This was a slightly out of the ordinary project for us, as we came in pretty late in the day to pick up the work of another studio. Due to some scheduling issues they had to end their involvement, but were kind enough to pass on all of their working files to us, as well as going above and beyond by setting up a couple of zoom calls to get us up to speed on everything they’d done so far.
We were put in charge of two main components of the VFX: the constant stream of dusty particles emitting from JVCK, and the various flocks of birds seen throughout the video. Other bits, such as the individual birds that fly past and the occasional paint out of film crew in the background were taken care of by the other studio.
The main challenge here was that due to the nature of the footage (a large quarry with a very distant horizon) there was no chance of us getting a 3D camera track. This meant all the different elements needed some special considerations so we could avoid things sliding about as much as possible. When combined with the tight turnaround we were left with this meant we needed to do a lot of problem solving.
We’re huge X-Particles fans here, and since that was the previous studios workflow too we were more than happy jumping into their files. The feedback we were given meant that we had to pretty drastically change the existing setup, but the overall mechanics stayed the same. We had some roughly roto’d layers of JVCK that were reduced to just their red and blue channels which acted as emitters. The emitted particles were then advected by a few invisible smoke sims to give them that nice ‘dust in the wind’ look.
Since we had no camera track, we had to make sure the particles were spawning and dying quickly enough that they weren’t visibly sliding around when the camera moved. Luckily, for most of the sections with these particles visible the camera wasn’t making too many drastic movements so any sliding was fairly subtle. When there was a pan or a zoom, we had to create some roughly eyeballed camera moves in cinema to match them as closely as we could.
The second major component were the large flocks of birds. Luckily, X-Particles has just the solution, in the form of its fittingly named Flocking Modifier. We had a selection of objects moving around the scene that the birds would either follow or avoid, which when combined with some wind and turbulence modifiers led to some nice, natural looking flocking motion.
Once we were happy with the look of the birds, the next task was actually compositing them. We rendered them with a still camera, so the tracking had to be done in After Effects. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to track an almost featureless cloudy sky, but its not exactly ideal. This meant even more manual camera moves, which can take a lot of trial and error to get looking right. Finally there was the colour correction which was intended to really embed them in the scene. Unfortunately, it seems we didn’t fully account for the final grade, which did mean some of the compositing ended up not looking 100% how we intended.