NEW YORK — Director Dave Meyers of Zanmi Films recently worked with Strange Invention's VFX supervisor Todd Sarsfield and the team at Nice Shoes (www.niceshoes.com) to create a music video for the signature song for Disney's new film Alice Through The Looking Glass.
Just Like Fire is performed by Pink and takes the singer through the looking glass and on a fantastical journey as Alice.
Nice Shoes Creative Studio was instrumental in helping to realize a surreal scene in which Pink interacts with 18 different versions of herself that have taken on the roles of the warring black and white factions of a life-sized chessboard. The studio's color & finishing team graded and retouched the entire piece, further aiding Meyers and Pink in reflecting a parallel version of Alice's world through the singer's point of view.
Director of CG Steve Parish at the Creative Studio led the VFX team, who first worked to bring together 18 passes of a continuous :70 second shot, as Pink moves across the chessboard among a fully-CG environment. Meyers and Sarsfield had worked carefully to capture the motion controlled camera move, ensuring that there were no intersections between the characters, but the VFX team had a lot of clean up to do on the chessboard to create a clean plate before adding reflections and shadows to the floor.
"The goal was to create a single camera move over a minute in length that would continuously reveal new moments, and highlight Pink in her various costumes,” explains Sarsfield. “As every ‘chess piece’ and ‘Alice’ was to be played by Pink, there would not be time to have more than six to eight costumes changes. The costume and makeup changes alone required over eight hours. Ultimately, we ended up with over 40 pieces of footage to be seamlessly combined, as well as 18 chess pieces that needed their colors altered, some as dramatically as taking a full black, semi-transparent dress and making it white. Combined with a nearly full synthetic environment, a hybrid of photography and CG, the scene was a significant undertaking."
The Creative Studio team expanded the world beyond the physical board that had been captured on-set, building off Meyers' vision of an outdoor garden inspired by formal European gardens and New York's Oheka Castle.
"There were layers of passes,” says Creative Studio’s Parish, “a sky matte painting that needed to be stitched and crafted, a treeline of Tim Burton-inspired trees, and then in front of that huge topiary statues. Disney provided textured character models of the Red Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the White Rabbit, to which we then applied procedural CG topiary and carefully placed them to work best with the camera move. From a technical standpoint, we used Autodesk's Maya for CG and SolidAngle's Arnold as our renderer; the asset system meant we could get our garden renders down to seven minutes a frame. Compositing was done in The Foundry's Nuke and Autodesk Flame."
Look development ran parallel to the entire VFX process, as Nice Shoes colorist Gene Curley collaborated with the director via remote color sessions, with Meyers supervising from Los Angeles. Curley and Meyers crafted a warm look infused with pastels in support of the fantastical world the team was creating.
"Dave had a really distinct vision for the piece,” recalls Curley. “I loved working with him. We both got on the same page very quickly, and worked together to bring out the pastels he had captured on-set. I think we created a look that maintains strong ties to the feeling of fantasy established in the film series, while also helping the video to stand out on its own."
One major challenge that arose in the chess scene was the need to change the color of Pink's costumes. There weren't enough of each type on-set, and they needed to be adjusted from black to white, red to white, or red to black. Each pass was graded individually by Curley, bringing the costumes to their appropriate colors in Baselight before compositors worked with the elements to bring everything together seamlessly.
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"It wasn't just a matter of simply switching from one color to another," notes color & finishing executive producer Tara Holmes. "Careful collaboration and communication between Gene and the VFX team allowed us to pull this off, and make it look as though these had been the colors captured on-set. The integration between our color and visual effects teams ensured an efficient collaboration with the director, as well as delivery on a tight three week schedule."
Creative Studio EP Angela Bowen adds, "It was really exciting to aid in creating this world that was inspired by the film, but not slavish to it. Pink and Dave Meyers had a vision distinct from the film which afforded some creative freedom in delivering our interpretation of this fantastical world. Todd's direction and oversight provided the continuity between live action and VFX that was critical to the project's success."