Having already produced two previous promotional videos for Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club's T20 team, otherwise known as the Outlaws, Pete Black, Head of Post Production at Affixxius Films, knew that this third instalment would be the most ambitious yet. A team of just two CG artists and one visual effects supervisor had only two months to create a three and a half minute film that utilised motion capture, actual cricketers and even a foe in the form of the Alien Cricketer.
The concept was that in the previous films, called Cricket Has Landed 1 and 2, (www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHyaN-5cBpI and www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi8hWMAdlNI), the Outlaws had fended off an attack on Nottingham. In this concluding film the aliens unleash a devastating force and steal the "spirit of cricket," hiding it deep within Sherwood Forest. The film follows the players as they attempt to take back the spirit of cricket and save the day. As the first film in the series won Best Promotional Programme at the Royal Television Society Midlands awards in 2014, Pete knew they would have to come up with something special to better it.
To start with, it meant using mocap information to drive the animation of the Alien Cricketer. This took half a day in the studio but at least with Cinema 4D it was straightforward importing the mocap data. The entire video has a Japanese anime influence which was typified by the Alien Cricketer design. This was designed by Kieron Edwards, a concept artist that Affixxius worked with. He was briefed to make a character that was very imposing but had armour that was based on cricket equipment. It took the team 10 days to model the alien character which ended up with 39,897 polygons.
Pete explained how they went about creating the motion capture, "We worked alongside AudioMotion to capture the movements required and then Dan, one of our 3D artists, translated the information to the character rig he'd made in Cinema 4D. Due to the size of the character, 10ft tall with a large chest, we had to be mindful of the limitations to avoid the arms intersecting with the body." To do this the actor being captured was directed to hold his arms out wider than his actual body, but this only minimised the issue. The data was then manually adjusted using the rigging tools to fit the large frame of the alien.
The next challenge was to create a CGI forest for the players to be set in. This is where Cinema 4D's MoGraph tools made life easier as Pete revealed, "The MoGraph tools made building the 3D forest really simple as we were able to use cloners with random effectors. We used a total of seven trees in a cloner with a random effector attached. The foliage was animated using XPresso which drove the various effectors applied to the ferns."
As the action starts in the forest you can also see one particularly large and old tree. This is the Major Oak, which is actually in the middle of Sherwood Forest and according to local folklore, was used by Robin Hood and his men. The tree itself is over 800 years old. To create it in the film the main sculpting tools used were Pull, Smooth and Pinch. Pete pointed out that, "The convenience of having the sculpting all within the same application made for a seamless workflow. Sculpt layers helped to add levels of detail onto the bark."
The cricketers themselves were filmed in a green screen studio, and lighting plans were drawn up in advance so everyone knew where lights were going to be positioned. Wind machines were also used to help with interaction. The Director ran the players through each of the scenes and gave them reference points, such as the alien will be stood here and you need to be looking there.
However, at the end of the day, they were actually cricketers, not actors, so some retakes were required. Still, Pete was impressed with how they acted in front of the camera, "On the whole the players were very good, most had been in the previous videos so they knew the process. Steven Mullaney in particular was very good in front of camera giving some great performances."
After creating the environments in Cinema 4D and completing the filming they were composited in Nuke. Pete pointed out the benefits of a smooth pipeline between the two, "We're really starting to get to grips with the workflow between Cinema 4D and Nuke and the results are getting better every time. It was a very quick turnaround for our Post Production department as we only had approximately two months to complete all the shots."
Given the complexity of the project and the small team involved, Pete admitted that it was tough to turn it round in the two month timeframe and added, "There were a lot of late nights and pizzas consumed. Once we received all the data from the motion capture company we did notice that the alien's 'Big Laugh' scene looked like he was dancing rather than laughing. The scene does feature in the final video but we felt it was clear he was laughing when the audio can be heard, making it less Saturday Night Fever and more like an alien chuckling."
In the end it took around five weeks of rendering across a render farm of 10-12 machines to output the three and a half minutes of film. It has the slightly unusual resolution of 2048x858. Pete explained why, "We shot the project on an ARRI AMIRA, which shoots at a native resolution of 2048x1152. We then opted to cut the film at cinema scope 2K, which gave us a cropped height of 858."
Given the heavy workload and intense schedule Pete was also thankful that C4D was up to the task, "Cinema 4D is the most robust software I've ever used. It may take time to think about complicated scenes but it'll hardly ever crash."
Watch the Behind The Scenes movie: www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0MvURegLwM
You can see more about Affixxius Films at www.affixxius.com.
All images courtesy of Affixxius Films