One Night in Powder, a feature film produced by One Light Productions, is a 90-minute journey into the weird world of Kevin Powder, and his 30-day challenge to stage the most incredible night London has ever seen. I was enlisted to create the graphics for the film, and due to the film being shot on DSLR cameras, I also composited a number of shot ‘fixes’ to eliminate some nasty cases of aliasing that those cameras can be prone to producing.
In all, the film’s graphics requirements were wildly varied, and required an intense phase of rapid prototyping to establish the most fitting style for the elements, and the feasibility of some of the more challenging shots. This list identifies the main elements that were created for the film.
- Character straps
- Location and dialogue captions
- Full-screen motion graphics
- Visual effects
- Shot fixes
- End credits
Stylistically, One Night in Powder itself is quite varied; as Kevin enlists the people of East London to help him stage the event, they bring an eclectic mix of ideas and styles with them. So with the film’s graphics I tried to utilise this part of the narrative, and treat the film as if it too were a product of this same group of people. However, while the project’s time and budgetary constraints made the kinds of variation I had originally envisioned somewhat impossible, I feel the final elements sit very well within the film, and vary just often enough to capture the film’s collaborative spirit.
The central narrative device of One Night in Powder is the countdown to the big night itself, so throughout the film the action is punctuated with full-frame motion graphics to help frame the events and to provide a building feeling of expectation.
Each of the countdown animations (with three exceptions) uses the same blue neon style, but due to how the captions were built and the variations in shape and size of the numbers featured in each of them, every animation needed to be designed individually to preserve their flow and composition. The benefit of this, of course, is that though the device is repeated throughout the film, there’s always a fresh element to it that the viewer hasn’t seen before.
These animations were created in After Effects, using a combination of stock and Trapcode plug-ins.
But what of those three exceptions that I just mentioned? Why were they different? How were they different?
Well, the why was largely born out of the the original concept of creating really varied graphics, and frankly, they just worked so well that we decided to stick with them in these instances. The idea was to, wherever possible, create the captions within the physical space of the given shot. As you’ll see below, this was achieved in different ways depending on the shot, and each brought with it a new challenge.
The 26 Nights caption involves a 3D version of the title from the full frame captions flying onto, and then floating above the hood of Powder’s limousine as he cruises through London, before getting caught in the wind and flying over the car.
This is definitely the most stylistic of these captions, with the text not being physically grounded in anything, and as a result it was probably the easiest, although I still attempted to adhere to the wonderful world of science by reflecting the title in the bonnet and the windshield.
The text was created and animated in Cinema 4D, and composited in After Effects.
The 16 Nights caption was composited and tracked onto a street cutaway shot, as if it had been graffitied onto the side of a van.
The biggest challenge here was to match the motion blur of the hand-held camera as it followed the van through the shot, which sadly had to be done by hand. The end result is incredibly effective though, and thankfully the 2D planar tracking of the van was a very quick process so there was luckily some time to spare on the shot.
It was also fortunate that the pan in the shot was quite slow, so the rolling shutter effect that comes hand in hand with most DSLR cameras was barely present here. Had it been though, there’s a good chance that the shot might have been impossible to work with.
The 7 Nights caption was another 2D planar tracking shot, this time with the caption replacing the display on the petrol pump.
Very early on I had to admit defeat in either preserving or replicating the reflections on the screen due to the 2D limitations of planar tracking, but as the screen is never seen in the film outside of this composite, the audience is none the wiser. Hooray!
Unlike the van, the display was much more difficult track, and in fact the majority of the time spent working on the shot was finessing the tracking. Sometimes you can get away with a bit of drift, and ‘good enough’ is very much the rule of thumb when it comes to tracking, if only to preserve the artist’s sanity, but in this case any slippage instantly broke the effect.
VISUAL EFFECTS & SHOT FIXES
In addition to straps and captions, the film is peppered with little graphical touches – some that are meant to be noticed, and some that aren’t.
The most challenging visual effect that was required was for a giant poster to be composited onto the side of a building – in footage that was shot handheld, on a DSLR, from a moving vehicle. Pretty much the absolute worst case scenario for a tracking shot!
In all, it was probably the most difficult track I’ve ever worked on, and it took a great number of attempts to work out an approach that would work well enough. In the end, I managed to successfully track the surface of the building with a 2D planar track using Mocha for AE, and composited onto it a render of an unfurling poster made in Cinema 4D with cloth dynamics. The result was surprisingly effective, especially given the unfavourable conditions the footage was shot in.
‘Invisible effects’ are what fascinate me most in the world of VFX, and luckily I had the chance to do some on this project. The most difficult of which was touching up this shot of Kevin Powder getting run over by a car.
Surprisingly (and unknown to me I should add!) this shot was achieved by having the actor actually hit by a real car. However, despite there being a real, albeit slow collision, the actor could quite clearly be seen to anticipate the impact by both looking directly at the car as it approached, and pre-emptively lifting his leg onto the bonnet. I wonder what we could do about that…
Given that what the actor went through to get the shot, the target I gave myself for the compositing was for it to be entirely invisible. No one should come away thinking anything other that believing that there was an actual collision. Easier said than done!
The first thing I attempt was to replace the actor’s head in the moments before the collision, with a head taken from an earlier frame in which he was looking straight across the street. This was actually incredibly easy, and only required very slight finessing. Which is a good thing too, as the legs were another story entirely.
Not only did I have to somehow keep the lifted leg down, I also needed to clean up the bonnet, which had become partially obscured by the raised leg and its accompanying shadow, and rebuild the background details that the leg had also obscured. I’d like to say there was an easy trick to this, but despite isolating and negating the motion in a few areas of interest with 2D planar tracks, a lot of frame-by-frame animation was still required, using assets (like the head) that had been lifted from other frames.
The end result has fooled a great many people though, and it holds up to all but the most intense frame-by-frame scrutiny, so I’d consider it a success and time well spent.
One Light Productions