Compositing “Who I Want to Be”


Often times in a feature film or other visual piece, little consideration is given to how much time is spent creating a single shot. Special effect shots — even those that are on screen for mere seconds — can take weeks or months to complete. In the case of our recent music video for Nick Marzock, one of the key challenges in the post-production process was the ending crowd shot. Throughout the video, Nick is seen playing against a red drape background, but the viewer is not clued in to where exactly that is. Only in the waning moments do we reveal that he is performing the song in front of a massive crowd of people.

Given our production budget for this project, using an actual crowd was out of the question. The only solution was to generate one with a compositing program. And a little black magic wizardry. (shhhh)

We captured the plate shot with our RED Epic, which gave us an incredible amount of detail to work with in 5k resolution. It was shot at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in New Castle, PA. One of the best things about shooting with the Epic is the ability to discard the automatic color settings and start with a RAW image in REDLog. For most people, this looks pretty unappealing. But for our director and colorist Alan Jaskiewicz, it was as magical as watching a unicorn give birth.


So we had a completely empty auditorium. During production, we had two assistants operating the spotlights you see at the top. We also used a Kessler Cineslider with an Oracle motion controller to get a precise dolly movement. The next step was to create a crowd element, which would then be duplicated multiple times to fill the venue. We started with a stock clip of an audience cheering on a green screen, keyed it out, and then silhouetted them in After Effects. It was important to not silhouette them 100%, but rather preserve a little bit of color detail along the edges.


Using this single row of people as a base, each section of the auditorium was then meticulously filled. To help avoid repetitive motion, rows were randomly offset in time and mirrored. Since the venue seating curves in a bowl shape, it was also necessary to rotate some sections in 3D space to match the perspective. Subtle lighting effects were added to reflect the actual lighting of the cathedral — specifically from the ornate chandeliers. And since the shot tracks forward, it was important to animate the position of each section, otherwise they would have drifted slightly.


Once the sections were filled up, the biggest and most time-consuming obstacle became clear: masking. As Nick is saluting the crowd, his guitar and majestically feathered hair overlap multiple rows of people. The position of the guitar changes dramatically with each frame, so it was necessary to alter the mask so that it correctly appears in front of the audience at all times.


The masking process took about a week to complete. With that out of the way, we shifted our attention to smaller details in the scene, such as the spotlights and the effect they would presumably have upon a real crowd. As the lights crossed the camera lens, certain sections would naturally become “hazy”. A periodic blue tint effect was added during those times.

With all of this completed, the last objective was to grade the original shot. Alan used DaVinci Resolve for this because it afforded him the maximum amount of control over the highlights and shadows. DaVinci was used to color grade the entire video, and with it, we were able to make selective color and exposure adjustments using “nodes”. Again, the RAW data gave us great latitude and flexibility when it came to grading. Here was the result:


All of this for a single shot that lasted 5 seconds! If you have yet to see the finished music video for Nick Marzock’s single, it can be watched on Vimeo here. Be sure to let us know what you thought by dropping us an e-mail or reaching out to us on Facebook or Twitter!

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