Creating the Surreal Dreamland of Mac Miller's 'Colors and Shapes'
January 3, 2022

Creating the Surreal Dreamland of Mac Miller's 'Colors and Shapes'

A surreal journey through a nightmarish and fantastical dreamland sets the backdrop for the late artist Mac Miller’s “Colors and Shapes” music video, released in September 2021, produced by Hornet Inc. and directed by Sam Mason. 
Drawing inspiration from ‘80s and ‘90s animation, including the acclaimed “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland,” Mason immerses viewers into a unique and ethereal world that follows the plight of Miller’s beloved dog Ralph, exploring hypnotic sequences, encountering giants, and floating through space.

Working with a tight-knit team, Mason leveraged Bifrost to manage complex scenes and bring the music video to life.

“The overall concept for the film was integrated with the different types of technology available and accessible to my team. Everything from massive scatters for environments, heavy cloth simulations, smoke and all of that data added a sense of scale to the film and complexity, without necessarily requiring an army of artists to work on it,” shared Mason. “The concept of the film relied on these effects, and when I discussed my vision with the producer, we moved forward under the provision that I would handle any aspects of the project that we didn’t have resources for. It was up to me to actually execute it, and through using Bifrost, I ended up being able to do everything.”

A veteran 3ds Max artist, Mason created the majority of the project effects in 3ds Max’s tyFlow particle simulation plugin. He required a method to import the effects data – including clouds, cloth, and large rigid body simulations – into Maya, where the majority of the team’s artists were working. “Bifrost ended up being really pivotal to the entire project, because it’s not only a tool to create effects from scratch; I also discovered that it’s an easy way to get data from any effects pipeline into Maya,” stated Mason. “Instead of exporting actual objects or geometry from 3ds Max, I just exported the particle data – a point for each component that made up each effect. Bifrost would rebuild the scattering system and render it, and you could play effects like the massive giants back in real-time, which was pretty impressive to our team. Those scenes were very light in Maya, because Bifrost is incredibly good at handling instancing and scattering.”

Mason added, “Bifrost was essential and used on almost every shot, either as a scattering tool or a method to natively bring in massive simulations from tyFlow into Maya. Rather than having to render every shot outside of our pipeline, on this project, we were able to render everything in Arnold with Maya. I don’t think this would have been achievable without Bifrost.”

Though Mason was new to Bifrost, he found support from a community Slack group. “Once I understood the tool’s power and logic, it took only a week or two of problem solving to figure out how to bring in the data from 3ds Max. It was an intuitive process, and I found Bifrost’s scattering tools to be really artistic and easy to use,” he shared.

Because the project workflow used light particle data instead of geometry, the team was able to communicate and share simulations via Slack. The giants were among the largest simulations, comprising only a few megabytes of data. Working with light data enabled a rapid workflow, and the small team size aided in clear communication despite working remotely during the pandemic.

Looking ahead to the future, Mason seeks to continue finding new ways to create complex effects with smaller teams, using tools like Bifrost. “On larger productions, effects work is
typically the hardest and most complicated part. Being exploratory with emerging technologies or leveraging powerful tools like Bifrost in unique ways makes incredible effects work possible for smaller teams and facilities,” he concluded.