Motive NYC Pushes the Z-Space Back in Time in After Effects

Motive NYC and The History Channel took “Best VFX/Animation” honors in Studio’s Top Spots Fest for their “Battles BC” promo, part of a package of show opens and promos Motive created for the cable channel’s recent series about the savage, bloody battles fought hand-to-hand thousands of years ago with crude weaponry. In a lightning-speed flyover of various battle scenes, such as the infamous Persian invasion of Greece at Marathon, the spot races the viewer with frenetic immediacy back into the center of the action. Said festival judge Patrick Davenport, vice president of operations at Method, “The dynamism of the promo reflected the essence of the piece. Plus, the ambitious VFX had great aesthetics and were appropriately used to enhance the story.”

“We went through a few concepts with the folks at The History Channel,” says Motive creative director Gary Keenan, who worked closely with Saevar Halldorsson, creative director at THC. “They were keen on a lot of blood, and the gorier the better-something stylistically like 300. It’s all part of the way they’re redefining the channel.”

Based on the concept, Thoo says he got off to a running start, with a few small hurdles along the way. “When I first started building it, [executive producer] Chris [Valentino] and Gary pointed out that there wasn’t enough motion. We didn’t travel far enough. So to give the thing much more drama, we sped up the cameras and focused on many more battles than just one or two, and on the multitudes rather than one or two single warriors.”

Another change for the better, Thoo says, was the decision to swap out bones for bodies. “The first comp featured mounds of skulls, but once we added in the dead bodies, that ramped up the immediacy of the drama quite a bit,” he says. Most of the drama, however, comes from the team’s use of 3D space in After Effects. “Whether we were working with a 3D image or a stock photo or even the greenscreen footage, it would all be flat layers, so we put them into z-space to make everything come to life.”

Thoo used After Effects exclusively for this project, which included show opens and promos. “The production company gave us the greenscreen actors they used on the show, in addition to some shields and swords, as flat still renders,” explains Thoo. “We then comped them into our spot. We really pushed the z-space capabilities of AE with this one. At the point in the spot, in the middle-right before we launch ourselves off of the hill and fly through the on-coming battle scene-we pretty much lost control of the layers. What we had to do was break it up. From that point on in the spot, you are actually launching into a different composition. I built it from those two different comps and combined it with extremely fast camera moves.”

The resulting flyover looks like it could have been created on something more sophisticated, like a Flame. The ramped up camera moves, however, conceal a shortcut that made it possible to comp and render it all within After Effects, says Thoo. “Only the soldiers in the foreground are hi-res, and the hundreds of people behind them are lo-res,” he explains. “We cheated, but because the piece moves so fast, it still works.”

Thoo says that he and the team at Motive are particularly proud of this spot, especially because they were able to pack so much into such a short form. “I’ve never had an open or promo project like this before where I got to make that kind of vast, sweeping camera move across an entire army of bloody warriors,” he says. “It was just such a fantastic challenge to be able to do all that within 15 seconds.” Adds Keenan, “There was nothing too challenging about this particular project, especially when you have someone as talented as Felix is at working in 3D space.”

To view more of Motive’s work, go to: