Queen of the Jungle
December 29, 2013 8:04 pm
Mirada on Creating the VFX for Katy Perry’s “Roar”
The music video for Katy Perry’s single, “Roar,” (http://vimeo.com/74019894) may have been shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, but it looks like the heart of the jungle thanks to an assortment of trained animals and the impressive array of visual effects created by Los Angeles-based Mirada (http://mirada.com/). Working with Motion Theory (http://www.motiontheory.com/) directors Grady Hall and Mark Kudsi, Mirada had just three weeks to do all of the post-production for the nearly five-minute video.
Mindful of the challenging schedule, Mirada made the most of that time by employing a variety of software and hardware, including Cinema 4D, After Effects, Houdini, Nuke and Flame. They also took the time to select the right artists, in-house and freelance, for every aspect of the project.
“We wanted to pay homage to the Jane Of the Jungle style and genre, so finding the right artists for that look was crucial,” recalls Jonathan Wu, Mirada’s creative director. “Tools are great because they allow artists to express themselves, but the artists really bring things to life.”
Enhancing the Narrative
Though the post-production deadline was tight, the process was made easier by the fact that Mirada was actively involved in the making of the video from the beginning, starting with conception. And because Hall and Kudsi are well aware of what can be achieved in post, they planned their shots accordingly with input from the team at Mirada. “We started talking right away about the visuals we would need to complement the story, anything that would help reinforce the narrative,” says VFX supervisor Michael Shelton.
Shelton and Wu were also on set to partner with the directors on pinpointing instances where the narrative could be enhanced with effects. That kind of input on creative decisions made the project even more fun and challenging, Shelton says. It also helped ensure that they would have everything they needed when it was crunch time. “When you shoot something as ambitious as this, it’s a constantly evolving picture that reveals itself as the director makes decisions to improve the story and look of the video, so you have to be there to roll with the punches and figure out the best approach.”
By way of example, Shelton points to the moment when the crew realized that the green screen they had wasn’t large enough to accommodate the size of the elephant they were shooting. So he was able to troubleshoot on set, knowing it would need to be rotoscoped as soon as post started.
Animals are always a wild card on set, Shelton explains, because, like kids, you can never be entirely certain what they’ll do. “It’s tricky because you have to wait and see what the animals can and can’t do,” he says, explaining that things like how the animal’s trajectory changed when jumping form platform to platform often had to be massaged in post. This was exactly the case in shooting the tiger, so the tiger and Katy were shot as separate plates and composited together for the final shot.
A Team Effort
In all, there were 139 shots in “Roar” that incorporated visual effects, including 2D animation, matte paintings, particle effects, 3D and a lot of heavy compositing. Artists primarily worked in teams, handing shots off to the next person in the pipeline as required. Hours were long, but what kept people going (beyond energy drinks, snacks and coffee) was the energy and sense of camaraderie that surrounded the project. “It was really a passion project because work like this doesn’t come around very often, so everybody really embraced it and did their best,” Shelton says.
One of the most striking visual effects in the video happens when Perry stoops by a pool of water and breaks into Roar’s empowering chorus for the first time. As she sings, blinking fireflies move gracefully around her before coming together in the air to form the head of a roaring tiger. After first studying footage of how fireflies move and light up and dim back down, Mirada opted to use Cinema 4D to create different iterations of the fireflies because the 3D software would allow them to make changes quickly and easily.
“We knew we wanted the fireflies to hover and dissipate, but we needed to see what that looked like and make several changes, so we chose Cinema because it’s artist friendly and fast,” Shelton explains. Using several particle tools in C4D, artists were able to alternate between MoGraph, Thinking Particles or X-Particles, whichever got the job done the fastest, depending on the shot. Mirada artists chose MoGraph for the ambient firefly shots because a basic random noise effector can animate several spheres around a general area. Setup was simple with few parameters and it provided realistic results, especially with Cinema 4D’s Physical Render Motion Blur setting that added the firefly trail.
