August 22, 2008 11:44 AM   Subscribe

[FilmmakingFilter] Can someone tell me how this music video was made?

I understand that CGI was used extensively (at certain points, in fact, it's entirely CGI), but what I'm interested in is the fast-travelling-over-terrain effect. I'm pretty sure it's the same effect Dennis Muren and co. used for the speeder bike chases in Return of the Jedi, which was just walking through the terrain with a steadycam, shooting at 4fps or something similarly slow.

The question is, though: why aren't the clouds moving? Are they composited in afterwards?

I'd love to use this technique myself and am fiending for an explanation. Thank you.
posted by Bobby Bittman to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wiki says its made *entirely* with CGI. The clouds arent moving probably because they aren't real.

I watched a video once on the making of Gondry's "Star Guitar" that uses a similar fast moving pan. Star guitar is also done entirely with CGI.
posted by modernsquid at 11:58 AM on August 22, 2008

It obviously looks like CG. You could do a similar effect by stop frame animation and photo editing each frame.
posted by JJ86 at 12:08 PM on August 22, 2008

Zoom lens?
posted by aftermarketradio at 12:09 PM on August 22, 2008

For down-and-dirty production, I'd do basically as you've guessed, but with a tripodded camera every ten or twenty feet. Compositing the clouds or any background should be pretty trivial with a luma key. The main trick would be in keeping the frame steady.
posted by lothar at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2008

It certainly looks entirely CGI to me. I imagine you could get a quick pretty good looking version of this using software like Bryce, which is 3D software that focuses entirely on environments. Add enough motion blur, and it'll look quite real.
posted by MythMaker at 12:49 PM on August 22, 2008

I would also suspect that the fake hand-held quality, how the picture bounces around a little while moving over terrain, was added in post. It's a pretty trivial thing to add.
posted by MythMaker at 12:52 PM on August 22, 2008

I guess it could be CG, but the first two minutes look like mostly plain old timelapse footage to me, with some digital elements added after the fact. Just a long walk with a low-slung camera. (Or rather, several long walks in different locations, with the edits masked by places where the camera gets covered up in the grass or undergrowth or etc.)

The clouds are quite clearly moving in several of the shots -- not a lot, so they probably didn't take hours and hours to do it; perhaps the camera is attached to a vehicle. (I've gotten similar effects by putting a video camera on the front bumper of my car and then speeding up the footage.)
posted by ook at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2008

I'm going to side with the crowd here and say that it's entirely CG. You could do some of the same bits with time lapse, but to then composite in the sky and the color stains on the ground would be more trouble than it's worth. All-CG would the obvious way to go to achieve it.

If you want to make a lo-fi version yourself, as has been said, take a long walk with a camera on a low-slung pole. Or you could cook up a bicycle mount.

If you want to do a luma key on the sky, it might be best to shoot on an overcast day - that way the sky will be a pretty even brightness and will be brighter than any objects in the scene. I haven't tried that, but it seems logical.
posted by echo target at 1:35 PM on August 22, 2008

I dunno, that'd have to be a pretty large and detailed 3D model; this ain't no motion-blurred Bryce. Wouldn't rotoscoping some colors and digital elements into live footage be a lot easier than faking the whole thing?

I don't think the sky is composited at all, and the color effects on the ground would be a lot easier to rotoscope than to build from scratch. (You can even see the edges of the color masks wobble a bit around 0:50, which wouldn't happen if they were baked into the model.)

I know judging details from a fuzzy youtube video is kind of a fool's game, but compare, for example, the detailed foliage at 0:35 (which looks real to me) to the tall grass at 0:25 (looks glossy and fake, and there's a noticeable shift in the color of the field as it comes in). And throughout they're using the sort of cheats that'd be necessary to mask edits in real footage, but that wouldn't be necessary if it were all digital. (Such as the way they dive into foliage whenever the landscape changes, or the way the (real) clouds all fade to a plain blue gradient at 2:00 before the (digital) footage that follows kicks in.)

I know you theoretically could do all this digitally these days, but just in terms of production costs, I'd think a few walks in the woods would take a lot less time, effort, and $$ than building it all from scratch.
posted by ook at 2:02 PM on August 22, 2008

the sky has to be cg, as it shows the moon setting in (presumably) the west, and then the sun rising from the same direction. It didn't appear that the movement curves 180 degrees in the night.
posted by nushustu at 2:27 PM on August 22, 2008

I don't see how you come to that conclusion, given that there are obvious edits between the 'moon' and 'sun' shots.

