MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Nocturnal Robot (www.nocturnalrobot.com) recently completed work on visual effects featured in Evanescence’s latest music video, Better Without You. The studio’s work included front- and rear-screen projection, combining practical and CG effects, and digital enhancements throughout.
VFX supervisor Jeremy Wanek says he worked closely with director Eric Howell, producer Jillian Nodland, DP Bo Hakala and production designer David Weiberg during pre-production.
“We talked a lot about video playback of digital environments to be used on-set using the Unreal Engine, similar to the process used on The Mandalorian,” says Wanek. “This was just over two weeks before principal photography, so there wasn't a lot of time to work out the details, but we were optimistic. However, several days after we started our tests, due to unforeseen circumstances, we received word that we would have to simplify our process.”
Instead of using large video screens, the team opted to go the more traditional route, using front- and rear-screen projection. They also ditched their plans to use CG environments, instead working with simple backgrounds to enhance the practical sets that were going to be built on the stage. This included primarily a cloudy red sky, along with fire and water elements.
They shot at Acme Stage in Minneapolis, using two sound stages. The video made use of two main set pieces that required projection: a red environment with columns dubbed ‘The Underworld’, and a black acrylic hallway.
“For The Underworld, the stage had an 80-foot long cyc wall, where we used front-screen projection for the red sky, along with some fiery assets,” Wanek explains. “I made all of the assets we used loopable, so that I could replay any effect for as long as needed for the duration of playback. It may have been an odd approach, but I played the elements in realtime from a timeline in Premiere Pro. This allowed me to make whatever tweaks the director or DP wanted in the blink of an eye – reverse elements, flip/flop, re-color, re-time, etc.”
For the black acrylic hallway, the production used rear-screen projection to project the imagery through a curtain in the background. This reflected off the walls and floor to great effect.
“Eric came to me right before we shot this with a shot list, and had me time all those elements to different parts of the song,” Wanek explains. “This is where using Premiere Pro was super helpful. I quickly assembled an edit that would playback in-sync with the song's playback. When we wanted adjustments made, it was very easy to swap things out, or make adjustments to the timing. I have a Thread Ripper 3960 24-core processor in my PC, along with my GeForce RTX 2070 GPU, that helped make all of the realtime playback possible with the effects I applied. There were even times where we shot different frame rates, so I was able to play back at various speeds to match the camera.”
In post production, most of the effects were applied to enhance the environments. VFX artist Cody Rowan added CG ash falling into frame and some cracking to the columns as things got more heated.
VFX artist Wade Wojcik put a lot of work into a quick-but-effective shot that involved building a fully-CG hallway to match the set. In it, the glass explodes off the walls.
“This was built and rendered in Unreal, then composited in After Effects,” Wanek recalls. “I then added Amy Lee's silhouette into the shot by cutting her out of another shot, adding movement with After Effects' puppet tool, and replacing her head/hair with stock footage so it looked like it was blowing in the wind.”
Additional effects were applied to hide things and to create more of a seamless world. There were also a number of subliminal effects added, such as the shadow dancer's reflection inside some of the breaking glass shots.
“David Weiberg and his team at MNFX did an incredible job, not only on the sets, but also on the practical effects of columns crumbling/exploding and glass shattering. All of that work, with some very subtle compositing work, really amped up the overall intensity of the effects.”