Seeing is Believing
February 9, 2014 2:44 am
How Seven Artists Brought Jon M. Chu’s Vision for Justin Bieber’s Believe Tour to Life
Mat Hale had already worked with producer Garret Grant (Rock of Ages, Hairspray, Something About Mary) on a Mary J. Blige performance when he called a few months back wondering if Hale would be interested in working on visuals for a musician going on a worldwide concert tour. Grant couldn’t name the artist yet, but he did send over a rough script of the show. “I looked at the songs and the treatment and within a few thumbnails, I realized it was for Justin Bieber,” Hale recalls, adding that he took the job and was soon meeting with Grant and director Jon M. Chu to talk through Chu’s vision for the tour.
Written by Chu, who has directed two films about Justin Bieber, Never Say Never and Believe, which is due out later this year, the script outlined visual content for the Believe tour’s 21 songs, as well as the show’s intro. Using Cinema 4D and After Effects, Hale had a little over four weeks to hire a team of freelancers to work with him on VFX and bring everything together in post-production, including footage of Bieber that was shot at several locations. “The level of trust Jon had in us was really cool from day one,” Hale says. “He would tell us what he wanted and then let us run with it.”
While some song like “She Don’t Like the Lights” (http://vimeo.com/77443115) were mostly practical footage with minor effects and color treatment, others such as “As Long As You Love Me” (http://vimeo.com/73976371)” and “Boyfriend” were almost entirely CG. In all cases, content was designed to fit on the array of LED screens that were behind the stage at each show, including a main upstage center screen that was 51 feet wide by 18 feet tall, and split down the middle to reveal various props. Two more screens, one on each side of the stage, were also 18 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Eight lower-stage screens on rollers measured 4 feet wide by six feet tall.
“Taking scale into consideration is the key starting point with this type of project,” Hale says, explaining that the goal is to balance detail and movement so the performers aren’t overpowered or upstaged by the animations and designs. In this particular instance, he says, it was extremely important to stay connected and in communication with all of the teams involved in the visuals—lighting, pyro, production design and choreography.
A Community of Artists
Though Bieber’s Believe tour is one of the more high-profile projects Hale has been involved with, he has been creating 2D and 3D visuals for artists, gamers and musicians since 1996. Working primarily out of his Los Angeles-based studio, Imag8nineteen (http://www.imag8nineteen.com), some of his most recent work includes video content for Fall Out Boy, Austin Mahone and Emblem3 and the BET Awards. He also collaborated with Skrillex on his Mothership Tour, helping the electronic musician deliver real-time video-mapped 3D characters inside the Unreal 3 engine.
After years spent using Maya, 3D Studio Max and other 3D software, Hale first tried C4D while developing content for Skrillex after winning a copy of the broadcast version at a local users’ group meeting. In just a short time, he was feeling proficient using a number of C4D’s tools. “The user community is great; there’s this level of generosity so I was able to learn a lot from other artists and tutorials really quickly,” he recalls. “Once I got the rhythm of how to use it, I was hooked.”
Building On a Vision
After receiving direction from Chu on several of the looks and animation treatments for the show, Hale hired six freelance artists. Each was given a project file developed by Hale and tasked with creating animations and other elements for at least three songs that seemed to fit well with their creative style. “I knew I was going to do a lot in post, so what I really wanted from all of the artists were ingredients that I could use later when I was putting the songs together,” he says.
Carlos Sa was the animator for “As Long As You Love Me, one of the more Cinema 4D-heavy songs in the lineup. Gold shields used by the choreographer were inspiration behind the design for the song. Quality of light and depth of field were achieved using multi-pass rendering and Greyscale Gorilla’s Light Kit Pro (http://greyscalegorilla.com/blog/store/light-kit-pro/).
“I wanted to do an auto-driven speaker cube drifting and pulsating, and Carlos had some really good ideas for how the cubes could tumble and turn away from each other,” he explains. Like many of the show’s visual effects, the movement of the cubes was driven by Bieber’s music.
For “Boyfriend (http://vimeo.com/74016141),” Chu wanted a look that played around with fluorescent tube sculptures. The animator, Dan Block,used Cinema 4D to model and animate the tubes and achieved the luminescent quality of the visuals by using multi-pass rendering and adjusting the final look and feel in After Effects.
As artists turned their animations in, Hale moved files into his master project folder in After Effects were he had a layout of the stage. Working with editor MehranTorgoley, they first focused on visuals destined for the center screen before moving on to what would appear on the lower and left and right screens.
“We were focused on having a lot of symmetry,” Hale recalls, “so in order to save time and meet deadlines, we opted to flip and replicate compositions before rendering.” Full-length edits overlaid with a preview mask of the screen layout were intermittently shown to Chu for feedback and approval.
QuickTime files of the final edit were delivered to the programmers handling the media servers at the shows. Some full-frame, reformatted selects were also chosen for use in Believe. “It was really an amazing experience to work with this team on this production,” Hale recalls. “I was able to meet up with the tour in June in San Diego and see all the fans and hear all the screaming. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
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