Camera Projection is bum-blowingly amazing. Following on from SWITCHMAS, the video Christmas card I made recently, I’ve been keen to continue experimenting with the camera projection techniques that made that project possible.
While out walking recently, I came across this unit of garages:
As I stood there, aimlessly gawping at the aforementioned (and pictured) garages, I thought to myself:
If I had a rocket ship, I would definitely store it in one of those garages, and I would definitely fly it to the Moon most Sundays.
So I took out my phone, snapped a picture and, just days later, got around to making it happen. Kind of.
As with SWITCHMAS, this is a pretty low-fi project; just a single photograph taken with an iPhone 4S forms the body of video, with a (lightly modified) pre-made rocket model thrown in for good measure. This effect would naturally benefit from a high quality image source, both in calibrating the projection and recreating the geometry, but the challenge of getting as much from a simple low-fi source as I can is currently far more interesting to me. So, first things first, some fiddly photoshopping!
MASK. COPY. CLONE. COPY. ERASE. REPEAT.
In order to afford a decent degree of parallax with camera projection, you often need to recreate things that are obscured behind walls, bushes and trees (as it happens, this project requires all three) that are then projected onto the geometry from different pictures, or in this case, different layers of a Photoshop file.
Depending on the image, this can either be a quite simple or utterly soul destroying process, so choose your sources wisely! There’s no real steadfast rule as to what needs to be isolated or cloned, it’s entirely image and end use-dependant. In this example I want to be able to pan horizontally between the garages, and move forward towards them a bit, so there’s a few key elements that need considering: the bushes, concrete floor and drainpipes in the foreground, and to a lesser extent (because they’re further away), the trees and houses in the background. Here’s a breakdown of the layers I ended up with:
Extended to the left behind the garage, and to the right behind the trees. The trees don't need to be completely removed as they're not very visible that far away.
The bush at the base has been extended in both directions.
The garage door has been isolated and extended to the left to fill in the left edge of the door that's (currently) obscured by the garage wall.
The main garage layer, with the door that will be animated removed, and the foreground bushes removed by reconstructing the concrete on the ground and the garage details they obscured. The guttering has also been removed.
The guttering has been isolated, and partially reconstructed to restore the areas obscured by the bushes and trees.
These will later be duplicated and mirrored to fill out the foreground.
With some very clear vanishing points in this image, calibration of the virtual camera is a very simple process, and with the hard work already done in Photoshop, it’s a pretty simple task to recreate scene in Cinema 4D with some basic polygonal geometry.
I left out the sky because I intended to recreate it in Cinema 4D, using a Physical Sky object. Not only can this allow me to approximate the sky from that general location at that time of day, it can also act as a light source, bathing the scene with illumination from both the sun and the sky itself.
The original image was taken late on a clear January afternoon, but the sun was slightly too low in the sky to create an visible shadow. I took a bit of artistic license and juiced it up a bit to create some additional shadows as a more prominent light model can help to distract from the failings of the projection at times.
Now it’s looking OK from this single perspective, but we want to be able to move the camera around a bit, and sadly, that’s where the projection starts to fall apart. See those garages on the right? Nothing but a jumbled blurry mess! If only we already had some garages that weren’t a jumbled blurry mess that we could copy over in their place…
But how does one store their moon rocket in a garage that cannot be opened?
Instead of engaging myself in a metaphysical debate, I thought it best to just make the door openable. You may have noticed I had already isolated the door in the Photoshop file, and left a gaping hole where it once sat on the garage layer. This is exactly why! It’s a simple task to separate the polygon that the door is projected onto and extrude it to give it the depth that a real door would have, and with the door already cut out of the garage layer, all that’s needed is a few extra polygons to serve as the garage’s interior and a basic animation on the door.
As the garage’s interior doesn’t exist in the original image, we’ll need to texture it from other sources, and if you’re ever doing this kind of thing, you usually need look no further than CG Textures. I certainly didn’t. From the angle we’ll see it, the door’s mechanism would be largely obscured, but it did look a bit odd against a clean wall, so I also put a simple metal rail in to give the impression of detail.
