Sharks might fly

In 2001, Jeremy Hunt ushered in an era of internet viral videos after creating 405 with Bruce Branit, in which a passenger jet has a close encounter on an LA freeway. Now the owner and lead artist at Screaming Death Monkey, Hunt returned to that indie ‘get the job done’ approach for his latest project – a surreal music promo for Billy Talent’s ‘Surprise, Surprise’ involving fighter jets, pigs and flying sharks. Here’s how Hunt completed 131 shots in just four weeks using LightWave 3D, eyeon Fusion and Autodesk’s Smoke 2013. And see a befores and afters clip of the video.

– Watch a befores and afters comparison.

fxg: This music video has a pretty distinctive sort of old-school style. What was the idea behind it?

Hunt: The director, Michael Maxxis, hit me with this weird idea of a dystopian hipster land, with the band flying fighter jets. At the beginning he saw it as a mixture of stop motion animation traditionally done and CG. That quickly evolved into all CG simply because we didn’t have time. We didn’t go stop motion with the animation necessarily, but I still wanted to give it a surreal look with a flat sort of feeling.

The director had some strong reference from old films and paintings. There was also a designer who designed the interior of the Pig King’s lair and the logos and matte paintings. I took all that stuff, put it in a big blender, and started shooting shots out.

Original plate.
Final shot.

fxg: Where was it filmed?

Hunt: They shot it all in Toronto, and unfortunately because of scheduling I wasn’t able to be on set. They filmed at an aviation military museum where they pulled out an old F-86 to shoot on and they got full access to play around the planes.

fxg: What was your approach to the cockpit shots?

Hunt: There were three or four different ways of doing that depending on what the shot needed – there was the straight A over B utilizing the plane itself mostly. Unfortunately the plane they used was a bright yellow-ish toke color and the concepts called for specific designs for each of the band members, so there was a lot of roto and color correction even on the most basic shots. We would cut the cockpit out and put it on a full CG plane from different angles.

Because all the shots were lock-offs, technically – we did a lot of stablilization of the footage because it was really windy that day – we then added camera movement to that based on what the shot called for. We mostly added subtle bobbing and weaving just to make it feel like the camera and the plane were disconnected.

Shooting in the yellow helicopter.
Final shot.

fxg: How were the backgrounds achieved?

Hunt: I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to design a unique background for every beat in the story, so I built an 8K matte painting that I knew I could punch into and move around. Before they get to the city there are some cloud elements layered together to give a sense of depth, and once they get into the city it’s mostly utilizing that matte painting over and over and being judicious with the time we had to best tell the story.

fxg: One unique design is the snake/dragon plane – can you talk about that?

Hunt: Well, the two different elements I was given were the sharks and the snake plane. We had access to this weird, yellow late-50s helicopter thing and we knew we could access to the cockpit and then blend it together into a snake/dragon. Michael just wanted this surreal feeling for the bad guys, with the band being more based in reality with their flying machines.

Original plate.
Final shot.

fxg: How did you do the skeleton shot?

Hunt: That was originally meant to be very stop-motion-y but we knew we wouldn’t have time to do that. It was also an example of not everything turning out the way it was supposed to, from the crew bringing charred remains that the director wasn’t totally thrilled with the shot not being what we had envisioned. We were going to cut it – it was on the cutting room floor but the band loved the idea so much, so we kept it in.

Because we used real fire elements, I wasn’t so concerned about it feeling real – they’re locked to the motion of the guy. The intention was that it looked funny. It’s one of those things that none of us were happy with until the very end when we said, ‘Oh, this works on a weird level.’

Original plate.
Final shot.

fxg: What tools did you use for the effects?

Hunt: We used LightWave 3D for all of the planes and snake/dragon aircraft. I used eyeon Fusion for the composites and then we finished everything and did all the conforms in Smoke 2013, which was a massive lifesaver on this project. I did 99% of the work myself.
At one point I really sat back and thought, wow, with these three tools, which are pretty accessibly to anybody, I was able to do 131 shots in four weeks and have it all accessible to me right on my desk – especially considering Smoke is ‘free’ at the moment (in beta). It reinvigorated me in a way to this whole world we find ourselves in.