Once fully constructed, the newly animated starlet rises from the laboratory table as part of her gradual transformation from walking mannequin to full human. The inventor also turns out to be an odd human hybrid, revealing a sheen of metallic snakeskin.
"When I first heard the song 'Turn Me On', the imagery for the video came flooding into my head immediately,” notes Sanji. “I envisioned it as more of a cinematic experience than a performance video. The track really spoke to me in a cinematic way.”
To help realize his vision, Sanji approached COPA co-founder and VFX supervisor Alex Frisch with the challenge of designing feature film-level VFX for the music video.
"There were many obvious challenges on this project,” notes Frisch. “COPA's artists worked very closely with Sanji's and Wondros to prepare the shoot and get all of our elements lined up. Sanji, David Guetta and COPA wanted to make sure we were going to create a very cinematic original story, a little film in itself.”
COPA built Nicki Minaj as a full CG doll, while taking special care to maintain 100 percent of her initial movements from pre-shot motion-capture and facial-capture sessions. "Building people in CG is always a challenge, and it becomes even more challenging when your subject is an icon such as Nicki," notes COPA co-founder and compositing supervisor Vico Sharabani. The studio employed 3D scanning and facial capture technology, and combining it with a photorealistic rendering of complex design — a process called Physically Accurate Rendering. "The level of accuracy we've been able to get from this process is truly remarkable," notes Frisch.
COPA, which works in a virtual studio accessible from a network of global offices, drove the project from its LA headquarters, working directly with their offices in NYC, Tel-Aviv, and Serbia. COPA animation director Joe Harkins and CG supervisor Scott Metzger handled the majority of the CG in Los Angeles. "From a technical and logistical standpoint, this video is a huge accomplishment for COPA, and creatively it's a great initial statement," adds Sharabani.
One of the first tasks at hand was to design the look of Nicki Minaj being built as a mechanical robot. COPA concept artist Marco Iozzi created the initial designs that Sanji and CG approved early on, which was essential.
The studio’s artists used a number of tricks to deliver the video on time without sacrificing quality, including a singular approach to the animated scenes. "Rather than go backward into the raw footage and select the shots and then animate to that, we simply animated the entire scene and then created the shots afterward as if we'd actually filmed it," explains Harkins. "Nicki's performance was entirely based on what she did in the motion capture booth. Working in reverse this way saved us a ton of time."
The collective sent a team of three supervisors on the one-day, 20-hour shoot to capture the background light, images and color. As Wondros EP Joseph Uliano notes, "With most one-day shoots, some things get abbreviated during filming and the much of the heavy lifting gets passed on to VFX. So much credit is due the team at COPA in that regard."
Once the raw Red Epic camera footage arrived, COPA's prep work made it much easier to churn out the CG and intercut it with the practical shots.
"On the start of the shoot we were very thorough on collecting all light, color, and set data to create physically accurate environments for rendering. A lot of our 3D renders ended up being first pass finals," notes Metzger. "That's a pretty rare thing — to have the first rendered images end up as final says a lot about the work flow and quality of talent here at COPA."