“The Shining” and “IT” nods aren’t the only cool things in Muse's latest video. Learn how V-Ray helped create everything from melting portraits to handheld shots.
You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween is quite the name, and the human equivalent of catnip for the creatively minded. Attach that to a brief that calls for a haunted house and classic horror references, and you’ve got a launching pad for visual greatness. Frame48 delivered in spades.
Created for Muse’s latest single, this music video wasn’t just a fun play off a name. It was also a chance to continue the story seen in Will of the People, Muse’s last video, which followed a group of hooded, anarchist-like figures as they stormed the streets of a dystopian city.
In You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween, those same figures have stumbled upon a restricted house. What starts as a simple breaking & entering, quickly becomes more than they bargained for as the supernatural forces guiding the house start taking names.
“From the early discussions, I knew this was going to be a fun one,” says Tom Teller, Founder and Executive Producer at Frame48. “And it definitely was.”
More about Frame 48
Listen to CG Garage Podcast #399 to hear the director behind Muse's "You Make Me Feel Like It's Halloween" discuss the creative processes behind the video, founding a small company and embracing AI.
Designing a 3D music video
Although there was a full three minutes to play with, Frame48 was careful to only incorporate specific environments into its initial treatment. “This allowed us to focus on getting one shot from each environment into a solid state before pushing that look across each scene,” says Teller. “Enrique de la Garza, our CG Supervisor, oversaw the CG team throughout production and polished each of these environments to perfection.”
After a previs edit was completed with rough blocking, the team hopped into look development, animation, and environment creation simultaneously, with all artists collaborating together on ShotGrid. With just eight people working full time at the studio in Culver City, Los Angeles, team members would jump from Maya, to Nuke, to coding pipeline improvements, in a matter of minutes.
One of the project’s biggest challenges came in these early stages when the team was tasked with establishing some big sequences. “We strongly believe that in a music video, there should be four or five key moments that stand out, that really imprint in the viewers’ memory, and everything in between is the journey to the next,” says Julian Conner, co-founder and Executive Producer at Frame48.
Careful not to overload the viewer with mind-blowing moments, Frame48 collaborated with Muse and their creative director, Jesse Lee Stout, to fill the video with visual references to their favorite horror narratives, some more obvious than others. From The Shining’s infamous carpet and terrifying blood river to IT’s sinister red balloons, there’s a horror homage to spot in almost every sequence. “Working with Jesse and the band on these projects is always a blast for our team, they bring incredible ideas to the table, along with their remarkable music,” says Teller.
Far from throwaway moments, these references were technical and artistic challenges, in need of great tools. Using a combination of Houdini and V-Ray 3D rendering software, the team could easily take on centerpiece effects like the Overlook blood river, giving them enough realism and momentum to keep up with a video that is always on the go. “Alvaro Moreira, a close collaborator of ours and Houdini expert, did most of the dynamics in the video—including the blood river—which really elevated the entire piece,” says Conner.
In another key moment, Muse themselves can be seen in moving paintings throughout the house, the result of an in-depth research and development process by Frame48. Adamant that the paintings couldn’t look like a video playing on a canvas, a crew filmed the band in front of a green screen while they were in London. The footage was taken back to the studio, the frame rate chopped in half, and each frame put through software that gave it an oil painting feel. Finally, a filter was placed on each frame, generating unique bump maps, which drove the texture animation in Maya.
It all culminates in a nightmarish sequence dreamt up by Josephson at the concept stage, in which the lead character drowns in a sea of infinite masks. The character pulls off mask after mask, each one an homage to an icon of horror, from Scream to Slipknot, and a nod to lyrics that suggest an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.
A little under two months ended up being the ideal window for Frame48. Any shorter and the end result would suffer, any longer and the team risked ‘getting lost in the sauce,’ industry lingo for falling into a deep creative rabbit hole. That doesn’t mean delivering a high volume of shots to an even higher level of quality was a walk in the park though.
“All CG artists know that render times can start to balloon as you get near the end of a project, especially with a 4K deliverable.” says Seth Josephson, Executive Producer at Frame48.” That’s where V-Ray came in. Ultra-fast GPU render times freed up the team—and their computers— allowing them to hone in on their creative ideas and bouts of experimentation.
“We’ve been using V-Ray since our student projects back in college, and we’ve really grown with it,” Teller reflects. “Every project we’ve done in the last six years that has a CG element in it was rendered with V-Ray.”
In fact, V-Ray’s influence can be seen in the very first sequence, where V-Ray Fur was used to create a noise map modifying the bend direction of the grass to visualize the feeling of wind blowing. The process proved an efficient way to avoid heavy simulations for a fairly minor part of the video.
One of the other compelling aspects of You Make Me Feel Like It's Halloween is how seamlessly it’s tied together by cinematic camera moves, constituting a mixture of hand-animated and hand-held techniques. “We have a great setup here with VirtuCamera, where all of our CG artists have the ability to quickly control their V-Ray cameras in Maya from their phones as if they were filming something in the office,” says Conner. “This allowed us to quickly shoot rough coverage of a scene, then move onto the next shot, cleaning it up later.”
As a studio that primarily uses Maya, 3ds Max, and Houdini, Frame48 took advantage of tools in V-Ray that allowed them to transfer assets seamlessly between the different software. By using USDs and Alembic files, the team could move between software with just a few button presses. This integration proved crucial to the climactic sequence, where the team used the powerhouse 3ds Max plugin TyFlow to handle the simulations and render them efficiently in V-Ray.
The end result is a video more than worthy of Muse’s mindblowing musicality. It’s also just another (fun) stop on Frame48’s fast-moving schedule, as the studio is already starting to collaborate with scientists to break down a revolutionary new technology.
“To be the creative voice in a room full of experts at the top of their game is a privilege and gives a unique weight to the project,” adds Josephson. “Any chance we get to produce and design for these types of clients, we’ll always find time to take it on.”