Images courtesy of Nice Shoes

How Nice Shoes made surreal happen in Pink’s “Just Like Fire”

"It will be a race against time." – The White Queen

Last modification: 22 Feb, 2018
Duration
8 mins

For Just Like Fire, signature song for Disney’s new film, Alice Through The Looking Glass, director Dave Meyers of Zanmi Films and Strange Invention’s VFX Supe, Todd Sarsfield, teamed with Nice Shoes Creative Studio to immerse pop star, Pink, into the zany ‘Underworld’ as Alice.

Realizing a dreamlike sequence involving 18 versions of Pink atop a life-sized chessboard, as well as lush, digital gardens filled with flowers and trees, Nice Shoes Creative Studio's Director of CG, Steve Parish, reveals how he and his team fearlessly took on Time to make standout surrealism happen in the striking music video.


 
 

 

"It's about the shortest amount of time I can image having to achieve such a thing in. It was kind of insane, actually."



To start, we have to ask: Was this as fun to work on as it looks?

Yes, it actually was (laughs). I love doing this sort of thing where you’re given this $200 million dollar movie, a short schedule and asked, ‘What can you do to even come close to this?’


How short is short?

It was a very aggressive schedule of three and a half weeks. It's about the shortest amount of time I can imagine having to achieve such a thing in. It was kind of insane, actually (laughs).


What were your main directives here?

To be creative and to make it look great. It could never be a pure photo-real piece in that amount of time but fortunately, the movie itself is not photo-real, it’s magical and painterly.





So where did you start?

I got to see the concepts a few days before the shoot so I had an idea of how it would go. We reviewed the green screen, saw a nice rough comp of all the characters – they did testing with stand-ins to make sure the camera wouldn’t hit anyone or knock Pink out (laughs) – and we went from there. They wanted a documentary-style feel with the camera naturally ‘finding’ the characters even when, of course, it would be motion controlled. It was meticulously choreographed by Dave and Todd up front so that we could get maximum impact with the camera.


"I used 8 different Maya objects – which Arnold is very efficient in rendering – and repurposed those assets time and time again until the garden was complete."



And how was Maya utilized here?

It was mainly out of box as the models are very simple. I wanted everything to be as clean as possible. Too many layers of technology, especially in a short time frame, can go mortally wrong.


And how did you manage to create that entire garden in just 5 days?

I used 8 different Maya objects – which Arnold is very efficient in rendering – and repurposed those assets time and time again until the garden was complete. I hoped that no-one would notice (laughs). I was very concerned about rendering time but we actually got them down to 7 minutes per frame with the full foliage. I was really pleased about that. Anything below 20 minutes is what I normally aim for but using these instancing efficiencies made it super quick.





What made this project exciting for you?

I love to do environments and matte paintings – that’s what I do on feature films. Also, I love a good challenge, breaking things down, problem solving. It’s enjoyable for me.


What was the biggest challenge presented?

On set, they actually didn’t have the correct colors on the costumes so they had to be adjusted from black to white, red to white, or red to black. Also, the costume designer really went to town in order to make everything incredible – and that meant lots of tulle. Being a half-transparent kind of material, it made things extremely interesting. Much of that I worried might be impossible but we had an excellent team of Flame artists, expert finishers, to key it off. They were amazing.





Was there anything that surprised you during the course of this project?

Reliability was initially a huge concern for me because if something went wrong, I couldn’t just paint it to fix it because the shot was seamless and always moving. But it turned out that everything worked extremely well and I was so pleased with how solid and reliable all the software was. I could kick off a render in the morning, turn around and it was done. The surprises mainly came through creative feedback. The trees were changed multiple times and were finalized on the very last day when we delivered, which was cutting it pretty close.


How do music videos differ from film projects?

There’s absolutely a lower budget but because they want something that stands out, they give you creative freedom in exchange. It’s why we love them. With this particular one being loosely tied into the movie, the creative was done by [Director] Dave Meyers and [Strange Invention’s VFX Supervisor] Todd Sarsfield, and then it was brought to us.



 

"Be strong and stick to what you know will look good given the time you have. Being indecisive will leave you with something that looks like a mish-mash at the end of the job."



Did the end result turn out as you’d hoped?

You always want to do more but given the time constraints, it was a massive achievement. It’s so unique looking, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Getting a motion-controlled camera was a real treat because it meant that this got shot correctly. It makes a huge difference in the end.


With this being the most aggressive timeline you’ve worked with, what words of wisdom can you offer regarding ‘efficiency.’

I would say, guide the client. Be strong and stick to what you know will look good given the time you have. Being indecisive will leave you with something that looks like a mish-mash at the end of the job. Get them on board early with the creative and then you’re free to execute.


Will you treat us to some Easter Eggs we can be on the lookout for?

We made some not-so obvious topiaries of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts. They were really fun because we actually got the official Disney models that they used in the movie. I tried to sneak my own face in there but didn’t manage it, unfortunately.





Could you sum up this project with just one word?

Hmmm… I want to say two but if I just have one, I wonder if I could somehow combine ‘exciting’ and ‘challenging’ into one word?


You could and you should. It would be very Lewis Carroll of you.

It would, good point! Here it goes: Excitallenging! (Laughs)


Finally, what’s your best advice to those making their way into this industry?

Don’t be afraid to hone in on what you like. You don’t have to be a director, you don’t have to know how to do everything. If you have one thing you’re good at, be it modelling, animation, whatever, focus on that. Honestly, making 10 seconds of amazing is better than making two minutes of mediocre.


 



Steve Parish and his team at Nice Shoes Creative Studio relied on fast, reliable Maya, Arnold and Flame to quickly – and beautifully – make surreal happen.

Steve is best known for his work on features like, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Elysium (2013), Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), Urge (2016), and on Michael Jackson's music video for, "This Is It."

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Tags
  • Flame
  • Maya
  • Arnold
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