Digital Domain helped legendary Spike Jonze produce the new incredible Kenzo World perfume spot featuring the great choreography of Ryan Heffington and brilliant cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema.
Janelle Croshaw, DD Visual Effects Supervisor teamed up with director Spike Jonze again to launch new scent under Kenzo’s newest creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. The 3 1/2 min short film for Kenzo World, titled “My Mutant Brain” starring Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers).
Croshaw’s previous credits include Her with Jonze, not that she is limited to features. She was instrumental in the Tupac hologram at Coachella and fxguide has also spoken with her in the past regarding her dramatic VR work Evolution of Verse.
Hoyte van Hoytema, known so well for his outstanding cinematography on such feature films as Spectre, Interstellar and who was DOP on Spike Jonze Her, once again delivers imagery that seems deceptively simple and clean.
Avoiding the visual richness of shallow depth of field and fast cutting, the frame is compelling and crisp. Of course as any reader of fxguide would have noted, the vast mirror staircase sequence for example is impossible to shoot with revealing the crew, lights, and camera.
“It’s always great collaborating with Spike, and assisting him to achieve the vision of his storytelling,” Croshaw said. “The infinity mirror shot, was probably the hardest paint/environment shot I’ve seen in a long time.”
The short film starts out with Margaret inattentively sitting at a fancy dinner event. She exits the stuff room and enters into the mirrored halls of L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Qualley’s charismatic dancing takes over, as she springs through the halls in a full-body frenzy, showing off her best high kicks, back flips, and her astounding ability to effortlessly shoot laser beams from her fingertips.
Margaret Qualley moves courtesy of choreographer Ryan Heffington, who is well known for his equally subversive work with Sia (her music video “Chandelier”). This was his first time working with Jonze. “He’s incredible,” Heffington told Vogue referring to the director. There were only a few days of prepping and workshopping a movement vocabulary,” as Heffington calls it.Heffington combined Jonze’s highly conceptual ideas with the 21-year-old actress’s own balletic training. “She was incredibly gung ho to fall off stages and run up stairs in heels—super athletic,” he adds.
Given the freewheeling spirit of the performance, much of the choreography was improvised on set by Qualley, while Jonze and Heffington looked on—the particularly surrealist sequence where she interacts with a sculpted bust, that was all her. “A couple times, Spike would just say, ‘let’s have her improv,’ and she would kill it,” Heffington commented to Vogue. Interestingly Qualley is is Andie MacDowell’s daughter and this spot is set to rocket her career.
Jonze’s own brother Sam Spiegel, along with Ape Drums, provides the film’s great soundtrack, – the song “Mutant Brain” .
Digital Domain also created the laser beams and wreckage from them in the hall, as well as the incredible flying of Qualley through the exploding flower petal eye. Croshaw worked closely with the art department to provide a seamless and compelling piece that has reset the standard on perfume advertising.
fxguide got to speak toVFX Supervisor Janelle Croshaw, asking some questions from our fxinsider members.
1. Can you discuss more on the removal of the camera and lighting from the mirrors please?
When Spike first told me about the cleanup for the infinity mirror shot he showed me a recorded previz take with Ryan Heffington shot on his iphone. I thought ok, this won’t be so bad, assuming it was a handheld shot. It wasn’t until rehearsal that Hoyte van Hoytema, the DP, explained the technocrane move he had planned. I spent a fair amount of time trying to convince Hoyte to shoot a handheld shot to eliminate the need for so much cleanup in the infinity mirrors. My argument was futile. The smooth and effortless move he desired was only achievable with the technocrane. In the end the techno move was well worth it. It was a thing of beauty to watch that massive piece of equipment slink in and out of such a beautiful and fragile setting around the actress.
Doron Kipper and Jesse James Chisolm spent hours surveying the mirrored staircase. They used tiny pieces of tape on the mirrors to capture the points needed. Lots and lots of panos and hdrs were taken. During the shoot a clean plate was captured with the technocrane without Margaret and then the techno was cleared out and a clean plate was captured with a handheld cam. Spike and team were super cooperative in clearing the frame for as long as we needed which was very cool considering those mirrors pretty much reflected two whole floors of the Dorothy Chandler theater.
All of the data collected enabled us to build an environment in Nuke and also achieve a camera track usable for projections. The tracking geo was mirrored to represent the reflections in the mirror and that mirrored geo was used to muscle through the matchmove. It wasn’t easy and Jim Moorhead, our matchmove artist put so much care in to this shot. In the end there was a lot of hand painted cleanup and the shot was split amongst two companies and multiple artists. Rob Fitzsimmons became the keeper of the shot managing the paint patches and ensuring the quality level was kept to the highest standards. His perfectionism and strong eye made the shot as seamless as it is.
2. When she jumps on the seat in front of the curved wall- I assume her arms were digitally manipulated – were they digital or was that a comp trick?
Ha, I’d love to say that we digitally manipulated her arms but that was all Margaret Qualley. Not only did she do that with her arms and legs in camera but she did it on point at 4am in the morning. In those shots the only vfx element was the tapestry behind Margaret.
3. Can you discuss the dramatic rig jump at the end? It seems like it was wire work, but what was added ? I assume the rig was removed…
When Margaret does her ninja fly through the Kenzo eye at the end of the film it’s the finale to her epic dance journey. Spike and KK Barrett, the production designer, wanted it to be as much in camera as possible. Our original plan was for rig removal only with the confetti, breakage, and environment captured in camera. Margaret was on a harness rig hanging by a massive truss that catapulted her through the air in one smooth move. Once again she blew everyone away with her athleticism and stamina. It was again 4am in the morning. It was as freezing as it gets in LA and all of the crew were in big jackets and beanies and here’s Margaret in her dress doing take after take.
The first practical element to be scrapped was the confetti. It turns out the cleanup would take far too long and daylight was fast approaching. There was also a fountain in the plaza that was covered up to be able to achieve the shot and there was concern that the confetti would clog the fountain. Luckily there had been a lot of filmed rehearsals of the confetti leading up to the shoot so we had tons of great reference for what Spike liked.
Next we realized the environment would need to be recreated to be minimal and clean. The camera moves desired left the truss in frame, compositionally the shots needed the buildings in the background modified, a massive Christmas tree needed to be removed from the plaza and last minute Spike made the call to raise the eye making the need for the ground to be recreated. Originally the eye was sitting on the ground but it made the jump less dramatic. Raising the eye gave the whole frame room to breath giving Margaret the hang time Spike was after. In the end Benjamin Nowak did an amazing job recreating the entire environment with painted projections.
The last item to go away on set (or so I thought at the time) was Margaret actually breaking through the eye. It was taking too long to reset the practical eye breakage and KK wanted to see more pieces broken so we decided it would be added and enhanced in cg. It would also make our life easier not having to do any rig removal inside of the practical breakage. As is often the case with our luck in vfx, during the edit phase Spike and EZ, the editor, fell in love with one of the original takes. It was easy to see why. When Margaret was actually breaking through the eye it had such a raw, gritty feeling to it. Spike really didn’t want it artificial in any way, especially her performance. This is where our CG sup, Brian Gazdik and his team, took over. We kept 100% of Margaret’s performance but had to modify and recreate all of the breakage, confetti and eye around her to give it the explosive energy Spike was after.
4. Tech specs: what was it shot on please (camera and resolution etc)?
Shot on Alexa. Finished 2880×1620.
- thanks Janelle, exceptional work as always.
Spot Title: My Mutant Brain
Director/Writer: Spike Jonze
Product: Kenzo World perfume
Choreographer: Ryan Heffington
Director of Photography: Hoyte van Hoytema