion graphics to movie trailers. Live action, 3D modeling, and special effects are used to good effect and the site provides a wide variety of examples of their work.

When asked where Invisible films wanted to go next, Robi said that he loved doing short projects like commercials because they can be done fairly quickly (as well as paying better), but their main goal is to continue working on short projects and some feature films. Because of the time required for feature films, he indicated that any project of such length would have to be something he really liked and wanted to put the next two years of his life into it while being able to combine both their passion and their hobby.


We invite you to visit the following sites:

  • Invisible Films

  • A Can of Paint Official Website

  • Maxon




    All supporting images within this article are copyright, and
    cannot be printed, published, or copied without written permisson from the artist.



    We would like to thank our
    Guest Columnist
    Darlisa Riggs

    July 4th, 2005

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    Member Opinions:
    By: daqs on 7/5/05
    Awesome and wonderful!
    Spectacular work!

    By: KimberlyC on 7/6/05
    awesome! Thanks for sharing with us!

    By: foleypro on 7/7/05
    Wooooohooo...

    By: frndofyaweh on 7/9/05
    These images are too tempting! I must go check those websites out.
    Excellent graphics and article!

    By: Kirl on 7/18/05
    Excellent! Woooooohooo, from me as well...!

    By: EricofSD on 7/22/05
    Dar, what a delight to read your work here. Great job, keep up the good work!

    By: maxxxmodelz on 9/3/05
    Excellent. The trailer for the movie looks awesome.


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