How do you bring together almost 30 famous musicians and have them sing – in a single place – a remake of The Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’? That’s the task the BBC set itself to help launch BBC Music, with butterflies and bubbles and a Bengal tiger all thrown in for good measure. With skilled CG and compositing artistry The Mill helped construct the Francois Rousselet-directed promo, via Karmarama and Redbee Media, in just over eight weeks and with around 30 artists, combining footage of artists shot over a year into one location – Alexandra Palace – as well as crafting the digital elements. Visual effects supervisor/2D lead artist Hugo Guerra and fellow 2D lead artist Zoe Cassey-Hayes tell us how and we showcase a large collection of behind the scenes photos and video.
– Watch the promo
Planning the promo: “It was very complicated to organize and from a logistically point of view very challenging,” says Guerra. “We made a storyboard early on but because of artist availability we had to be very flexible with the story and sometimes decisions had to happen very close to the shoot days.”
Filming approach: “The filming started in late 2013 with Sir Elton John and finished with David Grohl in the summer of 2014,” notes Guerra. “All in all I was on set 12 times for almost 1 year to film all the pieces of this huge puzzle. All the twenty-seven music stars were filmed on a green screen in several locations. We had to be very careful on set making sure everything was photographed and logged so we could replicate camera moves, lens info, lighting setups, matching scale and colour temperature. Both me, David Fleet (Joint Head of 3D) of and Luke Colson (EP) had many meetings with the DOPs, set designers and the director making sure everything was working since sometimes we filmed elements several months apart of each other.”
Alexandra Palace environments: Guerra: “The matte painting team lead by Can Y. Sanalan worked on creating the Alexandra Palace backdrops, as well as conceptualising and creating the final ethereal cloud scenes from scratch. We photographed thousands of photos onset of textures, HDRI’s and lighting references of Alexandre Palace to help the team create the backdrops. Most of them where then composited with the help of set extension and projection done in Flame and NUKE’s 3D systems.”
Lorde’s wings: “The CG wings were masterfully created and animated by our 3D artist Adam Droy,” says Cassey-Hayes. “First of all they had to be lit to match Lorde’s plate. When it came to the comp, however, we also wanted to create a bit of back lighting through the wings the help them feel a little lighter and transparent in the thinner areas around the bottom.”
“We wanted her shot to look moody and beautiful at the same time without feeling dark or scary,” adds Cassey-Hayes. “We added real lighting passes and particles that we have in our database to add atmosphere to the scene, combined with flares to add colour. It was a fine balance and we used many different passes from CG to create the final look. The orchestra was shot on a completely different day and at a different location so careful planning and compositing were carried out in order to stitch them together seamlessly.”
How Brian Wilson met a tiger: “We built a huge forest set for Brian Wilson with NUKE’s 3D system using hundreds of 2D layers of leaves, forest parts, plants, etc all filmed onset after we finished filming Florence’s forest shots,” explains Guerra. “We used the same technique for Stevie Wonder.”See how NUKE’s 3D system was used for the tiger shot.
Kylie Minogue’s bubbles: “The bubbles were created in Maya by 3D artist Jules Janaud,” notes Cassey-Hayes. “We used images captured on set to create reflections and to help light the bubbles. However, this did not always give us the most beautiful look we were trying to achieve. We had to try numerous times to create bubbles that not only looked the part, but also felt like they were realistically within the scene they were composited into. Amongst reflections we wanted to create a petrol in water effect – which added colour and texture without obscuring our heroine Kylie sat within. She was put through the same refraction process that we would expect to see looking through a bubble to help bed her in.
Clouds and balloons: States Cassey-Hayes: “Our CG cloud lead was artist Adam Droy, who created them using Houdini. The were very unpredictable and difficult to control, so forward planning was imperative and we had to have concept drawings and layouts locked down early in the process to give us time to experiment with things like movement and density within the clouds. As we know all the artists were shot on green screen and making them look part of the environment was a task in itself. Careful painstaking compositing involving flares, colour correction and even cheating the lighting were all tricks we used to achieve this.
Using The Foundry’s HIERO: “It was a big part of the process, I used HIERO on every conform, VFX editorial task, client review and WIP generation during the entire production. Our R&D team has developed a very strong HIERO pipeline in The Mill so it was great to use it in this project, especially because of the fast way it can update the timeline with new versions.”
Final feather shot – real or CG? “In complete contrast to the various preceding shots involving the feather,” says Cassey-Hayes, “this one was actually captured in camera.”
Grading: “This project was entirely composited using specific viewing LUTs from The Mill,” outlines Guerra. “This way we never baked any grading until the last session and this was carried out by colourist Mike Vincent. Working this way was the best solution for maintaining the full dynamic range of the Alexa camera during the entire process, this also really helped in compositing, tracking and specially keying all that flying hair in the balloons shots.”
Watch a timelapse of one of the days of the shoot.
Producer: Joanna Yaldham
Creative Director: Sam Walker and Joe De Souzay
Production Company: Red Bee Media
Director: Francois Rousselet (Riff Raff)
Producer: Joanna Yeldham
Director of Photography: Ed Wild, Denzil Armour-Brown, Philipp Blaubach, Richard Mott, Michael Pescasio
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Amanda James
Audio Post Facility: Grand Central Recording Studios
Sound Mix: Munzie Thind
Post-Production / VFX Company: The Mill
Executive Producer: Gemma Humphries
Production Assistant: Clare Melia
Shoot Supervisor: Hugo Guerra
3D Cloud Lead: Adam Droy
2D Lead Artists: Zoe Cassey-Hayes, Hugo Guerra
2D Artists: Alex Candlish, Richard McKeand, Grant Connor, Gary Driver, Siro Valente, Kirti Dave, Justin Gros-Desir, Anne-Sofie Tholander, Jeanette Eiternes, Eleanor Risdon, Gianluca Di Marco
3D Artists: Adam Droy, Yoann Gouraud, Christos Pariaros, Michael Balthazart, Margaux Huneau, Luke Tickner, Adam Dewhirst, Vasilis Pazionis, Philip Maddock, Fabrice Le Nezet, Jules Janaud, Daniel Kmet, Emmanuel Strixner, Ashley Reemul, Hugo Jackson, Giancomo Cavalletti
Matte Painting: Can Y Sanalan, Sullivan Richard, German Casado
Colourist: Mick Vincent
Executive Producer: Luke Colson
We've been a free service since 1999 and now rely on the generous contributions of readers like you. If you'd like to help support our work, please join the hundreds of others and become an fxinsider member.