Two music vids featuring CG effects and animation by French studio Digital District were recently nominated in the best VFX category at the UK music video awards. The videos, for Massive Attack and Justice, were both directed by Edouard Salier. We talk to Digital District’s Thomas Marque about the work.

Massive Attack – Atlas Air

fxg: This is such a beautiful and frenetic spot – how did you approach the CG and vfx work – was there a rough edit or previs done to establish the camera moves and where your shots would fit in?

Marque: Edouard Salier wanted the clip to be a sequence shot. It was the starting point and also the longest work on this project. He wanted to be free regarding the character actions and also the framing. He wanted to remain as free as possible during the fabrication process.The main idea was that the character was always on the run or in search of something. Day after day we were trying to find some fresh and compelling ideas. That is how the action has been built.

fxg: How did you build into that character the X-ray and minor shape shifting effects?

Marque: Like a real character, we made a 3D model with a skeleton and muscles covered with skin. We calculated, separately, the images of these three layers representing the character along the entire length of the clip. Then by using image processing software, After Effects, we were able to use this X-ray effect any time we wanted in the video.

fxg: How did you build the environments in the music video, such as the polygon-like setting, the airplanes and the city? What kind of live action elements are in there (ie like fire and explosions)?

Marque: Everything in this video has been made in 3D. The environment is also in full 3D. Again we used 3ds Max. The shatter effect was made with thinkingParticles.

fxg: What kind of compositing challenges were there and what tools did you use for this ?

Marque: We used After Effects. There were many difficulties but I would say that the most complicated ones for compositing was that the camera continuously alternates between different types of framing (wide shots, mid shots, close shots, etc.) and we had to adapt, by animating, all the effects and treatment we were making on screen.


Justice – Civilization

fxg: Can you describe your brief from the director in terms of the look and mood he was going for?

Thomas Marque: In the beginning, Edouard Salier, the director, wanted to make a world tour of natural disasters with no main character, just a succession of magnificent shots and unbridled nature. The event of the Japanese tsunami changed everything and because of it we were not able to continue with this idea and the production asked Edward to consider another approach for the video.

Edward really wanted to go on with this disaster idea but he decided to put the action in a more dream-like world, almost extraterrestrial with human elements, the monuments. Then Edward chose the buffalo as a symbol of humanity and civilization and the sets have evolved from super realistic to almost unreal and very graphic.

fxg: Were there live action pieces shot for the video?

Marque: Nothing has been shot in this video, the film is entirely in CG, because Edward wanted to keep a lot of flexibility and be totally free regarding the frames and sets.

fxg: How were the rocky cliff environments and the statues shot or built? What references did you look to?

Marque: We needed a magnificent setting – the Grand Canyon has been the main reference to integrate the statues and monuments in the rock and create a strong contrast between nature and civilization. Everything was done in 3D in a conventional way in 3ds Max.

fxg: How were the rock fracturing effects carried out?

Marque: The effects of stylized fractures and the smaller remains were made with the plugin thinkingParticles in Max. The smoke was made in FumeFX, also in 3ds Max. This technique allowed us to centralize all the steps of creation without using too many different pieces of software.

fxg: Tell me about the buffalo – what approach did you take to their animation, including when in crowds, and the fur?

Marque: Unlike the highly stylized settings, Edward wanted the buffalo to be very realistic, so it was decided to simulate the fur in the most realistic way. The buffalo were the most complex part of the film, they are often present and are numerous but not enough to use a crowd management tool. They have been arranged in groups with about thirty different animations. The hardest part was the buffalo fur so we have optimized the scenes by degrading the quality of hair depending on the distance to the camera. We used hair and fur in Max.

fxg: What was the lighting and rendering solution you used?

Marque: Most of the time in our films we use V-Ray, a tried and tested rendering method. Compositing was handled in After Effects and Flame.

You can check out the other UK music video awards nominees (and winner) by clicking the links below:

Klaxons – Twin Flames (Blind Pig at Absolute) – Winner

Memory Tapes – Yes I Know (Eric Epstein) – some behind the scenes info here.

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – 3 Dreams of Black starring Norah Jones – fxguide covered the work for this interactive piece by Mirada here.

Woodkid – Iron (One More Production)

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