Before we had the opportunity to work with director Braden Lee, we were fans of his work. His videos with Supreme Cuts & Pascäal capture visceral imagery in a gritty world of divergent characters and emotional connections. As with many independent filmmakers, Braden often writes, directs, shoots, edits and produces his own videos. For Lee’s video, “January on Lake Street” by Atmosphere, Coat of Arms was honored to create the visual effects.
“Visual effects involves the integration of live-action footage and generated imagery to create environments which look realistic, but would be dangerous, expensive, impractical, or simply impossible to capture on film.” If you’re interested in what it’s like being a visual effects artist, specifically, the Wall Street Journal describes the basics of the field here.
We worked for several months building and refining a catastrophic collision of two worlds in space. Lee’s early direction led us to the colliding Earth sequence from Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.”
Lee wanted a colder, harsher rogue planet than the one depicted in Melancholia. He also wanted a slightly brighter, more clear representation of Earth with visible textures of the surface. Below we describe our process to create these visual effects with lead visual effects artist Matteo Grossi at the helm.
1. Using 3DS Max, we created a 3D globe to represent Earth. We later broke this into pieces, which you’ll see below. For the texture of Earth, we visited NASA for references and planet textures, ultimately landing on these maps to generate a basis for specular maps, bump maps and height maps. And to simulate reflections and further define the textures of Earth.
2. Grossi created a static cloud map for the atmosphere of Earth. This was later brought into After Effects to simulate the movement and blending of the clouds. All of these original texture files were created within Adobe’s Photoshop.
3. We broke up the pieces to our 3D globe to help with animating the collision of the planets. Once Earth collides with the rogue planet, the planetary pieces separate, revealing Earth’s core along with a good deal of destruction. To be as true to form as possible, we used this image of Earth’s tectonic plates for the breaking points of Earth’s core.
4. The same process was applied to creating the rogue planet. Because the rogue planet doesn’t fracture, we focused on creating an entirely unique map for the planet’s land and texture.
5. To simulate the progressive death of Earth as it collides with the rogue planet, we blended the NASA living texture with elements of it dying. For example, utilizing the tectonic plate information, and knowing how our 3D pieces would eventually disperse, we created cracks on the texture. This is where the pieces separate and reveal the core. We also had control of how much lava and effects came from those breaking elements here in the texture. While in Photoshop, we feathered away atmosphere and stratosphere.
6. Every tectonic edge generated hundreds of particles which spread from points of collision or breaks. The pieces were generated by direct and indirect impact.
7. In the middle of Earth, we created a 3d core. We also applied several lighting processes to simulate its high temperature. The compositing of all this (including passes and effects) required 40 layers and rendering took days.
You can see more of our visual effects work in this Strafe video.
We’re excited to see that January on Lake Street has received over 330,000 views on YouTube.
And without further ado, here’s the full “January On Lake Street” music video: