Director and VFX Commentary on Creating Dr. Octogon's 'Trees'

A hip-hop song with an environmental message? A PSA presented as a music video? A low-budget music video that combines live-action, CG and illustration?
Director Georgie Greville teamed up with visual effects house Click 3X to create this truly unique PSA/music video for the track ‘Trees’ from Dr. Octagon, featuring the former Ultramagnetic MC, Kool Keith.

Click below to watch the video.

Then listen to the director’s commentary to hear how the video came to life…

…and then the commentary from creative directors Steve Tozzi and Mark Szumski of Click 3X to hear how the VFX were created.

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Greville first heard ‘Trees’ last March and was immediately intrigued by it. She had directed many environmental PSAs in the past and thought that the creating an environmental video based around a hip-hop song presented not only interesting creative opportunities but also the chance to reach a younger audience.

“There’s so much direct PSA stuff that is too direct and preaching to the viewer so I wanted to filter that message through a younger person,” notes Greville. “The whole video is trying to juxtapose that dark, hard-to-swallow image of a scorched earth with a crazy beat and visuals.”

Greville contacted the record label, which eventually agreed to allow her to shoot it but wouldn’t invest much money in it. Greville, who regularly directs promos and integrated marketing campaigns for MTV, then packaged the video as a PSA and pitched it to their pro-social department for funding and was eventually awarded $90,000 to create the video. The video was funded by MTV in support of their think MTV/Break the Addiction initiative in conjunction with in cooperation with OCD International.

Armed with her treatment, Greville worked out the boards with Click 3X creative director Steve Tozzi and senior visual effects artist Mark Szumski. But with only one day to shoot the ambitious schedule Greville’s plan on set quickly changed from getting everything that was boarded to getting as much as she could and save the rest out in post.

“We had one day of shooting and it was really rigorous,” Greville explains. “We didn’t have the time the money and the space we were shooting was pretty tiny. We set up the forest scene and the chemistry scene. Then had to strike both those at lunch and then build two more setups in that space and shoot. I actually had to do all the stunts so the falling into the grave and running on the treadmill was me. It was a lot of making it work after we shot, The backgrounds were painted after. We pretty much went off the edit and making landscapes for what perspectives worked. Mark [Szumski] and Anthony [Filipakis] played a huge role in that obviously and they are to credit for the backgrounds and even some of the camera moves. I’d done some work that involved VFX and CG but this is the most intensive. I was actually reluctant to go with so much CG stuff but we had no choice. I wanted to shoot more practical stuff but we didn’t have a choice so a lot of it had to be down by Click.”

VFX on Trees
Having worked with Greville before, Szumski convinced Click 3X to devote time towards the project and months before the shoot they were all working together to work out technical issues and even develop the narritive further.

“She had a two-word description of the environment: Zombie trees, so we all had our own ideas about what they may look like,” recalls Szumski. “Some of the original character sketches were much more horror-based and then we kind orf brought it back almost in a Tim Burton style.”

After experimenting with different looks created with Maya and Flame, they gave the task to illustrator Gabriel Tick who hand drew backgrounds, elements and textures that became the basis for the look of the environments.

“We felt more comfortable with the look of what he was doing than trying to bring something out of 3D and making that the look,” Tozzi notes. “Gabriel created that papery look that pervades through most of the video. Mark and [senior 3D animator] Anthony Filipakis obviously brought the 3D world to it.”

“We tried doing the whole look of the video to have the same papery look as the cars have and the city has but the trees lost something,” notes Mark. “But as soon as Anthony started putting detail into the trees we were like ‘that’s awesome.’ Every little mini-scene in the video has a different look and feel and it never gets boring with the same stuff.

“I would say three-fourths of that was done in Flame where basically I was taking Gabe’s rough sketches and I would project them onto OBJs, like rough models in Flame. Then I would start filling it up with more OBJs for the smokestacks. He also did another landscape to take and flip down to make it seem like a surface for the charred earth environment.”

While Click 3X is used to creating realistic effects and environments within the various CG programs, working from the Pick’s gave the project a unique look right from the start.
“It was a nice place to start as opposed to getting a photo plate of sky and manipulating that,” notes Tozzi. “It was nice to have the artists’ hand in there because it brought us back to how old film company trailers were rendered, they were painted. It was a great jumping off point both for 3D and the work that Mark was doing in taking this element and making it really lush and dimensional. Certain scenes look100 miles deep. Plus once the drawings were done we could roll into the 3D work without a lot of guesswork.”

In addition to Flame and Maya, Click 3X used PixelFarm PFTrack for 3D tracking and TrapCode Particular (a plug-in for After Effects) for the smoke and atmospheric effects.