Category Archives: Films

VFX Work featured in Times Square

Extinction in Times Square - Photo Credit: Alek Rost

Last September I acted as visual effects supervisor for the local indie film “Extinction“. The film, which includes about 30 green screen composites, day for night shots and miniature smoke composites, was just featured in the NYC International Film Fest outdoors at Times Square. Here’s one of the shots, a greenscreen day-for-night.

And here’s the full visual effects breakdown video:

Pretty cool!

Visual Effects Breakdown – Speak and May the Plague Take You

Dream Sequence

A two minute breakdown of shots created by Stephen Withers for the film “Speak and May the Plague Take You” dir. by Cody Duckworth. Creating the surreal falling clocks and hourglass vfx required extensive dynamics work in Houdini as well as a large amount of roto and comping.

Practical elements, including water and falling leaves/debris, were shot with the help of David Kendall. Michael Rogers helped out with some of the 3D modeling.

Speak and May the Plague Take You – Directed by Cody Duckworth, Visual Effects Supervisor Stephen Withers.

Practical Elements

Some words:

The highlight of this project was creating the surreal imagery of the falling timepieces during the dream sequence. The hourglass and sand were a very complicated Houdini simulation, while the other clocks were rendered out of Maya or were 2d cards. The roto work was pretty time-consuming as no greenscreen was used and there were multiple characters running in a single shot.

While many of the shots required not-so-subtle effects, Poseidon emerging from the water took the cake. I thought lots of splashes and water spray would be cooler than simply showing some bubbling (and ironically, easier to pull off). We shot some water elements in the back yard using some cups, a bucket and a hose. The water was back-lit so it showed up nicely against black. I comp’d it with background plates of the ocean. While there are some scale issues (I could only shoot the elements at 60fps) I think the shot serves its purpose!

3D Track

3D Track

Another roto-heavy shot required the addition of the looming shadow of Poseidon dwarfing the main character. Since Poseidon would theoretically block out the sun, this necessitated the removal of the shadow cast by the dwarfed main character. To accomplish this, I tracked the original footage and was able to generate a clean plate in 3d, having cloned out his shadow. This clean plate was composited with the original and an overlay of Poseidon to create the final effect.

Reflection Replacement

Reflection Replacement

There were a few spots where I had to clean up the original footage. I did pretty involved stabilization in After Effects for four or five shots, and in one case had to generate completely new reflections in one of the character’s glasses. These science-goggles were almost perfect mirrors, which made the task interesting. I was able to create a fake reflection in Photoshop having sourced from some photos of the set I snapped. I then tracked it in and did my best to give the reflection the feel of the original.

“Speak and May the Plague Take You” was certainly an interesting project, different than the usual fair. It presented a lot of unique problems to solve and as a result I have some work that stands out a great deal from, well, the rest of my work.

I’d like to give shout-outs to Michael Rogers, who did some additional modeling, as well as David Kendall, who let me borrow his camera and helped shoot the practical elements (and got a little wet). Also, I’d like to thank Oliver Palmer and Ryan Bowden from SideFX for their Houdini expertise.


50's inspired Evil Machine

Metropolis inspired Evil Machine

A frustrated painter/evil-mastermind creates a dark machine to help with his painting. This is one of those films that characterizes “What if” scenarios that you may daydream about when you’re fed up with something, “If only I could…create an evil machine to do my bidding!”, which is exactly what real-life painter Kendric Tonn goes about doing. Rembrandstein was created as the final project for my Compositing class Sophomore year, and features a dozen effects shots that utilize a wide range of effects; digital sets, CG-brush object insertion, tracking, etc. The evil brush itself is a live action prop-on-a-stick in most scenes, but was recreated in Lightwave for the more complex shots.

The Evil Brush

The Evil Brush

Like most of the other short films done that year, Rembrandstein was created in about two weeks and represents many all-nighter’s at Montgomery Hall spent toiling away in Shake. There wasn’t much time to plan, but I knew “evil machine” meant Metropolis-like imagery, as well as the cliche art-deco designs of 50’s science fiction programs. I actually gathered most of my reference from Star Trek Voyager’s Captain Proton episodes, whose designers amalgamated everything I was looking for into their sets. It’s unfortunate that there weren’t more shots with the machine, but dealing with black drapes was easier than keying greenscreen.

Quicktime Video

Watch as Quicktime

Flash Video

Watch as Flash

This was also the first project shot on Oliver’s Canon XHA1, by today’s standards a mediocre device for a mediocre format (HDV) but at the time, and for someone used to keying ntsc footage, this was pretty awesome. Rembrandstein runs for three minutes and stars Kendric Tonn and Oliver Palmer as the Igor character. The effects were rendered in Lightwave and composited in Shake.

Note: It seems that the Flash version, although properly compressed, has trouble playing back unless it’s in full screen, however you can watch the quicktime or right click on either version and save the file to your disk.

Art School and You – Sophomore Film Flashback

Students Utilize the New Transportation System

My very first visual effects class at SCAD was perhaps my most industrious. I produced four films, each done in about two weeks. This film, Art School and You, was the final project for that quarter, over three years ago. It masquerades as ye olde educational filme from the 50’s or 60’s, using desaturated colors and an overlayed projector effect, courtesy of the SCAD film dept, and warns of the various perils of being an art school student.

Watch as Flash Video

Watch as Flash Video

Watch as Quicktime

Watch as Quicktime

The concept formed after I completed a single shot of a student riding on top of a bus for an earlier project – I thought I could make fun of a few more caveats of a certain art school in addition to the over-crowded transportation. Art School and You was shot on a Canon GL2, composited in Adobe After Effects with some 3D work in Lightwave. The visual effects can be classified as cheese-tastic, though to be fair, it was the beginning of sophomore year and the project was produced in two weeks. Oliver Palmer plays the unfortunate student, with Kendric Tonn lending his voice for the excellent educational film narration.