THAT’S NO MOON (ROCKET)
As it happens, The Pixel Lab recently added a lovely rocket model to their collection of free models, and as this project is only really about camera projection for me, it was a welcome time-saver. I couldn’t help making some slight modifications though, in part to decrease render time, but mostly just for the sake of a fiddle. It turns out I really like chrome things.
So the rocket is going to come out of the garage, and then take off into the sky. I wanted to keep the piece short, so nothing less than an explosive take off would do. Explosions mean debris. Debris means physics. Physics means:
WHY AREN’T YOU DOING WHAT I BLOODY WELL TOLD YOU TO DO, AND IN FACT, WHAT YOU DID THE LAST TIME, BUT HAVE SEEMINGLY ARBITRARILY DECIDED NOT TO DO?
In short, physics simulations in Cinema 4D can be somewhat troublesome at times, so in the interest of time, I kept this simple. Two clusters of debris were created with very basic geometry, one created by a particle emitter, and the other thrust into the air by an invisible pyramid. Because why not. The crater that’s left behind was created in much the same way the garage was, complete with another texture from CG Textures.
The debris went a long way to giving the impression of a powerful take off, but it wasn’t quite explode-y enough, so I also added a simple volumetric light at the centre of the impact. You can see for yourself the different it makes:
YOU FOUND MY FOOTAGE
There’s something about viewing odd things in handheld footage that makes them that much more compelling. Sure, it’s an incredibly tired trope, and often entirely nonsensical in the context of the given narrative, but it’s still true! So instead of watching this simple animation from a static perspective, why don’t we have an inquisitive virtual cameraman who’s just out filming garages with their phone for no reason? At the very least, it can’t be argued that it’s entirely illogical.
In all honesty, this is one of the first things I did after locking down the projection in Cinema 4D, but it suited the writing of this breakdown to not mention it until now. You’ll probably have noticed the seemingly poorly positioned foreground bushes in some of the breakdown images above, which have in fact been positioned with the motion camera in mind. It’s up to you in which order you do things. Sometimes you’ll find that locking down camera movement as early as possible can save you from spending time on details that won’t even be seen, but on the other hand sometimes it’s useful to remain flexible with the camera in case you encounter some unforeseen problems that you may need to end up shooting around. Like most things, it’s very project-dependant.
AFTER THE EFFECTS COMES MORE EFFECTS (IN AFTER EFFECTS)
So with the scene built and rendered in Cinema 4D, I felt that a few touch-ups were in order in After Effects. A slight bit of colour correction, grain and a good old trusty lens flare is all I ended up doing in this case, as it was clear the sound design was going to take a good chunk of time already.
BOOM. WOOSH. KER’BLAMO!
I’m no sound guy, but even so, sound is so absurdly vital to the viewing of moving images that it wouldn’t be all that out of order to tattoo as much on the forehead of every new born baby just in case they end up pursuing visual arts in the future. So, with that in mind, I’ve tried to absorb as much audio knowledge as I can over the years to help me out on little personal projects that aren’t worth bothering anyone else’s time over. The good news for such circumstances though is that Freesound exists, so there’s a good chance that you’ll at least not need to do any of your own foley recordings. You need the sound of a garage door opened and closed in Whitley Bay? You’re in safe hands, they have one. I know, I’ve used it here.
In all, it took a combination of 18 sound recordings from Freesound, mixed in Adobe Premiere Pro, to create the audio for this project. All of which are linked below in the credits, if you’re interested.
And here’s the finished result in motion:
The Pixel Lab
Benboncan, CkSned, digifishmusic, fedexico, gmarchisio, Hugofski, Klerrp, mikehirst, mikehirst (again), Motion_S, mzui, Omar Alvarado, peridactyloptrix, primeval_polypod, sophiehall3535, steveygos93, Timbre & unfa