DD’s latest with Linkin Park

Despite the recent turmoil relating to the Digital Domain Media Group, DD itself and its commercial production sister company Mothership are still cranking out extraordinary work. We talk to visual effects supervisor Richard Morton about the newly released Linkin Park music promo for ‘Castle of Glass’, part of the launch of EA’s ‘Medal of Honor Warfighter’ game.

The promo, directed by Drew Stauffer and Jerry O’Flaherty, tells the story of a child learning that his father has been killed on the battlefield. To depict the child’s world on hearing the news, Linkin Park is seen performing in a room that literally collapses around them, before opening up into storm-ridden void. Shards of glass surround the players and occasional gameplay from ‘Warfighter’ is also part of the clip.

Watch DD’s making of for Castle of Glass.

All of the plates of the band were filmed against greenscreen, with the house interiors filmed separately and re-created in CG for their destruction by DD. “One of the more challenging shots was the introduction of band member, Mike,” says Morton. “We shot him on greenscreen on one type of rig and then when we shot the background plate we were in a much more confined space and we shot at a different frame rate and slightly different position so our challenge was to marry the two together. At one point we actually give way to a fully CG room after we pass the floor.”

Artists modeled a CG room to match the real location based on reference photography. DD then relied on Houdini and Maya particles for the cracking and destruction effects – after doing several timing test sims – as the room gives way to the storm and void. Speaking about the void Morton says, “Everything close-up was more hi-res in terms of sculpting the cracks, We did a shading pass on that and handed over to our matte painter who enhanced it significantly.”

The initial destruction is also punctuated by out of focus particles and lens flares. “We tried to make it true to being shot live action and we wanted to add in a lot of depth,” says Morton. “We wanted the room to disintegrate behind him, but also have this happening right in front of the camera. It really was our goal to create destruction that can be beautiful.”

A storm brews as the band is now seen performing on a volcanic landscape. For the void, Morton co-ordinated a reference study for the clouds and debris, and created mock-ups of the environment for the directors. “That’s how we ended up with those hexagonal shapes that are created by lava flow, and the way lava cools,” he says. “Also, we knew we had to have them standing on platforms so that was my jumping off point with what could be multi-level and still be interesting.”

Substantial match-moving of band members and instruments was carried out to help integrate them into these shots, which was completed in Nuke. “I didn’t want to make the band feel like it was cut out and sandwiched between debris,” notes Morton. “We had to make sure our tracks were solid, and that the band members were in physically the right location. In some shots we re-created CG shadows that were shot through their own alpha channels.”

A signature shot sees one of the band members collect a shard of broken glass in mid-air, which DD created digitally from a practical set-up. “I’ve actually done several shows with CG glass,” recalls Morton, “so I went into this project with a plan and I knew compositing and rendering-wise what I was going to do to make this glass shot work. For on set, we created several shard ‘wires’ and the directors picked their favorite. We kept that and brought it back to DD and created our shard to match it. We went through variations of shards that were thin or more cracked and got to this one.”

The promo’s final shots depict a clearing storm as sunset arrives. DD worked from an initial orange-gradient concept of the band on a tarmac, designed to show the child has now found peace, and to provide a clear end to the story being told in the music video. “What EA is doing with their games, I don’t think anyone else is doing,” suggests Morton. “They’re really paying attention to the story, the emotion behind the characters. It’s a music video but by the end you’re feeling something for them.”