A Conversation with the VFX Guys from the New Flight of the Conchords' Video, Ladies of the World

I work for a company that sells and distributes animaton software and plug-ins. I handle a lot of the marketing and one great way of bringing in traffic is to interview visual effects artists. This is an interview I just did for Toolfarm and I thought you all might enjoy it. I know you have lots of love for Flight of the Conchords. I do!

Brandon Parvini, Partner of Ghost Town Media and the lead colorist / compositor, and David Torno, Visual Effects and Motion Graphics Artist talk with Michele Yamazaki (aka Batface89) from Toolfarm about work on the most recent Flight of The Conchords video, Ladies of the World.

First the video.

Michele: : Thank you so much for talking with me today. This looks like a seriously fun project. How did you get hooked up with the job and Nima Nourizadeh / Partizan, the directors? Have you done many other music videos?

Brandon: We have a really good relationship with Partizan Entertainment. We essentially got our start with their director Ace Norton and from there began working with a slew of their other directors including Neon, Alma Har'el, and Cat Solen. We try to serve as tech support for them when they get some of these more complicated projects, when the Conchords video came up, we sprang at the opportunity to help them out and had been a fan of Nima's work for some time.

Michele: The job involved tracking the stunt double's heads with the singer's heads. I noticed tracking dots on the stunt double's cheeks, nose and chin in your photos.  Jemaine and Bret  were shot against a greenscreen and with a green cape.   How did you get it to match?  Can you talk a bit about the process of tracking and rotoscoping and matching angles? 

Dave: This was a very tedious process that had to planned out for the entire video factoring in the limitations we were facing. We had placed tape on the doubles faces for reference as to how their heads rotated and twisted. We made sure to keep our doubles aware of what was happening in each shot, but allowing them room to perform their stunts.

Dave: Some of the takes were really wild and crazy and we would have to come in and tone down the movement a little to make sure we were going to able to recreate the same move on the greenscreen with Bret and Jemaine. The most difficult part was getting Bret and Jemaine to match these moves and be able to maintain lip-sync. On set (greenscreen) we would run each guy through individually and have them watch a monitor playing back the footage from the shoot. This footage was played back, mirrored in some cases, and slowed down to 50%. This gave the guys a chance to lip sync and get the head movements down. It was a lot of practice takes before rolling the camera. Many times Brandon was physically holding the guys as they performed so we could get the head angle just right. We tried using the green cloth as much as possible to limit the amount of roto we would have to do in post, but in some cases it was helpful to have the shirt collar show so we could fit them on the body better.


Michele: I know you used Imagineer Mocha but switched back and forth with Silhouette FX tracker and possibly something else. Why did you need to use so many tools?

Dave: The tracking process was a mixed breed. For most of the work we were able to use Silhouette to track the greenscreen shots, usually tracking the nose area or glasses in Jemaine's case and stabilize it. Then the doubles faces were tracked with Mocha to get the the rotation and scale values for the original movement. Both plates were then assembled in After Effects and tweaked as needed to make the composite believable.


Dave: Each shot presented it's own challenge of tracking or color and had to be rethought every step of the way. There were a few times where there was a need to take two individual track point solutions from Silhouette and copy them into the After Effects tracker module and then apply rotation and scale solves from there. We just found the single point tracker there stronger than AE's (tracker) for the shots we had. There was one funny moment where we had a beautiful track on one shot but accidentally had the wrong greenscreen take in place and Bret's head started turning in a very uncomfortable direction, almost poltergeist style.

ae timeline

Michele: I saw tons of production shots on David's MySpace. At the shoot, did you have input on the shots because of how you would need to work with them in post? I imagine you would, having to match angles in post.

Dave/Brandon Most of those photos were taken during practice runs and setups. When on set we tend to already have a really good relationship with our director and in turn play a sort of wingman to them. We're all about the collaborative process, especially when on set, when time is tight, and it just has to be right. At times we may not be the most popular guys, as a performance can be awesome but turns out that the technical aspects of it weren't just right. Figure most of the people who don't know who we are onset just figure we're just some jerks from the label.

Michele: Ha ha, that I'd love to see! How about the color correction process?

Brandon: To say it was tough would be a bit of an understatement. Andrew Shulkind, DP for the video, and his team worked so hard to get he lighting angles to match the original shots, but in the end there was simply no way to get the perfect lighting match of a late spring day in Venice (California) with 30-mph winds inside our lil greenscreen stage in the middle of Sun Valley.

My emphasis was in blending the use of Red Giant Key Correct Pro's Color Matcher and Magic Bullet Looks Builder's 3 way Color Corrector and Colorista, to bring the values back in. On top of that i have an adapted film look from Photoshop that I put over all of the footage to help bring everything in there. Nothing like a nice coating of shellac to make footage sing.

