This project was slightly out of the ordinary for us, as we came in quite late to take over the work of another studio. Due to scheduling conflicts, they had to end their involvement but were kind enough to pass on all their working files to us. They also went above and beyond by setting up a couple of Zoom calls to bring us up to speed on everything they had 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 elements, such as the individual birds flying past and the occasional removal of film crew in the background, were handled by the other studio.
The main challenge was the nature of the footage (a large snowy field with a distant horizon), which made it impossible to get a 3D camera track. This meant all the different elements needed special attention to minimize sliding effects. Combined with the tight turnaround time, this situation required a lot of problem-solving.
We’re huge fans of X-Particles, and since it was also the workflow of the previous studio, we were comfortable diving into their files. Although we had to make significant changes to the existing setup based on feedback, the overall mechanics remained the same. We used roughly rotoscoped layers of JVCK, reduced to just their red and blue channels, as emitters. The emitted particles were then advected by a few invisible smoke simulations to create a ‘dust in the wind’ effect.
With no camera track, it was crucial to ensure that the particles spawned and died quickly enough to avoid noticeable sliding when the camera moved. Fortunately, in most sections where these particles were visible, the camera movements were minimal, so any sliding was fairly subtle. For scenes with camera pans or zooms, we manually matched the movements as closely as possible in Cinema 4D.
The second major component was the large flocks of birds. X-Particles’ Flocking Modifier was perfect for this. We had a selection of objects moving around the scene that the birds would either follow or avoid. Combined with wind and turbulence modifiers, this setup led to natural-looking flocking motion.
After achieving the desired look for the birds, we faced the challenge of compositing them. They were rendered with a still camera, so tracking had to be done in After Effects. Tracking an almost featureless cloudy sky is far from ideal, requiring more manual camera movements and a lot of trial and error. Finally, there was color correction, which was intended to integrate them seamlessly into the scene. Unfortunately, we didn’t fully anticipate the final grade, resulting in some compositing not looking as intended.
Initial VFX work: Douglas McGinness