EYE OF THE STORM featuring Lovett

Feb 02, 2011  |  Animation, Narrative, Our Work, Visual FX  |  Share  | 
Not long ago, our friends at SoapBox Films approached us to realize the vfx and animation for their new music video EYE OF THE STORM featuring music by artist Ben Lovett on his album HIGHWAY COLLECTION. Director Chris Alender and producer Kris Eber described the project as “the story of a lonely captain who has to unshackle himself from a troublesome past in order to move on to the next chapter in his life.” It’s set in a stylized steampunk world in the clouds, which was immediately exciting to us as artists. Production consisted of a RED (MX) shoot with Ben Lovett decked out in a fluorescent tape costume against blue screen – and not much else. We were tasked to realize the world around their footage within a total of sixty shots.

We had about twelve weeks to do the work, with two to three artists working at any given time. Wes Ball supervised the effort with the help of Brad Hawkins, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Barber, Mark Molnar, and Joy Horvath. We used this project as a test bed for implementing some new tools and workflows into our normal pipeline. All of the compositing was done in After Effects using a 16bit linear workflow in full HD. We spent a lot of time up front developing a complex overall grade that got us close to final images very quickly. Fortunately, the super stylized look we were going for helped us out considerably. We used Modo exclusively for the final cg renders, something a bit out of the norm for us. The process wasn’t without it’s headaches, but working with it’s incredibly fast preview renderer meant we could light and compose shots very quickly. Typically we’d try to nail the look in the render, along with a few helpful passes like Ambient Occlusion and a Depth Pass.

Animation was the big challenge with Modo, as this isn’t exactly the program’s strong suit. We ended up using MDDs exported out of both Maya and Lightwave for our various dynamics and character animation needs. MDDs are native to Lightwave, but we used David Stripinis’ modomotion3 script to get MDDs out of Maya.

For almost every shot, we transferred the 3D camera out of modo into a 3D After Effects environment. That allowed us quick placement of 2D assets into the 3D shots. This helped with building the cloud environments. We mostly used still images of clouds, but occasionally we were able to slip in some custom cloudtank footage shot on RED by Brad Hawkins. He’ll be making those assets available as downloadable VFX assets, so we’ll keep you posted on that.

By the end, we were able to work very efficiently for a project this complex in such a tight turnaround. Surprisingly, a big reason it worked was our use of Dropbox. It really simplified the management; making sure everyone was working with current assets, not to mention the peace-of-mind knowing we had multiple backups for safety. Be sure to take a look at the vfx progression reel below, along with a nifty little behind-the-scenes video cut by the guys at Soap Box. Enjoy!

>VFX Progression Reel

>The Demon

The dragon represents the character’s inner demons. While it only shows up in a few shots, we had a very short time to execute with all the other needs of the project. It started with a concept sketch by Mark Molnar. Once everyone was happy with the design, Joy Horvath stepped in to model the creature in zbrush. Rigging and animation was done inside Lightwave 10 using a fairly standard IK setup along with some soft-dynamics for the wings. Once animation was finished, MDDs were exported and imported into Modo for final texturing and rendering. We used a big family of apps for this one!

>Bluescreen vs Final

In the end, we created 60 shots totaling over 6 minutes of vfx and animation. It all started with the footage shot by cinematographer Craig Kief on RED MX. American Cinematographer ran a great article in the January 2011 issue detailing his process. Below is a side by side comparison of the original bluescreen footage and the final fx work we provided. Use the full screen button to watch in HD.

>Eye of the Storm Behind-the-Scenes



26 Comments


  1. How long did it take for the entire CG to be completed from concept design to final render? Just curious, considering is just a handful of you guys… :)

    • Difficult to say really. They guys at Soap Box brought us on later in the process to handle the visuals. But for us is it was about 12 weeks…. something around 1 shot every 2 days. Of course some shots took hours, others took weeks.

