Who doesn't love a good explosion? I sure love 'em... the question is how to make one and make it look good. For training and a little fun, I got our film group together one evening to shoot a quick take that I could use later to create some exciting imagery. Check out the video, then read on to see how we did it.
How it Was Done
Visual effects shots typically require lots of planning. But since we were doing something so short and unrelated to any other shots, I figured we could get by without too much fuss.
We hung the green screen on the wall with nothing but 2x4s and some masking tape. Then, we set up our construction lights (all we had at the time to light with). Throwing a few pillows on the floor from the couches nearby, I asked Whitney to do her part (see original plate below). After a few takes we had a good shot to work with.
Here's where the real work started.
In After Effects, using KeyLight, I was able to remove the green screen from the original plate (see below). Because the shot was done in SD (Standard Definition: 720x480), the poor resolution prevented a really good key. The reflection of the green screen on the black floor keyed out very nicely as well. The exception was the reflection of Whitney's clothes. I could have rotoscoped the reflection out, but decided against it because the reflection made the scene look wet. This keyed into the cause of the accident in the first place so it was left in. The rain was added to help complete the effect and it played nicely with the rest of the shot.
After looking at several backgrounds, the bridge shot fit the best. It implies peril because of its height and the perspective matched the original plate. The car photo was also chosen for its perspective and lighting. Because of the rain component... or more accurately, the cloudy sky, I would need plates that were diffusely lit.
The image of the car had to be split into two layers to allow Whitney to crawl out from inside the car. She would be behind the windshield but in front of the vertical support between the doors, as well as obscuring the back of the car when she got up. The original plate was sandwiched in between the two car layers.
Because the scene was wet and there was already a reflection of our actress, we would also need to generate a reflection for the car. A copy of the car was flipped and distorted to make the right shape and position. Then, the layer transparency was changed to make it look more like a reflection. The fire was high enough in the scene that reflections were not necessary for them.
A grunge/burn layer was added to the bottom of the car to help incorporate the fire as just placing the fire elements didn't look right at all. A black solid layer was given some masks with varying degrees of feathering to cover the bottom of the fire elements and help them look like they were burning and damaging the bottom of the car.
To enhance the explosion effect I added some additional movement and scaling to the original plate layer. By increasing the size of the original plate, it appears that she is being launched away from the explosion and rapidly passing by the camera.
A glow layer was added near the top of the stack and only turned on during the explosion portion. This heightened the intensity of the event, and additionally, some camera shake was added at that same time to give it a little more jolt.
Finally, on the top I added a color correction from another of Video Copilot product: Film Magic Pro. The full effect was a bit too much, so I reduced its opacity to make it more appropriate.
The music included was yet another Video Copilot offering: Pro Scores. A sinister piece with some extra stuff thrown in for effect.
Overall, the whole shot took about 5 hours to complete. If there is enough interest, I might try my hand at making a tutorial to show how it was all done. Please comment if you would like to see this kind of content.
- Bridge photo
- Rain impacts
- Car photo, part 1
- Car reflection (car photo flipped and distorted with a transfer setting of screen)
- Original plate with green screen removed (see below)
- Car photo, part 2
- Smoke element
- Fire Element 1
- Fire Element 2
- Burn marks on vehicle under carriage
- Falling rain
- Explosion Element 1
- Explosion Element 2
- Debris Element
- Glow Adjustment layer
- Color Correction layer
- Foot steps audio Element
- Explosion audio Element 1
- Explosion audio Element 2
- Music Element 1
As you can see, there were quite a few elements to make up this shot. In a larger scale production, this could easily double. But don't let this scare you. There are many tutorial sites out there (who knows, THATfish might just have some one day... maybe even a tutorial on this one) that will help you to learn the skills required to do this kind of effect.
Here you can see the original plate we shot in the church basement. Our actress, Whitney, crawls across the floor, stands up, looks over her shoulder, then runs and jumps into some pillows we had laying just out of frame in front of the camera.
- Camera: Canon XL1s
- Audio: Stock sound effects from the Video Copilot's Action Essentials
- Fire Video: Again, Video Copilot's Action Essentials
Call to Action
There's only one reason there aren't more Christian sci-fi movies out there. And no, it's not because God and science aren't compatible. If anything, since God created science, we as Christians have the corner on science. The reason is that it's time and skill intensive.
There are a number of visual effects shops out there. THATfish could possibly be doing this in the near future.
You may want to take a peek at The Effects Forge. They are a Christian company geared toward visual effects for Christian films. I met several of their staff at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival in 2010, and saw some of their work on screen. Very impressive!
So go out and make some sci-fi... it's a genre that needs our attention. Then, do the research or find someone who knows how to do it and make something impressive.
God bless your Christian films!