Broadcast corporations employ visually striking idents and bumpers, often featuring abstract 3D animation and motion graphics, to build their program brands on-screen. Using digital visual effects, it is possible to create highly stylized, art-directed worlds as backgrounds for telling stories that are rooted in the visual identity of the TV channel. This is opening up a new arena for filmmakers, designers and visual effects artists to explore.
Placebo Effects recently co-produced and designed the digital set and VFX for such a film – Arena– for the Norwegian broadcast corporation TV 2 and their sport division. The film recently went on to win the Best Visual Effects award in the TV production category at this year's Norwegian Bve awards. Kim Baumann Larsen, creative director and partner at Placebo Effects, describes the production and design process.
The Arena film got started with director/producer Joon Brandt approaching me with the idea of creating a new kind of promo for the largest commercial Norwegian broadcast corporation TV 2 fusing the look of feature film and fashion in a futuristic short film. Armed with a storyboard we approached the broadcast company who went on to greenlight the project.
As this was the first major green screen VFX film project that Placebo Effects had taken on, much effort was put into the planning phase including making both a videomatic and animatic in addition to a revised storyboard. We were also careful to have only a select few shots with a moving camera. It is important for me to stress that we could not have done this project without the help of some very talented VFX artists with Aksel Jermstad at Storyline Studios doing a superb job in Flame and artists such as Aleksander Berge helping out with supporting VFX and one of Norway's most experienced VFX artists Rune Spaans doing all of the particle effects.
ON THE DESIGN
The concept for the design was rooted in the geometric 80s style look of the existing animated bumper for TV 2. I wanted to upgrade it to this millenium and used the super ellipse as the baseline for the overall shape of the arena. The floor was split into a series crystaline interlocking hexagons, a subtle reference to the classic soccerball design of hexagons and pentagons as well as a hommage to classic sci-fi design.
The heroine was to enter the arena through a tall castle-like gate, then cross a 'moat' over an extending bridge before reaching her destination on the top of the podium. These design features represented challenges which she had to overcome to get to the goal – for her to be in the center of the sport universe.
At the top of the podium rests a cloud of energy particles which transform into a controller. This is a replica of the main graphical element from the TV channel's ident. This controller would be used to manipulate huge TV screens surrounding the heroine on which powerful sports images, mainly soccer, would be shown.
PREPARING FOR ONLINE
The use of online in Flame was decided upon in order to give TV 2 the ability to art direct the look in a similiar working fashion to that of commercials.
We knew we were going to have a fairly limited amount of time in Flame. For the breakdown of each shot into render passes it was essential for us to work out together with the Flame artist what was needed for all shots, and what should be delivered additionally for specific shots. Since the final look of the film had yet to be set it was important that we had enough flexibility in post to push the look where it needed. The challenge was then to balance the number of passes so that it gave enough flexibility to grade and composite the film in the most efficient way in Flame.
The shots were rendered out with V-Ray in 3ds Max in open EXR format at 16-bit half float. The main elements were a beauty pass, an alpha pass, an ambient occlusion pass, an element matte pass with the main set pieces for separate colorcorrection, and a z-pass for depth of field processing in post. In addition we would do additional passes for some shots such as for the animated floor graphics and the hero hub (the TV controller). We also rendered some of the VFX passes with the airborne particles being the most notable.
TV 2 Sport Arena
It was a very valuable project for us to do being the first major VFX film. The importance of planning the project can not be underestimated. For the future I would like to involve both a cinematographer and editor earlier in the process to help make the animatic, since we ended up following this very closely; having a trained cinematographer help out with the layout and framing, and an editor working on the animatic will save a lot of time in post. There were a number of shots we rendered out that did not make it into the final film because the edit didnt work.
Also, doing pick-up shots on the green screen is useful which can help you save shots that don't work. Lastly, there seems to be a trend towards a more visual story development process. It is beneficial to spend more time upfront fleshing out the design of the story universe which would allow a more traditional location discovery process as found on live-action films.
The Placebo Effects team consisted of myself as co-producer, production designer and vfx supervisor and Dag J. Meyer, Thomas Høimyr and Thomas Pilgrim on digital sets, animation and visual effects.