Putting Rapper Chanel West Coast in Colorful 3D Environments for MTV's Fantasy Factory

Design and motion graphics studio Already Been Chewed (ABC) created a motion-graphics music video with graffiti art that put rapper Chanel West Coast in a colorful 3D environment for her song "Bass N the Trunk." Cinema 4D maker Maxon and writer Meleah Maynard offered StudioDaily a Q&A with ABC founder Barton Damer about making the most of his time on set and compositing a 2D performer into 3D spaces.

For years, rapper and reality TV star Chanel West Coast worked as professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek’s rapping receptionist before gaining notoriety as a cast member on MTV’s Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory and his other series, Ridiculousness. All the while, through eight seasons, she pursued her dream of becoming a rapper and hip-hop artist, and in 2012, Lil Wayne signed her to his label, Young Money Entertainment. With her debut album scheduled for imminent release, Dyrdek decided to make a music video of her new song, "Bass N the Trunk," which was featured on Fantasy Factory earlier this year.  


Dyrdek tapped design and motion graphics studio Already Been Chewed to create a 90-second video in which Dyrdek’s alter ego, Wiggins Wild Style, directs a video for Chanel West Coast. But the project quickly grew beyond its original scope when West Coast decided she also wanted a full-length video that she could use as an official Young Money artist release. I talked with Barton Damer, ABC’s founder, about how he and his creative team created the music video in just under four weeks using Maxon Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects while also collaborating with a well-known graffiti artist.

StudioDaily: You’ve worked with Rob Dyrdek in the past on Fox Sports’ Street League Skateboarding and other projects. But this is different from your past work. Why did he call Already Been Chewed for this music video? 
Barton Damer: The producer of Fantasy Factory called and told me: “Rob says you’re the guy we need for this," because I could do something that would be entirely 3D motion graphics. Apparently, they’d been in planning meetings talking about all of the complications of video shoots, like having to set up cameras at multiple locations and get permits. But then Rob saw a recent piece of artwork I did pop up on his Instagram feed and he realized they could work with me and they wouldn’t have to mess with any of that stuff. 


We flew out to L.A. and I directed a green-screen shoot there. It was super fun and, because I was able to direct, we got the footage we needed to work with in post-production. At that point, I thought our job was just going to be creating graphics for the background of whatever the show’s final video would be. But as we worked I realized that we actually needed to come up with the video’s storyline and develop the concept from scratch. We’re not known for directing music videos, but it was a cool process and it went really well. 

Graffiti plays a huge role in this video. Tell me about how you collaborated with a graffiti artist on this project. 
Sure. We knew we wanted to have graffiti in the video, but we wanted to make sure we weren’t doing something super cheesy or not legit, so we hired Hatziel Flores, a well-known graffiti artist whose work is in contemporary art museums. 


We had Hatziel come into the studio and do sketches of all different types of graffiti, and then he directed how the graffiti looked, too. Brian Talkish, one of our artists, used Hatziel’s sketches to model the graffiti in C4D. We wanted the graffiti to stand out, so a lot of the backgrounds are just black and white with only a little bit of hue.

Creating the graffiti was pretty straightforward. We drew a lot of the letters out as splines first and then extruded them. But there was also a lot of traditional modeling involved using parametric shapes and modeling with mesh tools to extrude, bevel, weld and connect different shapes to form each letter. We used C4D’s deformers to help interlock the letters into their final position.

Can you talk a bit more about the shoot and how you worked with the footage? 
Well, things didn’t go as we’d planned. We were excited and prepared to do 3D camera-tracking and all of the compositing using C4D’s new tracking features. But the Fantasy Factory portion of the shoot took longer than expected and we only had one shooting day. So we scrapped what we’d storylined and scrambled on set to get everything we needed using mostly, safe, locked-off tripod shots that we absolutely had to have.

We did use a real car for the shoot. But we knew there were going to all kind of issues with reflection of green on the car, so for consistency’s sake we blended shots of her interacting with the real car, like when she’s driving, with green-screen shots. At the point where she gets out and goes around to open the trunk, the car is still real, with CG speakers. After that, a lot of times, it was a 3D model throughout the video. 


We modeled the speakers in Cinema 4D and then Brian created a custom-built spline null rig using Xpresso and constraint tags. The speakers are attached by cables, and we took all of the splines that we used to make the cables and found the index number, each of the vertices, and we threw those into Xpresso and attached a null to each one. Since the vertices were attached to the nulls, we put constraint tags on them so when one null moved the others moved with it—kind of like a bone-and-joint system made from scratch. 


We used the same technique for the speakers in the tunnel Chanel walks through where there are all kinds of colorful shapes and patterns that we cloned in MoGraph. It’s an interesting environment during the bridge of the song and it helps break up the mostly black-and-white environment of the rest of the video. 

So did you model and animate all of the environments and then just composite the car into the scenes? 
We modeled most of what you see in the foreground, except for a few trees and things that we bought online. We created all of the environments by combining various buildings, curbs, fences and alleys that were modeled from scratch and purchased. For texturing, we used greyscale images of different things like concrete and bricks, which we kept relatively low-poly so they would render fast.  


Was it challenging to composite all of that 2D video footage with 3D spaces? 
Yeah. Shadows are always a struggle when you do that. In this case, we did want Chanel’s shadow to interact with the real 3D environment, but we didn’t necessarily want to bake her into the final C4D render either, just in case the key didn’t look perfect coming out of C4D. So we decided to key her out all of the footage, and then we used an animated texture of her on a plane inside of C4D to cast all the shadows onto the 3D elements within each scene. 


When we set up our lights, we were able to cast a shadow from her onto the 3D graffiti behind her by putting a compositing tag on the plane that said it should not be seen by the camera in the final render. Then, we exported that data out of Cinema using a .aec file that we opened in After Effects and had the shadows we wanted. Her footsteps could be in sync, but her shadow passed over the sidewalk, the curb and other things like it should have. 

What’s next for ABC?
We’re up to six people now at our studio and I’d like to see us get into more character animation. We’re continuing to work with a variety of brands from Nike to MTV, and recently we were asked to create style boards for Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Bieber. Another studio ended up getting that gig, but it was definitely an honor to have been included among the amazing studios that have created graphics packages for those roasts. We’re currently working on graphics for a new MTV show, Not Exactly News, which will air in a couple of months. And we recently did an animated project for Nike’s skateboarding division, so we’re kind of all over the place right now. It’s been fun. 

Meleah Maynard is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis.