Re-Defining a Legacy
Imagine you’re back in college. You go to one of the biggest universities in the country, with a deep legacy rooted in football culture. Every game becomes a spectacle. You wait in anticipation with your peers as they continue to perform crowd gags to liven up the stadium. Then it happens. The screen goes dark and you hear the all familiar sound of Thunderstruck by AC/DC. Sparky, the mischievous sun devil mascot of Arizona State University, emerges as a giant in the desert landscape of Arizona. He romps through the city only to arrive in front of Sun Devil Stadium, stomping on the visiting team’s bus before slamming his fork into the center of the field. The year is 2004.
This intro video created a connection with it’s audience that is difficult to define, but easy to understand. Although we at Copper Post and True Story Films were very happy with the success of our first creation in 2004, it was time to modernize and re-define the old intro that everyone knew and loved. That includes a new look for the “Stomp the Bus!” moment, which became a kind of campus phenomenon.
Our pipeline for this project needed to move very quickly, so we took advantage of the time we had in the pitching and planning stages to create tests and an animatic of our process. We approached the process with an open mind, sitting in a room together, throwing out ideas and seeing what sticks. We needed to strick a balance over what we wanted to do, and what was possible in the timeframe. After plotting out our sequence, we used the lovely Rob Beadle as our test model to walk through the different shots. Because every shot for the video required quite a few visual effects, we created rough comps so that our offline edit was very well timed out before the actual shoot.
Compositing techniques made up the core workload for this project. It was all hands on deck to pull keys and properly lay in each shot. After planning out the animatic we had a solid foundation to layout all our green screen shots. Many of the various sequences required a great deal of set building. Shooting clean background plates gave us the opportunity to mix, match and be flexible in post. Take a peek below to see some shot breakdowns from the intro.
By the Power of Poje!
In the beginning of this project we always knew we wanted to tell a Sparky origin story. Several ideas floated around until we decided he should be born of the sun and fly to the Earth in a great fireball. Lisa Poje, Copper Post’s awesome motion designer and general badass, brought this action to life by building and animating Sparky’s Earth landing with After Effects.
Sparky, Born of the Sun
Fire and Dust
Very early in the project our VFX Lead, Lenny Solis, had numerous discussions and tests mocked up to meet the video’s visual demands. Building on our current VRAY pipeline, we used 3D Studio Max, VRAY and PhoenixFD to simulate and animate the various fire and dust elements in each shot. By working with high-end, up-to-date technology, we were able to deliver outstanding effects in a very narrow timeframe.
Maroon and Gold
Niki Kizer provided the awesome finishing touches, adding gradients, color notes, flares, vignettes, and styles to each shot to give it that extra ASU punch. Everything was placed in a wash of maroon and golden hues. Consistency in color brought the whole piece together and gave it a look all its own. At Copper Post we use Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve for color correction, providing us with the right toolset and vast flexibility to achieve any look, very quickly. See below for a few images before and after color correction.
Before and After
Stomp the Bus!
The stomping of the bus was the big payoff moment for ASU fans sitting in the stadium just before the game starts. Re-creating this effect was a challenge primarily because we needed something modular, and that could render quickly. A new bus had to be rendered every week for each new team but we wanted a little more realism than the previous generation. JJ Chalupnik, Copper Post’s in-house VFX Generalist and Video Editor, used a lattice deformer to crush the 3D model around the form of Sparky’s giant foot. JJ composited footage of glass and debris on and around the bus as it was smashed into the pavement. The end result with sound is a very modular, very entertaining bus stomp.
Tricks of the Trade
Shooting on the RED EPIC, we had lots of options when it came to resolution and frame-rate. Many shots were captured on sticks, in a static position. The only real camera moves came from pans and tilts to follow sparky through a shot. We shot Sparky on green screen at a slow-motion 48fps. The high resolution of the EPIC allowed us to reposition our frame freely and we used the higher frame-rate during post when we converted back to 23.98fps. The result was a slightly slower moving Sparky, with the same intensity of movement. This provided a subtle, but nice sense of scale to his movement that really helped sell Sparky’s size and weight.
Handheld iPhone Tracking
We wanted a handheld look for several shots to really put Sparky in the scene. Rob Beadle used his iPhone to capture some dummy tracking footage around his desk. With a null object carrying the transform data, we could build each shot on a clean, static plate, then parent the comp to the null object and achieve a very convincing handheld look. We could then slow it down and smooth it out where the track may have gotten too rough. This technique was also used for adding vibrations from the weight of Sparky’s massive steps. We tapered the vibrations with expressions so that the closer Sparky was to the camera, the more intense the vibration.
iPhone Tracking Demo
After the video’s release Fox Sports came in house and shot a fun “Behind the Scenes” for the video. Check it out below.
Fox Sports Network: Behind the Scenes
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