View Full Version : What Lies Beneath - VFX Challenge - Bischofftep

06 June 2003, 03:24 AM
Click here ( for the final entry!

Hello all!

Here goes. My second entry to CGChallenge. Seems I've decided that compositing is more interesting than straight modeling, though it remains to be seen how I do this time around!

The video is shot. Now onwards to the 3d work!

06 June 2003, 03:32 AM

After searching around historic York, PA for several days and chasing down a few dead-end leads, I happened to walk by the door to the boiler room at the plant where I work. The door is usually shut, but as luck would have it someone had left it open. I took a look inside and thought "now that is a scary looking place."

Permission was acquired to shoot some video, and that very night I came back with mini-DV camera and audio equipment in hand and shot the video (with a helpful hand from my 2nd shift supervisor to hit the lights).

The fellow in the shot is me.

The Shoot:

I'm using a JVC GR-D70U miniDV camcorder. I'm pretty pleased with how it handled the tricky lighting situation. Audio was captured both by the camera itself and in a separate audio take that I did to supply background nose for later editing. It's pretty rough: just machinery noises.

Video capture was done in DV-NTSC via Final Cut Express, and the proper 15 seconds clipped out of that. A working file will be exported for use in Blender, my 3d package of choice.

06 June 2003, 03:40 AM

Having learned in my first entry to CGChallenge that "simple=good" when you're learning all the ins and outs of two new programs and teaching yourself techniques, I've decided to stick with a very simple story and do my best to make the composition as believable as possible.

The Story:

"There has to be a light switch on this gizmo somewhere. I just have to find it, that's all."

A man walks onscreen in a dark, noisy mechanical room. He looks around for a moment, then spies a light switch on one of the machines.

He hits the light switch, and a lamp illuminates the area.

Above him and to the left, in the dark recesses of the pipes and ducts of the room, is a tentacled horror, oozing with slimy liquid and extruding tentacles and pseudopods. It reaches for him, mouths appearing on it and maelevolent eyes popping in and out of the goo. He flees the scene back the way he came.

Just missing him as he retreats, the horror retreats into the darkness once more, with a single tentacle reaching down to turn the lights back off.

06 June 2003, 05:18 PM

Hey... creepy story :eek:

Good luck with that... and waiting to see the footage!!! :beer:

06 June 2003, 12:43 AM
Greetings, visitor to the depths!

Here are links to the raw footage captured. All that has been done is to fade in and out and set the length. The footage is 15 seconds from the end of the fade-in to the beginning of the fade-out.

There is no real set-up to the scene, it is fairly self-contained.

Click Here to View the Footage (

Also, a storyboard. The story is essentially the same as described above, with some sketched in details of what things are going to look like.

Click Here to Download the PDF Storyboard (

Next will be to camera match and create geometry for the existing structures.

06 June 2003, 07:51 PM
That sounds pretty neat. I like how in the end a tentacle turns the lights back off :applause:

07 July 2003, 10:16 PM

Okay, making the geometry and doing the camera matching was a real bear on this one. Remind me next time to do a few sketches on-site, and take some shots from different angles!

The lack of straight lines in this scene (even the pipes are crooked!!) made for some very difficult geometry construction and matching.

Here's a wireframe overlaid on the backplate.

Next step of course is to create.... The Creature :surprised

How's everyone else doing on this?

07 July 2003, 10:27 PM
We know exactly how you feel. We had to measure using a keychain, cause some poor dumbass (me) forgot the measuring tape. It's looking very tight however, can't wait to see your creature (the cg-one, preferably :blush: ).

victor throe
07 July 2003, 11:48 PM
looking good


07 July 2003, 04:55 AM
Here it is!

Okay, there was one lingering question I had about what exactly 550x means, but the best I could find was that it means 550x400, so here she is.

Bischofftep Entry, QuickTime Sorenson 550x400 (

Unfortunately, exporting at that size made for some hideous artifacting where field data became very apparent that wans't visible in the original. Looking into how to get rid of that.

More to come about how the final piece was put together, the last minute "oops!" that nearly scrubbed the project, and some edits to come on sound if I have time.

Hope we're on time,

victor throe
07 July 2003, 09:35 AM
which bits are cg?

is it just the untextured tentacles that have been added?.....everything else looks really real except for those.

if you just wanted to smoooth green tentacles then i think you still need to make them look organic.....slight variations in the texture of the skin...break up the reflections.......the shadows seems quite harsh also....especially when they are cast on the background area

07 July 2003, 02:05 PM
Thanks Victor!

Hm.... the whole green blobbly thing with the bloodshot eyes lurking in the ceiling is CG... if you thought it was real I suggest perhaps avoiding basement areas for a while ;)

As for the tentacles, you're right... the whole object does have texture, but when I stretched the "skin" out for the tentacles it appears that the texture stretched so badly that you can't see it. Hmmmm... let me see what I can do about that...

Good point on the shadows... I had thought that the light made for severe shadows in the footage, but i see that the distance stuff does in fact look less harsh. If I have time before deadline I'll see if I can't re-render these. Took about 3 hours per pass though, we'll see. *grin*

victor throe
07 July 2003, 02:30 PM

i didnt even see the blinking eye when i watched it earlier

and i must have watched it about 10 times

same applies though

there seems to be alot of 'nasties' with the fields

did your camera not have a 'frames' option?

since this comp was a res of may have been a good idea to just use 1 field and ditch the other

07 July 2003, 11:46 PM

At deadline, here's the final final.

Thanks to some sugestions from Victor Throe, and a little more exploration of my programs, I was able to come up with a more satisfying version.

Here's the final entry at 550x:

Bischofftep-What Lies Beneath-Sorenson-550 (

And here is a slightly better version done full NTSC resolution with QuickTime MPEG-4.