The moon itself is, I'm guessing, CG; that shot looks like it was done in daylight and then color-adjusted (you can watch the color transition begin at 1:00; the diagonal 'rays' later on are also obviously matted in). At 1:27 when you go under the mountain it's obviously composited (the 'underside' looks like a flat field inverted and rotoscoped onto a real hillside above it). Later when the "sun" rises it does so over real-looking footage -- but it turns into a ball of light sitting on the ground which the camera passes; not typical sun behavior so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's fake too.

It doesn't follow that all or even most of the clouds in the entire video are matted in; doing so convincingly would be a lot of work and (I believe) unnecessary.

(And now I've spent way, way too much time analyzing the details of a video that I don't even like the song for, so I'm going to stop.)
posted by ook at 2:47 PM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, my instincts tell me that the verisimilitude of the landscapes would be SO much work to reproduce digitally that it would be far easier to just shoot it.

Reading ook's reply and re-watching the video carefully, Occam's Razer would suggest that it was simple time-lapse photography over multiple landscapes heavily post-processed.

Thank you for all your answers, much appreciated.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 4:46 PM on August 22, 2008

I disagree that it would be that hard to make. Good 3D software makes this stuff trivial, you just need a good render engine. Look at the weird, obviously fake trees towards the end, other than the fact that the trees are obviously fake, the shot matches the more "real" looking stuff at the beginning.

You could practically autogenerate these landscapes, and then you move through them so quickly that you can't see the places where they are imperfect. All the stuff I read online, not just the wikipedia article, indicates that this video is entirely computer generated.

However, for you and your film making needs, you could absolutely get a similar effect with a camera. It would just be much harder for you to fly across rivers and lakes, however, whereas a computer can do that trivially.
posted by MythMaker at 5:19 PM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: And would a CG version also have that same stop-motion-y feel to the camera movement? That's another detail that really makes me feel like it's been shot - the camera jitter and shake is totally consistent with a time-lapse travelling shot.

If so, let me ask a follow-up question - how long would it take to do a video like this using the CG technology you're familiar with?

MythMaker, can you point me to some of the things you read online?
posted by Bobby Bittman at 6:06 PM on August 22, 2008

Good 3D software makes this stuff trivial

I'd really like to know what software would make auto-generating trees at the level of detail shown in this video trivial. No snark, I'm serious, I could really use that.
posted by ook at 9:14 PM on August 22, 2008

The handheld quality can be added with a plugin during editing like, say, G Earthquaker in Shake mode, dialed very low, which makes a lovely looking handheld. It would give you exactly this effect.

As I look at it again, by the way, one of the giveaways is the perfect horizon line - that's just how 3D engines look to me. Oh, and look at something like around 1:53, where the ground and shot match exactly what it looked like before, but the trees are a simplified model.

Perhaps I misspoke when I called it trivial. There's definitely time involved (For one person, I would guess a minimum of a month, considering the amount of terrain generated, plus render time), but there are ways to be efficient. For the ground, you can make a patch of grass and then duplicate it a bunch of times to make the field. You can do the same for the woods.

You can use pre generated high quality models for all the rocks and trees and grass. Obviously Bryce wasn't the software used, because its models aren't as good as this (particularly look at the leaf closeups during the video, they're really quite good). It's probably Maya or something on that level. Here's a list of the big programs.

One super important part of it is the quality of the render engine. It may, in some ways, be the single most important part of why this looks photoreal. This is being rendered with a very good looking render engine (which will take a while to render, probably across multiple machines). It's hard to know which one they used, but it's obviously one of the top ones just by the look.

The speed that the camera moves is critically important. If you pause while the camera is moving, you can see the imperfections on some of their models. Motion blur really does help these things, as does the fake camera shake.

But, all of that said, you could so this in-camera, you just aren't going to fly under mountains or over rivers. It would be time consuming, and you'd be fighting the sun if you wanted a long enough shot, but you could do the realistic parts of this in-camera.
posted by MythMaker at 3:07 PM on August 23, 2008

Here we go: directed by Alex & Martin of Partizan, "incorporates both live action and animation in a way not seen before". Can't find any more detailed description of the exact technique, but that's from the horse's mouth (or at least the horse's production company's mouth).
posted by ook at 4:22 PM on August 23, 2008

Fair enough, I'd think they'd know. I'd be interested to know which parts were live action and which 3D, then... fascinating...
posted by MythMaker at 4:24 PM on August 23, 2008

It kind of is; the more I look at it now the more I'm questioning what's real and what isn't. Pretty cool. It's nice work, no matter how they did it.
posted by ook at 8:31 PM on August 23, 2008

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