Several months ago I supervised a project called Speak and May the Plague Take You. This short film required some surrealistic imagery of giant clocks smashing into the ground, including an hourglass. After wrapping the project, I wrote this technical breakdown because I tend to forget everything. Since glass shattering is a somewhat common effect but not necessarily simple to achieve, I hope this breakdown will help other Houdini artists grasp the fundamentals and maybe save some time.
The hourglass shattering effect required a lot of exploration in Houdini DOP’s. The sidefx glass of water shattering tutorial (I hesitate to call it a tutorial) as well as the example files for the voronoi fracture OTL were helpful in giving me a starting point to build my effect.
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.
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!
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.
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.