Everybody has dreamed of being a Superhero at least once in his life. Flying, reading minds, shooting spider webs, or understanding a David Lynch movie… there are tons of super powers to stir up our imagination, and visual effects are often used to represent them. It seems logical then that at the beginning of our fourth year in ArtFx, we got a brand new assignment: creating a fake teaser for a Superhero movie: Kick-Ass 3!
But, as you may rightfully say, there are no super powers in the Kick-Ass franchise! Well, no there isn’t, because like those fake superheroes, we too lack powers. And we are going to need a lot of training before we can be able to attach a billionaire in a high tech armor and send him dancing a jig with planes.
This assignment is supposed to make us understand that filming actors in front of a green screen and adding them to a real set is far from being easy. That it’s actually kind of tough! The constraints of the assignment are – as well as having a limited time (9 seconds) and a limited number of shots (3) – to shoot a minimum of two actors in front of a green screen, with a least one ground contact, and put them later on in a footage of a real set, which would be shot separately. We also have to create a 5 second title. And a movie poster. And a breakdown. And… uh… well, that’s all.
Of course, everything has to match the looks and spirit of the Kick-Ass franchise, its humor (if possible), and MOST OF ALL, it’s creativity in the creation of costumes. Because even if this assignment’s main goal is educational, another more unofficial one – but important nonetheless – consists of creating an archives’ bank of those costumed students which, as well as a good wine, will see its value grow along the years…
Step 01 : Brainstorming
Not to be underestimated. The feasibility of the project depends on this step. The difficult part consists of telling an interesting story in only 9 seconds and 3 shots. It’s also very important to think well of what is going to happen in each shot, so we don’t have to find ourselves in front of an impossible task later on in post-production.
Step 02 : Shooting of the Set
Once we know what we want for the 3 shots, it’s time to film the set, without the actors (they will be shot later in front of a green screen). It’s important to correctly prepare and be aware of the lighting of those sets, because they will have to be reproduced during the shooting of the actors.
Geared with a measuring tape, we shot a first version of the set with an actor to measure his distance from the camera and being able to correctly place him during the green screen shooting. My friends pronounced words like Trigonometry and Pythagoras, but I think they were just showing off.
It is very important to measure the height of the camera from the ground, as well as its inclination, its focal length, and other factors that could be very useful during the next shooting. Once it is done, it’s time to shoot the set without the actor.
Etape 03 : Green Screen Shooting
Of course, it’s the trickiest part. It’s time to apply all the measurements that were taken earlier. It can be very useful to have a shot of the set with the actor, that way the perspective problems can be easily detected.
The next step consists of lighting the actor with very powerful lamps, and being sure that the green screen is correctly lit as well. This is followed by a game of adjustments between the aperture of the diaphragm, the shutter speed, and the power of lights on the set to get the desired result, that is to say a clean, well exposed image, without motion blur.
Because there is motion! A powerful fan makes the heroes’ capes fly, an actor jumps from a table, another lands into a bunch of boxes… if these motions are very blurry (in other words: mashed pixels), it would only make the post-production more difficult.
Once the shots are filmed and the actor’s reputations forever compromised, it’s time to go in post-production.
Step 04 : Logging and Naïve Hope
“Isn’t the perspective a bit weird?”
“Naaah, don’t worry, it will work!”
Step 05 : Compositing with Nuke
The Compositing (putting together several elements of a shot) is done with Nuke, main software from The Foundry and magic wand of every ArtFX student.
It’s thanks to Nuke that the green of the green screen will be removed (also known as “keying”). This way we can add the character to a new setting. The tricky part consists of keeping the shadows from the green screen shot to avoid having to recreate them with digitaly. There are several ways to do it: one of the most common with this assignment was to scream loudly while tearing one’s hair out.
Replacing a sky, adding a matte painting of a city and other little details: this is where the shot comes alive, gets an identity. Then, using Nuke’s powerful color correct tools, we try to match the different elements together, to give the impression that they were present during the shooting and, yes, that guy just jumped from a New York building.
That way, several students using the same shooting footages can get completely different results, only because of the way they used Nuke. This is why this super powerful tool becomes vital to any ArtFX student, as much as the Batmobile is vital to Batman, or the Hammer is to Thor, or the Brief is to Superman, transforming us into modern superheroes, capable of changing the face of the world with a single click… and making it a bit more saturated, or even a bit blue in the blacks.
Step 06 : Title, Poster and Screening
The last things to do to complete this teaser are to create a dynamic title with After Effects and add a copyright free music. However, the teasers still need some publicity, which is why we also had to create a movie poster including at least two characters. The shooting took place in ArtFX Studio, and Photoshop was used to create the poster.
The class gathers up for the screening. In the little crowd, anonymous superheroes wearing civilian’s clothes, share their friend’s anxiety, their laughter and pleasure to discover everyone’s work. It’s the final reward, this small moment of sharing, of compassion in front of other’s challenges, of pure joy in front of some costumes, or of forever-traumatized spirits after seeing others wearing jockstraps…
But a though never leaves us: there is still a long way to go before the end of the fifth year. There are still many obstacles to overcome before mastering those visual effects superpowers. But if there is one thing we share with Kick Ass’ heroes, it’s the will: several generations of superheroes have succeeded one after the other at ArtFx, making us dream each year. Soon, it will be our turn… And when this time comes, we’ll be ready to put on the costumes, to arm ourselves with imagination, and make future generations dream !
Here is a selection of teasers made by my classmates. ( Selection made by our Compositing teacher, Aurélyen Daudet, who gave us this assignement)
Clément Thomasson, video and breakdown:
Hugo Guillemard, video and breakdown :
Loren Lebec, video :
Guillaume Ménard, video and breakdown du plan: