POST-HUMAN – VFX BREAKDOWN

Humans augmented by artificial intelligence inhabit the future depicted in author turned-filmmaker David Simpson’s bestselling Post-Human anthology. With nanobots integrated into their biology, these post-humans are able to stream expertise, access information by thought, and even fly.

Written by Michael Eng

This past summer, with an on-set crew of three David Simpson set about adapting the opening scene of the first book to film. I was brought on after principal photography to create all the visual effects. David, along with his production designer (and wife) Jennifer Simpson had a very clear vision: a clean, crisp, clutter-less future.

'Post Human' director David Simpson on set (image: supplied).

‘Post-Human’ director David Simpson on set (image: supplied).

Jennifer had prepared Adobe Photoshop mock-ups of nearly every shot and provided me with detailed style sheets; meanwhile David had created an animatic, which provided a clear blueprint of how each shot might flow onto the next. Armed with these tools, I began the process of designing the shots.

With a limited budget, the live action was filmed in a matter of just three hours – without on-set VFX supervision.

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One of the most featured effects, the city skyline, was added first. I used a combination of Mocha and Syntheyes to track the footage onto the blank horizon. I used Mocha again for roto work and inserted the city element in After Effects.

Some of these shots proved quite difficult to track; I resorted to hand-animating some portions of the footage.

The plasma trails of flying “post-human” commuters, seen in the background of many shots featuring the city skyline, were created with the Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular plugin.

The tool that was most valuable to me throughout the project was the Element 3D plugin for After Effects from Video Copilot. This tool allows the artist to composite 3D elements in an interactive 3D space within After Effects.

Shooting 'Post Human' (image: supplied).

Shooting ‘Post-Human’ (image: supplied).

The most challenging aspect of the film was creating the shots of the main character wearing his flight helmet.

David and Jennifer actually manufactured a physical helmet for the actor to wear, using a 3D printer. I was required to attach a glass visor to the helmet in post. Problems arose as there were few discernable features on the helmet to track -my best camera solve on the footage still had obvious slipping.

Within the composite, the Element 3D plugin enabled me with a view of the visor model with simulated global illumination and I was able to compensate by hand animating the model’s 3D location. The plugin was also used to add the holographic videoscreens, which were tracked to the actor’s head movements.

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The climax of the short film is undoubtedly the main character’s blast off into space. I used Blender, the free and open source 3D animation suite for much of the work.

Jennifer had supplied me with a very dense model of the helmet used for 3D printing, which I retopologized in Blender and added to my rigged character. I added subtle movements to the character as he flew; render passes along with the camera movement and a null for the character were then exported from Blender into After Effects.

Actor Madison Smith wearing the 3D-printed helmet during green screen shooting on Post Human image: supplied).

Actor Madison Smith wearing the 3D-printed helmet on the set of ‘Post-Human’ (image: supplied).

The final touches of plasma trails were generated with Particular using the null as a location for the emitter. The Earth and terraformed moon were created and rendered with Element 3D.

Ultimately, the success of this project must be attributed to David and Jennifer, especially considering that we worked together long-distance. Daily Skype sessions were a great way to communicate “face to face” as I am based in Nashville, TN, while David and Jennifer are located in Vancouver, B.C.

By maintaining such a high level of organization throughout the project and providing me clear, thoughtful instruction for their vision, I was able to work happily and efficiently on Post-Human.

Post Human grading and graphic novel before after. The graphic novel also acted as the films story board at times image: supplied).

‘Post-Human’ grading and graphic novel before after. The graphic novel also doubling as the film’s story board at times (image: supplied).

About the Author

Michael Eng is a visual effects artist, who lives and works in Nashville Tennessee. His recent projects include visual effects for the music videos Alive Again by EDM artist, 3lau and Dierks Bentley’s Drunk on a Plane, which won the CMA music video of the year in 2014. Michael can be reached at enganimation@gmail.com.

Watch Post-Human below:

VideoVFX Breakdown of Post Human:

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