Production Pipeline: Going the Extra Step

I thought I’d share some of the tricks I use to create scenery with interesting illuminations and effects. Let’s first recall what HAVOC (the film I’m working on right now) is about. HAVOC part 1, is a scene in which the cone-headed, evil doctor Rudinsburg “operates” creating Havoc, a walking, dream-eating lump of charcoal. HAVOC part 1 is played out through the eyes of Havoc who lies on the bed unable to move. In other words, this film is mostly a first-person perspective view.

In order to display that “wideness” I decided to use a very wide angle format, 2.40:1. This kinda simulates the look and feel you would experience since your eyes do have a certain viewing scope. We get an odd sense of reality simply because the aspect ratio encompasses much of the display. With that said, lets take a look at the preview image.

Ok so it’s just plain black and white and rough shading. It has no atmosphere, honestly drafty and boring. Yup, it’s just a sketch right now. Nothing more than a doodle. So what can we do to make it look a bit more final? Here are some tricks I use.

I usually end up going heavy when I post-process things. Sometimes it’s applicable, sometimes not. I figure in this case it is. The first step for me is to give the scene some lights. Unfortunately our only source of light comes from the big operating light you see towards the center of the picture, everything else is grim. I gave those just white. For the heck of it I gave the doctor some glowing eyes too. Mind you, that makes him look even more evil. With those lights in place, it’s time to simulate some Global Illumination, or in other words, brush in bounce lights. Usually doing some dodge and burn helps make nice shadows. I mean there are other ways. You can make layers, you can make a 50% gray overlay layer which can give you similar results.

The next thing to do is color grading. In this case, I made the shadows an intense, deep blue and the highlights a bit tanned. That’s a common scheme to use, and it works most of the time. Although, just to make sure, I tried other color schemes and I figured this was the best so far.

Apply glow. It’s a bit cheesy, but a simple glow filter can really change the mood of the scenery. Now sometimes we overkill glow, which is why we want to make sure it has a purpose and not just for the overall look. But of course, we can break that rule and just overkill it anyway.

Finally lens effects. This includes lensflares, grudge, chromatic aberration and so on. In the case of Havoc, there’s some vingetting, blurring, chromatic aberration, lensflares, and grudge. I figure this ultimately stylizes the shot and creates an additional layer of atmosphere. It also gives a sense of reality even in a cartoonish setting like this. It’s quite a mixture, but it works well when it’s done right.

Lastly, film isn’t perfect. It’s not exactly 100% quality as we see through our eyes. In fact, nothing is perfect, which is why ultra smooth pictures irks you and makes you wonder what’s wrong with it. So, what do we do? The simplest solution is to add a faint layer of noise. Not too much, not too little. By doing so, we get some animated grudge, and something more to see instead of just a blown out white area or overly dark area. It’s just a nice way to add depth to the shot itself.

With that in mind, here’s what that boring picture looks like now.

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