Zune | Piece of Me, Piece of You
You better believe puppets. We’ve been trying to do something puppet driven for a lonnnng time. In the sharing spirit of Zune we collaborated with 72andSunny to write, design, direct and composite this undead film from start to finish. We partnered with our east coast homeboy Adam Parker Smith to build the grotesque felt puppetry. Big ups to everyone who helped out to make this thing come to life. Extra special thanks to Chromeo for laying down such a hot m-f track.
Check out the zune-arts.net behind the scenes video @ Vimeo
When 72andSunny approached us to concept a film for Zune arts we were all like “OH SNAP! SHIT SON! SO TIGHT!” but we didn’t want them to think we wanted it that bad, so on the phone we were like “… uh… yeah. Zune arts huh. Sounds cool.” Then we got to work.
Writing can be a sonofabitch sometimes… but here it wasn’t really a problem. The three of us sat down and brainstormed like little maniacs. We settled on a couple of ideas which we fleshed out a bit more and shared with the agency. They really took to one idea in particular (the zombies bit). On our first call, they had a couple of great ideas that brought a little more depth to the story, which we loved. We incorporated those thoughts, and produced the final script.
We’re always trying to expand our little circle of working buddies, so we hit up a couple of people whose work we really dug – Andrew Hem and Adam Parker Smith. We referenced their work in our pitch, and figured who better to go to than the artists themselves. What’s awesome is that both of them were super into the project. Here’s some of Andrew Hem’s sketches, as well as the final character designs for the piece.
By nature, this campaign is artist driven, so Zune was pretty much all about letting us do our thing. It was a very cool professional experience. Once we locked in the character designs, we made a little trip to nyc and worked with Adam (who created the heads) and Carolyn Salas (who built the bodies) to bring these guys to life.
We went through a couple revisions to get the physical puppets themselves feeling more like the 2d designs. Seeing one artist interpret another artists designs in another style and dimension was really interesting. It was fucking awesome seeing these guys slowly take shape. Carolyn and Adam did an amazing job with the characters, it is their specialty after all.
Boarding is always cool. Our new friend Omar really helped out on this front. He took our piles of terrible quick scribble frames and made them pretty, and he did it fast. We boarded out the major story points, as well as a lot of extra gag options we wanted to try and sneak into the montage. This became our shooting bible on set.
Raising the Dead
It was like Christmas in our office when the boxes arrived from New York. We tore into them like a pack of wolves over a fresh kill. We brought in a great group of puppeteers who took these lifeless felt puppets, and figured out how to make them come alive. Holes were cut, felt was ripped, eyes gouged, arms broken, sticks prodded, and lots of duct tape was used to perform a sort of macabre frankensteinesque surgery. And then there was light…
The puppeteers gave our characters the personality we were looking for. Our jaws dropped with childlike glee seeing them move for the first time. We had a couple of days to mess with rigging, and a couple of days of choreography. Getting 3 or 4 intertwined and overlapping people to move in such a way to make a puppet learn the dance steps, that was a trick in itself.
Getting the puppets to move to the beat of that Chromeo track, which is hella fast, was another story. Yeah, shit was crazy. Ultimately we found that the puppeteers could move comfortably at 66% speed, so we shot at that rate, and later sped it up. Here’s some of our early reference stuff and a couple of early style and look development tests we did along the way mostly to prove to ourselves we really could do what we were trying to do.
Wow… the shoot. Fucking awesome. Where do we even begin, there’s so much tight shit to talk about. So this DP named Bengt Jonsson finds out about the Zune project, and offers up his services to us (we casually knew him before, but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of working with him). He owns a little camera called the RED, which is sick tight! Workflow on set was a breeze. We still find ourselves in awe with how quickly and insanely technology advances.
We had two 12 hour shoot days scheduled, 5pm to 5am. Well it turns out, that the sun didn’t set until about 6:30, so right off the bat we were behind schedule. Great. But we got down to business.
The puppeteers dressed down in their black body suits (which were pretty scary), the crew was all over the place, just totally on top of their game. Bengt and the camera/lighting department were spot on with everything. Before we knew it, we burned through all the midnight oil. Sunrise quickly put an end to our first day of fun. Check it.
A couple hours in traffic and a tiny bit of sleep later, we were back in Valencia for round two. Everyone on the crew was there ready to handle business again. Even at 3am when the deathlike chill crept over our bones, everyone was laughing and having a good time. It was great. Too many words, more photos.
All in all the shoot was a success, but there were a few shots we didn’t get to that we couldn’t live without. Bengt and company rose to the occasion. A small paired down crew volunteered for a 3rd day – this time, starting in the morning and on a sound stage (Big ups and a sincere thank you to Keslow camera). We shot a bunch of inserts and a few other key moments against black. These shots were later comped with scavenged background plates and stills from the first 2 days of shooting. We wrapped camera at 5pm and everyone went their separate ways. Heres some more photos!
And a couple behind the scenes videos…
Editorial was a breeze. The RED camera automatically generates proxy quicktimes from the native 4K plates that Final Cut can edit no problem. We hit up Jason Painter, who we’ve worked with once before. He’s a fucking madman to say the least. A week later, we had our locked cut. Here it is in all of its ugly untreated glory.
The RED post workflow is new to the industry and especially new to us. So we called upon Plaster City Digital to transfer the EDL as raw 2K tif sequences. We actually worked with the untreated digital negative. The three of us and our friend Tyler Nathan sat down and did all the comping inside After Effects using this flat pass. A simple contrast adjustment layer at the top of the comp, simulating a LUT.
Because of our shooting approach, we were able to get like 80% of our mattes cut by pulling luma keys. Simple garbage mattes were animated to fill in the details. It wasn’t too bad at all. That being said, there were definitely a bunch of roto shots, and we’ve since learned our lesson. We again called upon the masters over at RotoFarm for assistance. They do fucking great work, and they do it fast. You guys are fantastic, and we sincerely appreciate your contribution to the film.
Comping was pretty straightforward. In most cases we had 2 or 3 plates that needed to be combined, so the comps weren’t too expensive. We rendered out these final comps without the LUT, and imported the flat final comps into a master AE edit, where we developed and applied our color correction look. And that is what you see as final.
It can’t be said enough times. Thank you to everyone who worked on this spot. Huge props to Stephen Steiner our live action producer, the guy brought so fucking much to the table. Warm thanks to MaryAnn Cabrerra ,our post producer, who kept shit in line once we were back behind the computers. A lot of time and effort was graciously donated by many individuals. This is your film too. Now go watch the piece again!