Download garageband.wmv clip here before you begin.
I direct and post all the spots for Walter E. Smithe Furniture here in Chicago. The company is owned by three regular guy brothers who have become famous locally for spoofing various pop culture events. The example spot was influenced by the U2 spot promoting a popular mp3 device (wink wink). The Smithes call it the Garage Band spot. As always, the challenge is to deliver big budget Hollywood-like effects on a local furniture company budget.
I shot the guys against a green screen to extract the figures and assemble them in the After Effects 3D world. For the past few years I have migrated from 35mm film to HD acquisition. Panasonics Varicam is my first choice for shooting and I have found that it allows for the best keys when shooting green screen.
Unless you're recording into a deck with 4:4:4 color space, HD can be a bit temperamental in pulling keys. You really need to light the green backing evenly and at a proper exposure. This will make life simple in post. Don't even attempt shooting green screen with DV. It's just doesn't have the resolution needed. Rent an HD camera. In the end, the extra expense will seem minor.
When I'm doing a lot of compositing and effects work I always shoot 30 progressive fps so I have a pull down-free, frame to frame relationship in post. I would do this even if shooting on film. The look is not much different than 24p but it is still plenty different than the video feel of 60i (interlaced fields).
In addition to the three Smithe brothers, and a dancer, I shot several pieces of furniture to flesh out the environment. I could have shot stills of the furniture but I wanted every scene to have some motion so I rented a sturdy turntable (painted green) that could handle the weight of my actors and furniture. I was even able to fit the drum kit on the turntable (barely) with Walt Smithe banging away. I only rotated him about 45 degrees just to give a sense of parallax with the foreground drums.
For our lead vocalist, Tim Smithe, I rotated him a full 360 degrees. He would be at the center of the scene with his brothers and furniture rotating around him. The rotating figures make all the difference in selling the 3D world.
I know what some of you techies are thinking. Shouldn't the lights be rotating with the actor so the shadowing on his figure is constant? Well, yes. But nobody will know the difference when you put it all together, unless, I suppose, you light him from only one side. For this spot I would be stripping out the color and darkening the figures so lighting was even less of an issue.
All of the actors and furniture were shot separately with the camera locked off and were later assembled and arranged in After Effects 3D space. The scenes with the guys interacting with each other were shot together.
It's important to capture your subjects with as much resolution as possible which will allow for better scaling opportunities in post. For the actors, I mounted the camera on its side so the 16:9 area was filled from top to bottom with their figures. I framed them as close as possible while leaving a small amount of room for their body motion. When I shot the dancer, I told her to keep her arms and legs tight to the body when she was in profile so as not to dip out of frame.
I had the footage down-converted to standard def for editing. I loaded the footage into my Edit system (Leitch Velocity) and did a rough edit to the music. Once I had an edit list, I took the clips into After Effects for treatment. This is where we have fun.
This particular treatment was easy to create since it had no discernible backgrounds. It was just the band members and some furniture to arrange in 3D over a solid color.
I brought the select clips into a comp and using keylight, I extracted the figures from their backgrounds. Some masking was necessary to clean up their feet on the turntable. I also used keylights foreground color corrector to desaturate, darken and then add some blue back in.
Since I shot my actors to fill the 16:9 frame, It allowed for great flexibility to fly my camera in and out from the subject without losing any resolution. I rotated the figures back to their upright position and clicked on the layers 3D button.
I added a camera to the comp with a focal length of 28mm. This is wide enough to allow for some vibrant spatial movement in 3D space without feeling confined. You can play with different focal lengths by adjusting the zoom parameter of the layer but wider lenses will always yield the best results when employing athletic camera moves.
The cameras point of interest (POI) has been a nuisance to many users who find it difficult to manipulate two separate parameters for camera animation. However, if understood properly, the POI can be your best friend. Rather than setting keyframes for XYZ camera rotational values, I just animate the POI to steer the camera in the proper direction. By holding down the ctrl key (cmnd-Mac) you can lock the POIs position while adjusting the XYZ positions of the camera. If you don't hold down the ctrl key, the camera and its POI will move in tandem- which can also be useful.