Bischofftep-What Lies Beneath-MPEG4-NTSC (

After this is posted, some info on how it was all done!

07 July 2003, 02:41 PM
Well done! I think it's a very cool clip, Bischofftep! All technical aspects are really nicely done. My only crit is that it lacks somewhat on the artistic side, as is mentioned earlier in this thread I think - but it's still über cool and the integration is very good!

07 July 2003, 03:01 PM
For those interested, here are a few notes on the production of this piece:

The footage was shot using a mini-DV camera, a JVC GR-D70US. This is a nice little camera for a decent price, with a pretty full feature set and (for my purposes anyway, and at the price) good quality. Lighting was on-site with one addition of a spotlight made from a converted "utility lamp" from Home Depot. Gotta love budget productions!

Capture was done using Apple's Final Cut Express. Not surprisingly, I have bumped my head on the "feature cap" of the Express version more than once, but for the most part FCE is capable and does what I need. The extra $600 would go for about 2 features that I think I can do elsewhere, so I think I'll pass for now. (Unless Apple ponies it up as a prize for a Challenge... whadya say guys? :applause: )

All the CG work was done in Blender, an open-source, cross-platform 3D suite with some amazing power. Not to mention access to the developers who will code changes for you while you wait... I can't say enough good things about this package: More Info here. (

The geometry matching was done using mesh primitives & editing, with a good bit of lofting done for the various pipes and wires. Blender's surfacing and "dupliframe" features at work. Camera matching is pretty easy, and if it wasn't locked down there's a good import script that will take input from the late-great (now commercial and expensive...) Icarus package.

Finally, the critter itself was modeled using CSG Metaballs (which proved exactly what I needed for the undulating nature of the blob itself), converted to a mesh for fine-tuning. The movement of the beast is done using RVKs (Relative Vertex Keys) which provide an astounding level of control over mesh deformation in an additive fashion: variable control over how much influence each "snapshot" mesh will have over the current mesh is amazingly powerful. The opening & blinking eyes are also done this way.

Lastly, the tentacles are extruded using the RVK process, then animated using Armatures. All FK in this instance, though Blender's IK system is quite good.

Rendering was done in two passes. Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of Blender is its renderer: scanline and limited to one pass rendering. There are a number of excellent external renderers that will take input from Blender using various conversion methods, but I have not yet gotten skilled enough at using them. (Yafray, POVray, and 3Delight spring to mind). The two passes were a "visible pass," with the scene geometry acting as a simple mask, and a "shadow" pass," where the critter is casting shadows only and the scene geometry is receiving them on a premultiplied key background.

These are overlaid on the edited footage in Final Cut Express. The mask on the Visible render was blurred slightly to avoid sharp edges where the CG portion meets the live footage. Here is where the big problem came up: FCE does not have any good way of creating a mask from the original footage to handle situations where the live actor passes in front of a CG element. Much time was wasted playing with various automatic matting solutions, and even an attempt at creating a traveling matte in both FCE and Blender, only to resort to adjusting the mask of the Critter so that it "faded into the darkness" behind the places where the actor's head moves. More work on this technique will be needed to do any serious composition work, but without a bluescreen I'm not sure how to proceed! (Advice welcome...)

On the advice of Victor, I de-interlaced the original video: the fields were very visible in my first pass. This version has a nice motion blur instead, which is much better. Thanks for the tip!

Lastly, the whole thing got a shot of noise to help blur the distinction between the "clean" CG and the artifact-y miniDV footage. Then the whole thing got a dose of simple Foley sound (many of which were bought from Sound Dogs ( and a tiny bit of voiceover. Didn't get to the music portion, perhaps next time.

Self critiques:

The whole mask issue with the live actor passing in front of CG elements was irritating, and there is still a small mask error: you can see a little big of green tint on my hair and even in one particular spot in front of my face where the mask isn't perfect.
Tentacle Texturing needs work. The texture for the rest of the critter turned out as I had wanted, but the massive stretching of faces needed to change the tentacles from relatively smooth to extruded made the texture all but invisible.
Tentacle movement: the movement is too fast & jerky. After spending a few hours on the armature movement I realized that my "motion previews" were not at full speed due to my system's inability to handle it without an actual render. Next time...

All in all, I'm pleased with the progress I made from my first entry "Outpost" to this one. I have some suggestions for future VFX challenges.

The criteria for this particular challenge were extremely narrow. I didn't realize until I was nearly done that I was supposed to be only partially lit with a lantern in this scene. I do realize that this is reality though: you must do what the director wants!
The range of skills and tools was very broad. Personally, I loved it. I happen to have access to DV equipment and a decent actor (me... sorry for the self-plug) and a suitable shot location. I also can do fairly good foley work... but then again I run a self-contained production company so I am expecting to do it all myself. Not everyone has that wide a range of skills. Perhaps next time providing stock footage and then allowing the creative freedom to show "what does the light reveal?" might be a level playing field?

That said, I really enjoyed this challenge, and am sorry more folks didn't get a chance to finish their entries. Best of luck and my hearty applause to those who stuck it out! :beer:

07 July 2003, 03:03 PM
Originally posted by SdFX
Well done! I think it's a very cool clip, Bischofftep! All technical aspects are really nicely done. My only crit is that it lacks somewhat on the artistic side, as is mentioned earlier in this thread I think - but it's still über cool and the integration is very good!


Yes, I do realize that this particular entry will rate low on the "difficulty" scale. That's an admission of my own current skill level. As I improve I imagine I will be able to take on more ambitious projects. I mean... come on... how hard is it to animate "a blob." :rolleyes:

07 July 2003, 04:52 PM
I like it!


The only (unprofessional) crit I still have, is the dullness of the "scream" when the person sees the monster :p

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