The magicians at UVPhactory (UVPH) have turned hair into water... to be more precise... a raging river that rushes, roars, splashes, sprays, foams and cascades through a haunting Himalayan inspired landscape carrying Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk on a journey of self discovery. The fiercely original, stereoscopic 3D, 7:36 music video for WanderLust, from her newest CD Volta (One Little Indian Records), was officially released April 1.
This massively ambitious music video was nine months in the making. In the first few months, Directors Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch (a.k.a. Encyclopedia Pictura), represented by Ghost Robot (NY, NY), came up with a treatment and shot the live-action elements separately on green-screen.
UVPH, the New York-based design collective, then began the challenging task of designing and creating the computer-generated river that keeps the music video's action flowing. 37 different water shots were created. The CG water is alive and interactive, with three-dimensional depth, and is a vital character in the video in which Björk and the Pain-Body (the emotional baggage of the self), a live performer who materializes out of Björk's backpack, struggle for control as they make their way through a damp tundra under on the back of a giant wooly yak. They encounter the Rivergod (a digitally augmented live actor) who diverts the course of the waterway, bringing the wanderers to the edge of a waterfall where they plummet into the roiling vortex below and ultimately into his open hands.
WanderLust presented UVPH with a number of creative and technical challenges. Directors Saxon and Hellfritsch wanted the river to appear to be comprised of thousands of stylized blue water threads that swell and flow, and would be reminiscent of Japanese prints in which water is amplified and cartoonized. "We wanted the water to be hyper-real like the rest of the landscape and employed a combination of Softimage|XSI's human hair simulating module, NextLimit.com's Real Flow water simulator with Real Wave to generate the wave patterns, and a particle system with Michele Sandroni's Metaballs plugin that generated splashes, to create, what to our knowledge, is an absolutely unique treatment," explained Damijan Saccio, UVPhactory principal/co-founder, who was the CG Supervisor on this project.
"When we first began this project I knew that it was going to require some really serious R&D. We have a great relationship with Softimage and they sent Dilip Singh to our studio and he helped us learn how far we could push XSI's human hair to behave the way we wanted it to. The engineers at SoftImage also helped us with some engineering fixes and coding which was immensely helpful," continued Saccio.
CGI Team Leader/Technical Director/R&D Lead Tsvetomir (Tim) Marinov was UVPH's lead guy in the trenches. "Initially, it was difficult for us to get the motion on the hair but ultimately Real Wave helped to create the water motion... and then we exported it back to XSI. XSI helped us extract edges from the mesh with really hi-resolution curves create curve groups to which we later applied the hair system. There were limitations due to the length of the hair as the river is very long. We created different sets of connecting hairs from the curves, generating rendering challenges, but ultimately we figured out a way to merge each piece of hair and solve that difficulty as well."
UVPH composited their CG water shots with a mix of green-screen footage, a herd of digitally created yaks rendered from a single giant puppet, scale models, and digital matte paintings. However, it proved to be a very labor and time intensive project. There was only one full-size Yak puppet (with 2 performers inside and a third controlling its facial features) that was shot from a number of angles so that compositors at UVPH could digitally duplicate it to form a large herd in which the yaks are seen in many different positions. Only one small patch of the riverside was modeled, and it too had to be shot many times in many different positions.
"It was very difficult to integrate the live-action yaks and our CG river and composite them with miniature landscapes because every single element was shot separately," stated Damijan Saccio. "Essentially we were constructing an environment piece by piece, yak by yak, one patch of riverbank at a time, and integrating the CG to make it look as though it is all moving together. We had to do a lot of hand 3D tracking. Every single scene needed its own individual loving care including individually tweaking the river and river edges. Our animators even drew lines that coincided with the ins and outs of the riverbank to make the water conform to the banks. It was certainly a labor of love."
UVPH compositors worked in After Effects to provide rig removal and background removal for the numerous composites in essentially every scene.
As WanderLust was shot stereographically, every scene UVPH did in 3D had to be done twice. Everything was shot by 2 live-cameras and rendered with 2 CG cameras so we had to render the equivalent of a left eye and a right eye. And as there is a slight distance between the cameras, which gives things different perspectives, everything had to be composited twice. "The music video is shot in 3D with a special camera rig and to match this footage we recreated the rig in XSI with a stereoscopic shader which gave us the offset for the second camera. We created separate passes for the right and left eye thereby building the 3D stereoscopic effect," explained Tim Marinov.
Finally, three versions of the music video had to be assembled: a 2D version for television; a 3D anaglyph version for screening with blue and red glasses which give the illusion of 3D and can be distributed and shown online and on a DVD (Björk's label is making a deluxe DVD which has this version); and lastly, a stereoscopic experience in which one wears polarized glasses to view images projected in specialized theaters.
Originally to be shown on a variety of music channels, WanderLust has been screened at the Museum of Natural History (NY, NY), the FLUX Festival at the Hammer Gallery (LA, CA), Deitch Projects gallery (LIC, Queens), has just been accepted by the juried festival at SIGGRAPH, and has attracted interest from museums and galleries worldwide. The producers plan to screen the video theatrically in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It will also be posted online for those who have their own anaglyph glasses and a televised version will be released in standard definition.