  2. I loved this animation. my dad works at design organization and uses the same software you used to make this video…. Im kind of into animation and blue/green screen effects, and i enjoyed it…..so ya :)

  3. Beautiful work as always. Any particular reason you used the Modo preview over LW10? The Lightning was wonderful, very natural and real. The CG backgrounds were very cool. Great job!

    • LW 10 was in beta while we were working. I played with it, we even did some of the animation in it, but I really do love the renderer in modo. If they can just make the program more robust, bring in a solid animation workflow, it’s going to be a contender. :)

  4. Congratulations guys. You nailed it. The animation fits perfect with the song and put together we get this compelling masterpiece. I’m sharing the video with everyone I know, and they all end up amazed with it.

    Just as a fan of this video, I had to say all that. Keep up the good work. :)

  5. Wow, this is great! This is VERY close to a project I have in the works these next few months. Any advice on what you used for glows, cloud/fog footage, etc? I sense some trapcode and keyed smoke footage in there? Excellent work! Cheers, Andy

  6. Beautiful, beautiful work!

  7. Hi All, I’m new on here and excited to be a part of the threaded

  8. Wow! That is great atmospheric short!
    Flight of the dragon could be better but the entire part of animation just excellent!

  9. Hello all and wonderful work! Being new to keying effects, I’d love to hear what actual After Effects tools were used to pull the florescent colors and a little bit about how it was done? Were they just converted to black and white after they were keyed? Very unique :)

    • Yes. Essentially, we keyed the footage, then turned the character black and white. That gave us decent greyscale tones which were then colorized using the the tint effect. And for particular glows, we would just extract a particular color and colorize and that specific part.

  10. Very educative and inspiring

  11. Bloody hell …. this looks like ILM did this. Great effort and execution. You folks indeed have “the eye.” I cannot believe what you can do in after effects today. I also love the fact that so many suites were used … I’m seeing that this is how it’s done more and more today. I started out in Light Wave … many years ago… good to see it’s still being used. Mixing software gives you an edge I think – people are wondering how you did this. OMG – the mix of old (praticle) and new – ALL of you who worked on this are great artists and techheads! Only crit is… and I know you know this – is the dragon fly off. Given time you had – this is out of the park. I’m showing this to all my peeps.

  12. Where can I get those clouds? I could use those type of clouds.. Love the Atmosphere to bad you did not use Lightwave but everybody has a preference, great job just the same.

    • Still use lightwave. Just not for this one. I did use lightwave to add some plant animation for MDD though.

  13. I have traveled the world and never have I seen or experienced the music like this that touches my soul. I have seen paintings by the greatest artists, been to the most famous opera’s and symphonies. This IS a masterpiece.

  14. i would love to use this outfit at a convention can you tell me what the coat was you used and the head gear please this outfit and video is really amazing and would love to represent it! at a convention

  15. Hey!

    I just wanted to say what a huge inspiration this project and other works of yours are to me. I discovered your website yesterday and i’ve spent two nights browsing through everything. I really love your stuff and i’m looking forward to seeing more from your on-going animation projects.

    All the best to you and thanks for the experience!!!

  16. I’m sure you already know this but someone took this video and paired it with the song “Sail” by AWOLNation on YouTube and together it turned out incredible. Excellent stuff and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

  17. This blew my mind. MAKE A MOVIE OF IT PLEASE!

  18. this by far is awesome! Love the sound; great song! loved the “behind the scenes” and story narrative; sooo cool! can’t wait to explore & discover more :)

  19. Incredible work. Thank you for having such creative minds, you’re creating dreams for the likes of me.

  20. Was all of the keying done in Keylight? I’ve been keying in Keylight for years and though I love it, I tend to have a bit of trouble with dark screens (due to grain) and a dark foreground – both of which are very prominent in the footage you received. I’m just interested if that was a problem at at, and if so how you dealt with it.

    At least you don’t have to deal with spill ;)

    - Spencer

  21. Great job Wes! You guys are doing incredible work. I’d love to pick your brain a bit in regards to your techniques, and software choices.

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