The Deka Brothers talk to FXguide.com:
fxg: How were the atmospherics, smoke and dust effects and ‘forces’ achieved?
Deka Brothers: As far as the atmospherics go, the crew used practical smoke on set so it was a matter of enhancing the shots rather than creating a whole smoke environment. Practical smoke is really tricky to keep consistent through an entire shoot, especially on a limited budget. It was really about keeping the best take for the edit and make everything look consistent for post-FX.
Our approach was to bring subtle moving smoke textures to the shots without getting into something too hard to achieve – since we had a limited amount of time. It was a 2D compositing approach, all done in After Effect CS5. We basically used stock footage from the Action Essential Pack of VideoCopilot, that we blended on top of the original plates using different fusion modes and transparency. We picked the smoke samples regarding the specificity of each shot (perspective, frame). It was a pretty straight forward workflow, and actually the trickiest part was to match the crazy one-frame-cut from the director, so it feels like the smoke elements were always there and had been edited with the original image, when they were in reality put in after the fact.
We also added some dust on impacts, when the man hits the wall for example, and once again we used 2D stock footage. In this case, it was a 3D comp though: they locked off the shot, as a multi pass. The talent was hitting the wall, then the FX crew did some smoke explosions on the other side of the wall. At the end, we discussed with the director and decided it would look better with a little dolly move. So we de-composed this part of the set into several layers and put them into a 3D comp, and added a lot of dust element to give more impact. The momentum when the Pedo is in his dream world was also locked off shots, and we created a dolly in in post, using camera projection techniques.
The forces: after getting a first pass of work on the atmospherics, we came back on some specific shots that would require “force field power” coming out of the little girl. Once again, we used smoke sample elements. This time we used the luminance information, and turned them into displacement maps. They supported the animations for the distortion of the environment. In this case, the smoke samples were defining the path of distortion effects and blurs: everything underneath those adjustment layers were affected by the distortion. Because it had to be specific depending on the shots, it was just a matter of key framing the animation to have it match the practical shot.
The force was also a matter a wire stunts – which means wire removal (and a trampoline removal). And we had a lot of work cleaning the plates, especially the chest of the man when he flies away for the first time. There was a harness there, and a wire covering partially his left shoulder. The cleaning was all done the traditional way: 2D compositing of fabric textures that we picked up from other shots; a lot of patches, a lot of rotoscoping work, and a lot of hand tracking.
For the fingers of the little girl, we used the Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular plug-in, which is a particle world generator with which you can be really specific in terms of defining the emitter and the evolution of the particles through time. We linked the emitter of the particles to a bunch of 3D lights (10 total; 1 for each finger) and we set Particular to use the position of those light as the emitter point. Then, it was really convenient to track the fingers and to apply those positions to the 3D light in order to have the emitter point of Particular following exactly the extremity of the fingers of the little girl.
With a bit of tweak in the atmospheric and velocity settings, we defined the type of texture and shape we wanted for those particles to create. On top of that, we used some distortion effects integrated using luma matte, to have those “smoky flames” blending more in the whole scene.
fxg: Can you talk about creating or augmenting the creature effects?
Deka Brothers: The Creature was shot practically: black paint on the body of the talent, a bondage latex mask which had the eyes filled with white material for reference. We had to clean the mask a bit as it was covered with some black tape to hide some details on the mask the director didn’t want to be seen. Then, we added a little on the character – enhanced the eyes by creating this kind of gloomy luminescence. Here, we did a bit of roto, added some light burst effects, key framed the setting a bit, and that did the trick: even if it was all composited in 2D, it felt like a 3D light was emanating from the eyes of the character. We asked ourselves if we a had to do more effects on the character, but it was working so well that we ended up leaving it just like that. Also, the director did the FX of the creature rising behind the girl.
fxg: What approach did you take to grading the video?
Deka Brothers: Tony, the director, cut the video in Final Cut, on Pro Res, so the first step was to conform everything to get back on the original R3D files (it was shot on RED-ONE MX). He gave us an XML that we imported in Premiere and re-opened right in After Effects. There, we were able to relink the footage to the original R3D shots. Some speed effects didn’t translate that well, so we spent some time making sure the edit was right in AE (comparing it with a Pro Res render of the Final Cut edit). This actually happened before the VFX.
We were now able to work on a 4K picture but moreover, we were able to access the raw data. We tried not to make it too green (because this is usually how we like our images), but this color was there anyway from the location and the DP’s work. The grading had been a mix of adjusting the raw settings and using Color Finesse as well as all types of other tools in AE.
AE is not a grading software, and it takes a bit of time to work there, but the software is much more powerful in the sense that you can do many more things with it, especially when it comes to power windows (masks). Working with raw allowed us to play with what we called “double exposure”. The video was not shot in HDR obviously. You can adapt your raw settings let’s say for the shadows on one layer and duplicate this layer in the bin which you “develop” for your highlights. Then you combine them together in the comp window. You can do that with any type of footage obviously, but with the R3D files, you can do it at the raw level and obtain a much cleaner result.
The shot that required the most of work was the very dark shot of the man walking into the warehouse. The director wanted his silhouette to be black, but keep the highlights of his glasses. Sylvain Sechet (the DP) did a good job and the intention was already there, but we still had to do some roto work; use fusion blending mode to get it right. We wanted to have this very comic bookish look (almost cartoonish), however find the right balance so it felt natural at the same time – like it could have been shot this way. Looking for the best of both worlds in a way. After a few tweaks, we found the right balance to make it work.