Michele: He he. The video has a sort of yellowish 70's look to it. How did you attain this look? Was Magic Bullet Looks used?

Brandon: Magic Bullet was definitely used. We really swear by the software (though we wish there was a timeline in it... hint, hint). But in all honesty, the package has revolutionized how we color correct here. In terms of the exact method we used, suffice  it to say  that we never use just one plug-in  to really do anything. Think of it as painting,  a lot of very subtle layers can make some really elegant images.

Michele: I hear ya. You should see my arsenal of plug-ins. Can you talk a bit about the workflow of your team? How many people were on the team? What else was involved in post production, that we might not be able to see?

Dave/Brandon Once we got the edit, we essentially split ourselves up, tracking and grabbing the best selects from our second day of shooting. Once we had that in-hand, we began to pair up the footage components. Once most every one had at least been assembled and linked up, we then began the process of all the OTHER effects, including the construction of the camera whips, the roto and compositing of the girls during the RV scene, and some of the other little shots like making the forced perspective wheel spin. From there it was all a matter of the fine details and lots of retiming. Of course, at the end we did our final color correction and crossed our fingers for a good response once we sent this out the door.

Oh, by the way all the post was done by 2 people, yes you read that right 2 people...

Michele: Wow. Unbelievable. Were there any big problems you had to solve during post-production? 

Dave/Brandon Yes.  The first obstacle was how do make a video using similar techniques of a movie like 'Little Man' but with something comparable to one week of their catering budget. We had to be really crafty and come up with some good solutions, plus figuring out what to do when our compromises didn't fly. We walked into this planning for 5 shots, by the time we were given the edit we were looking at 25 shots, not including some of the other VFX scenes that sprang up. It's just kind of the nature of the beast, but still it was definitely a very sticky situation initially. There were lots of little headaches like keeping the guy's lip-sync throughout the videos and fighting mother-nature. For the RV scene we wound up with 4 different plates to put together, but because it was shot at dusk we had 4 totally different lighting and backdrop looks.

Michele: Are there any good tips for our readers?

Dave/Brandon Be persistent, invest in Red Bull and always be ready for the work around. Most of the time the shot won't be exactly as you had hoped or asked to be, but if you can reinvent your process, a lot of the time it will end up being better than you had hoped. Ingenuity is key. We kind of see ourselves as an engineer group with aesthetics, its the only way we could have done what we have thus far.

Michele: The video on You-Tube has a big black border around it. Is the final video still being tweaked?

Brandon: Sigh... no. its a 4:3 aspect ratio thing. Directorial Choice to reinforce the 70's feel and further separate itself from the modern footage at the beginning and the end.

Michele: Were Jemaine and Bret a total riot on the set? I'd imagine so!

Brandon: There actually quite RUDE....that's a horrible lie. They were awesome to deal with . Jemaine was such a champ. Even as he's sitting on a 105 degree greenscreen stage in a 70's polyester get-up and I'm spinning him round and round in chair to match the overhead shot. For some reason Jemaine really got stuck with some rough requests for the greenscreen stage, we really felt bad by the end of the day. All in all though its great to work with people who you can see actually appreciate everyone and their efforts. We knew they were good guys when in the morning of the first day there was a really insecure girl who recognized them from the show. She was in from out of town and her dad ended up bringing her up the guys to get a picture, rather than saying they were busy, they happily snapped the shot and what's more began to chat the both of them up. The guys ended up hanging out with the father and daughter for the better part of the morning. Though we still are waiting for our autographs from them ;)

Dave: I really had a great time working with them. They are so talented and always throwing in a few bits of improve into the performance that really had us cracking up on set. Even a few times Bret broke down laughing at the silliness that he was creating during a take. A good example of that is a YouTube video I posted from the greenscreen shoot.

Both Guys Improving the Scene

Bret looses it half way and pulls Jemaine in to do something.

Michele: What is next for you both?

Brandon: FOTC has seemed to be the initial starting gun for the summer season that's going to be a busy for us. We're right now hard at work on one of Partizan's next videos for MGMT directed by Ray Tintori who directed their last video. Should be fun!

Michele: I love MGMT. Time to Pretend is my current favorite song and that video is really trippy!

Brandon: Also we hard working on two other videos for one our favorite directors Josh Forbes, one for Laura Bryna and Alkaline Trio. Both are really vfx heavy so we're going round the clock these days, but both should be really great to watch when done. The boy is just a video landing  monster, and we love him for it. As always we have a bunch of other items floating around, but again it looks like we'll have plenty more vfx to do this summer.

Dave: In addition to working with Brandon on the above projects, I am also currently heading up the vfx on The Heaven Project, Paul Walker's new film and I have another feature that I will be supervising vfx for that goes into pre-production in June.

Michele: Wow, you are VERY busy. Have a great summer and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

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