In addition to your main viewing comp, open another comp view and set it for top. Your layer and camera arrangement is usually best viewed from the top. I change views frequently to adjust the positions of the layers.
For this project I added a null layer and parented the camera to it. Make sure the 3D button for the null is clicked on then drag the cameras parent pick wick to the null layer. The null will only serve to manipulate the Y axis rotation of the camera. On the null layer, set a keyframe for Y rotation at frame one. Move down to the end of the shot and set the rotation to 35 degrees or so. You will see the camera perfectly rotate around the center point. Of course, you will need to pull the camera away from the center while maintaining the POIs center position. Just hold down the ctrl key while dragging the camera back on its Z axis.
Because AE uses flat 2D layers in a 3D world it is important to keep the camera from revealing the edges of the layer. The easiest way to accomplish this is to orient the layer toward camera. (Layer/Transform/Auto Orient) However, this method will slant the subject off the ground if the camera moves above or below the center point which can look goofy. For this project I wanted the subject to always be perpendicular to the floor with feet secured to the ground. Orientation toward camera needs to occur only on the y axis. A simple expression will accomplish this.
In the timeline, reveal the null layers y rotation and do the same for the layer we need oriented toward camera. Highlight the Y rotation of the subjects layer. Under animation add an expression. Now click the pick whip and drag it to the Nulls Y rotation parameter.
Click graphic above to see larger image
Repeat this for any other layers in the scene that need to be facing camera. That's all there is to it. Now the null layer will control the camera rotation as well as rotating the layers in the scene to always face camera.
I'm a big fan of camera movement. Even in my untreated live action spots, I always try and have a dolly on set to move the camera. For the Garage Band spot, all of the principal photography was captured with the camera locked off, but the final composites have plenty of camera motion. The setup for all the scenes was exactly as described above. The null rotated the camera around the scene while the cameras Z axis was key framed for the push-ins and outs toward the subject.
Even in a practical setting it would be difficult to have a camera rotate and dolly out from a subject at the same time for 360 degrees. This would have to be a complex camera rig that would probably knock the actors over on the way out to their final position. This is a great advantage in creating your 3D camera moves in post.
The most complex shot in the spot was the big spin. Since I shot Tim Smithe rotating 360 degrees, all I had to do was match that with my 3D camera using the null rotation settings. I positioned the furniture and the other brothers around Tim from the top view and added my rotation expressions so they would all be oriented toward camera.
From the front view, I made sure that all the objects and people were standing on the same plane so that it looked correct when we fly the camera around them. Also, I added a white Smithe logo on the floor underneath the band to connect it together. Having at least one ground layer makes the environment feel like a real 3D space when we spin our camera around.
To position the Smithe logo, I rotated it 90 degrees on its X axis then changed the view to front and dropped its position to ground level. (Just below the feet of the actors and furniture.) From the top view I scaled, positioned and rotated the logo to taste. I should also note that it is not necessary to grab the XYZ handles to position a layer. From any view, you can grab the layer anywhere to drag it into place without being confined to the up-down, left-right handles. This allows you to move the layer at angles other than X and Y. Obviously, you cannot position Z space this way without grabbing the Z handle.
After matching the rotation of Tims spin to the camera, I positioned the camera to start in tight and pull back to reveal the world. All of the motion in that scene was built from six key frames, two for the nulls rotation and four for the POI and the cameras Z and Y position. (I adjusted the height of the camera as we pull out.)
It took some time to layout the objects around Tim so the camera choreography felt right throughout the move. I wanted objects to pass in front and behind him to allow for some nice parallax as we spiral out from him. I turned on motion blur to have some natural blur on the outer objects which were moving fast. The furnitures rotation, while not perfect, makes the move more convincing. Of course, the other Smithe brothers on drums and guitar would technically be rotating 360 degrees if it were real life but its such a frenetic scene that I dont think anyone cares.
There are limitations to the After Effects 3D world but with a little preparation in your shooting, you will be able to assemble some cool scenes.
Go to Bill's site to see more of his work: www.chicagospots.com
You might also find Bill's Depth of Field tutorial of interest.
Discuss this technique or others in the After Effects forum at CreativeCOW.net.