- With the music video for the new Chemical Brothers single “Live Again,” Outsider’s Dom&Nic and Untold Studios used virtual production and real-time VFX to create a surreal “Groundhog-Day”-esque adventure story.
- Outsider and Untold teamed with virtual production specialists from ARRI Solutions, Creative Technology and Lux Machina, with the shoot hosted on and powered by ARRI Stage London.
- Filming lengthy takes against CG backgrounds that change in real time without the need to cut camera, the promo breaks fresh ground.
A new music video broke fresh ground by filming lengthy takes against CG backgrounds that change in real time without the need to cut camera.
“Live Again” is the tenth collaboration between British dance band Chemical Brothers and director duo Dom&Nic.
“It’s a trippy Groundhog Day-esque adventure story through multiple environments in a continuous dance performance by Josipa Kukor,” describes Promonews.
To achieve it they filmed long unbroken shots with background virtual environments switched live without edits.
“The woozy, wonky analog sounds and the dream-like lyric suggested a hallucinogenic visual journey following a character caught in a loop of death and rebirth. The hero in the film wakes or is reborn in a different environments ranging from deserts to nighttime neon city streets and cave raves to Martian worlds,” the directors told Promonews.
“This is an idea that could not really have been achieved with traditional filmmaking techniques. We created virtual CGI worlds and used long unbroken camera takes, without edits, moving between those different worlds seamlessly with our hero character.”
Dom&Nic’s production company Outsider brought together cinematographer Stephen Keith-Roach, production designer Chris Oddy and VFX facility Untold Studios, along with virtual production specialists from ARRI Solutions, Creative Technology and Lux Machina, all hosted on the ARRI Stage London.
Dom&Nic say that the band encouraged them to capture the feel of the track in the cinematic texture and look of the film.
“We were given the challenge to give it the visual equivalent of putting a clean sound through a broken guitar pedal to transform and degrade it into something unique. We love the way the film has an analog and messed up film look to it, it really adds to the visual trippy experience.”
Untold Studios real-time supervisor Simon Legrand added, “After designing seven bespoke virtual worlds in pre-production, we were then able to tweak elements on set, on the fly, giving the directors the freedom to play and experiment. This is the first time that virtual environments have been switched live on set in this way.”
Will Case, director of innovation at Creative Technology, confirmed, “It really pushed the boundaries of working in real-time workflows and technologies to bring to life Dom&Nic’s visually stunning promo.”
In an interview for the ARRI website, Dom&Nic described how they approached the project knowing that virtual production would be part of the mix. “Being immersed by ARRI Stage London and its walls of screens for the first time was very impressive,” they recalled. “You start wondering how to use the space and the technology to create a narrative that couldn’t be shot in any other way.”
The new technology helped inspire some of their ideas, but it also clearly demonstrated constraints demanding creative solutions, which ultimately led to the promo’s unique style. “Building a set that would transition for all environments was a creative challenge, but one that developed the idea further. For example, a desert floor could become a construction site in a city — once we had worked through that process, things started to tie together,” they said.
“Connecting the Unreal environments with the actor and set wherever possible while using whatever tricks and ideas we could imagine was important,” the duo added. “For example, CGI tumbleweed enters the frame, rolls around the physical set and then off into the 3D environment background. A black, disc-like object in the sky does the opposite: starting in the distance, in the Unreal environment, then right over the head of the actor in the set. Lighting was synced with the camera, and the black disc was also integrated as real-time VFX on the LED wall. This meant our actor could perform and react to the final image, which looked as ominous and convincing on the Stage as it does in the final film.”
Image courtesy of Will Case at Creative Technology
The primary challenge, however, “was taking an unbroken shot through different environments without cutting or using greenscreen. Pre-shoot, we used Unreal Engine to design a range of immersive environments, so we could work out the space for our physical set and get a sense of how our actor and props could be positioned.”
The directorial duo anticipated that it might be difficult to develop “a clear working translation between a traditional camera crew approach and the virtual production elements,” but that wasn’t actually the case. “Our DP, Steven Keith-Roach, worked with the Stage teams to light the scenes virtually, and with gaffer Kevin McMorrow to use practical and studio lights inside the caravan, which worked seamlessly.”
Given that LED panels have a softer light than natural daylight, the duo employed softer lighting setups that worked well on the physical stage and also helped the blend from set to screen, they said. “It was a very quick process to move the sun across the sky or pop it behind a cloud.”
The Stage’s wraparound design with real-time camera tracking and lighting represents “a great leap forward from traditional greenscreen,” Dom&Nic enthused, with “no edges or spill, and perfect reflections.”
The process for seamlessly integrating CGI and real-world image-based lighting for the promo’s actors, highly reflective set, props, and wardrobe represented the biggest advance, the duo said. “The fact that foregrounds and backgrounds are shot in-camera, with no need to composite later is the icing on the cake!”