The tiger roar shot was a bit more complicated. To create the fireflies that buzz around the environment and then gravitate towards the center to the tiger’s head, a combination of X-Particles and Thinking Particles was used. X-Particles was faster to set up: only a volume emitter, an attractor and a few deflectors were needed to guide the fireflies to the center in a natural manner. Once the fireflies reached the center, they were killed off and Thinking Particles was used to emit from pre-rendered tiger footage to drive the firefly birth and color. Varying the intensity and direction in Thinking Particles made the roar very expressive and magical. After Effects was then used to add color and glow to the fireflies as well as add their reflections in the water.
Cinema 4D was also used to help test techniques for the effect that called for a swarm of fireflies to gather and take the shape of a roaring tiger head. Once they’d come up with a plan, the Mirada team rigged the model in Maya using a combination of skinning and corrective shapes. When the animation was complete, the geometry was baked with Alembic and imported into Houdini for the articulate particle effects.
“The motion of the tiger roaring needed to be carefully considered as it would be the basis of the particles’ movement and determine the overall clarity of the image the swarm was meant to produce,” Shelton explains, adding that it was also important that the tiger have a regal feel to it. He also wanted the point of the actual roar to be in sync with the lyrics of the song. So combining the moving camera and the finite number of frames they had to work with when the tiger entered the frame was critical. “Luckily, the Mirada pipeline from Maya to Houdini made iterating between Houdini very quick,” he says.
After the tiger head was animated in Maya and imported into Houdini, Mirada FX artists were able to scatter points on the tiger head and use them as attractor points for the particles, making the same number of points on the tiger as in the air. A custom tool was written to make the particles attract to the points and then release at a specified time. Houdini was able to control the brightness of each particle based on the Fresnel angle of the tiger to the camera.
Telling Great Stories
Mirada’s main goal, Wu says, is to tell good stories whether they’re working on a music video, film, commercial or interactive project. And having the opportunity to work on something as high profile as “Roar,” was fantastic.
Both the song and the video have been widely publicized and praised, and the Mirada team is already hard at work on other projects. Wu is busy developing German author Cornelia Funke’s latest interactive storybook, while Shelton is currently leading a three-minute photo-real CG project. Reflecting on the “Roar” video, Wu describes the project as “a great experience for the entire team with great energy and all-around good vibes.”
Production Company: MTh (Motion Theory)
Directors: Grady Hall, Mark Kudsi
Executive Producer: Javier Jimenez
Director of Photography: MazMakhani
Line Producer: OualidMouaness
Creative Consultant: Mathew Cullen
2nd Unit Director: Jonathan Wu
Director of Marketing: Caroline Gomez
Post Production Company: Mirada
Chief Creative Officer: Mathew Cullen
President: John Fragomeni
Executive Producer: Patrick Nugent
Creative Director: Jonathan Wu
Art Director: DarynWakasa
VFX Supervisor: Michael Shelton
VFX Producer: Derek Johnson
VFX Coordinator: Kate DeCrosta
Designers: Luke Belderes, Clara Moon, Jing Zheng, Ken Lee, James Levy, An Nguyen, Charles Wang
Matte Painters: Niall Booker, Maxx Burman, Jason Dunn, Jim Hawkins, Rei Sparks
Designer Animators: Phil Guthrie, Ivan Cruz, Eddie Won, Andrew Tan
Design Intern: Su Jung
Houdini Artist: McKendreeSchilthius, Kevin Gillen
Cel Animators: Song Kim, Jahmad Rollins, Laura Yilmaz, Ashley Becerra
Tracking Artists: Michael Makers, Jared Sanders
Nuke Artists: Jason Bidwell, Geoff DuQuette, Jim Kuroda, Mark Robben, Ryan Quinlan
Flame Artists: Dave Stern, PilonLectez, JohnGeehreng
Production Manager/HR Director: Tina Van Delden
Creative Consultant: Ryan Erke
Editorial Company: Mirada
Editor: Alan Chimenti
Editorial Assistant: Michael Vargas
Color House: Ntropic
Colorist: Marshall Plante
Sound Company: Therapy Studios
Sound Designer: Eddie Kim
Sound Mix: LihiOrbach
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December 30, 2013
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