The Vimeo Blog

More Posts

Creator Q&A: Channeling 90s video game graphics with rad rotoscoping

Riley Hooper
May 28, 2014 by Riley Hooper Staff

Every once in a while, a video comes along and steals the still-beating hearts of the Vimeo staff. We're talking a video so magical, its popularity spreads like wildfire through Vimeo HQ, entering every email chain and spontaneously combusting into a fury of likes and comments. A few months ago, we encountered one of these super hot vids: Campbell Logan's ridiculously chill music video for D/A/D's "Orion Beach":

[clip: 82437787]
We couldn't conceive of how a person could achieve such ultimate chillaxation, so we did what we do best: we asked him how he did it.

Vimeo Video School: How did this project come about?

Campbell Logan: Zach Robinson of D/A/D is a very old friend of mine. At a party one time, he mentioned he was in the middle of mastering a new album, and I said I would love to do a video. I listened to the whole album, meditated on it, and picked out my favorite track, which was "Orion Beach." After I sat with it, listened to it too many times, and gradually this cloudy picture came together in my head of abstract humanoids going on an extremely chill jet-ski adventure on another planet.

VVS: How did you do the animation? What equipment, techniques, and programs did you use?

CL: For this project, pretty much all I used was a camera, tripod, five of my friends, a trampoline, my laptop, Final Cut Pro, Maya, and Realflow. I wanted to do some really elaborate character animation for this film, but didn't have access to crazy motion capture equipment, so I came up with the idea of shooting the whole video in live-action and essentially rotoscoping it, but in a modern way. I've actually just uploaded the animatic/motion capture template I shot and edited together:

I'm sure it's apparent that we had a lot of fun on this shoot! It was a good sign when this video made people laugh before any of the animation was done.

VVS: Pardon my ignorance, but I always thought that rotoscoping involved hand-tracing/drawing over video footage, frame by frame. How does rotoscoping work with computer graphics (CG)? Are you still working frame by frame?

CL: So rotoscoping basically means I shot live performances of actors and did animation based on their movement. Hand-drawn animations might still be done with this technique, but it's pretty archaic now. These days motion capture or move matching is the industry standard, which is a process where they record movement information with a bunch of tracking points and relay it to a CG animation.

For this project I did something a little weird. I used this older technique with newer technology. The cool thing about CG animation is that you don't need to do this frame by frame. In computer animation programs like Maya, you can set key frames. For example, I can take a live action shot that is 10 frames, let's say, of an arm moving up to down. On frame one, the arm is up and on frame 10, it is down. In programs like Maya, you can set the first keyframe of the arm to be up, then set another, 10 frames later, to have the arm down. After doing this the computer creates frames in between these frames, which makes the process faster. Motion capture is even faster than this process, but it’s also more expensive.

After the live action shoot and edit was done, I separated each shot and/or scene and created Maya scenes based on those. I imported my live action footage into a scene with all of the assets and was able to set the keyframes needed based on the movement.

Images courtesy of Campbell Logan's Instagram.

Since the video had already been edited, I didn't waste any frames. And after I finished all of the animation, I added the environments, textures, and special fluid elements.

VVS: Tell us more about how you created those elements. Did you use photos or other images for reference? Where did all those different textures come from?

CL: For the textures in the video, I used three different sources: still images I took, generated software textures in Maya, and video images. All the rocks were images of different kind of rocks that I took. The sky was a panorama that I took. The water was a software-generated texture. For the characters themselves, I took television noise and colorized it. It was stuff I recorded digitally from an output in my old television.

I planned on using a lot more of the Realflow stuff for all of the water in the video, but that became too taxing on my computer. So I ended up pretty much only using it for the final scene — for the liquid orbs at the end of the video.

VVS: How long did this project take you from start to finish?

CL: It took me about five to six months. The reason it took this long is that it was pretty much a one man operation! Outside of pre-production and the live shoot, I pretty much took care of the entire production with my 2009 Macbook Pro. Which is also why rendering took a long time.

When it came time to render, I did a lot of different tests. I tried some with a sort of low-quality light and low-quality settings, which made it look like a real N64 or PS1 game. But I ultimately decided to make the light more realistic just because I thought it made it a little richer and unique. Because of that, it took about a month to render, more shots took longer than others. The longer ones usually had more light sources and geometry in the shots. Had I a render farm to use, it would have taken dramatically less time. But instead, everything was done on my laptop.

VVS: What was your inspiration for the aesthetic of this piece?

CL: Oh man, it's all over the place. I can say that this drew strong influence from Wave Race 64, Top Gun, The Lawnmower Man, a ton of sci-fi, and also video art incorporating CGI.

VVS: What was the biggest challenge you faced?

CL: The biggest challenge was the staggering amount of animation and detail needed to achieve what I was aiming for, but that's part of the process! Doing something this ambitious all by myself, on faulty equipment, while working a full-time job, was definitely a big challenge. However, I planned out the whole thing pretty well, and was my only employee. The only big problem I ran into was it turned out my computer didn't have enough power to create the really complex ocean wakes I was hoping to have in the video. But, after a bunch of tests, I realized I kind of liked the look of the ocean I ended up using. The lack of processing power led to an aesthetic decision I'm very happy with.

VVS: What was the greatest reward?

CL: The greatest reward is seeing how into it so many people seem to be! I've been getting really awesome feedback, and a bunch of musicians asking me to work with them. The success has also given me an excuse to help co-found a production company with a few very talented artists. We're called Club Spa and are currently in production on five music videos. Also, the positive press I have received has opened up the possibility of turning this video into a video game! I recently finished all the game design work, and I'm about to start production very soon. It's gonna be an amazing journey and I couldn't be more stoked on it!

That said, I would be lying if I didn't say that the greatest award I received is the Vimeo Staff Pick laurel. I think it's one of the greatest awards a video on the Internet can receive. It's led to the video being seen in 151 countries. That's so sick!

(Editor's note: we did NOT tell him to say that last bit. Promise.)


This conversation is missing your voice. Please join Vimeo or log in.