VFX Legion is a visual effects studio offering something very different to most – it operates remotely with a global team, which provides a new kind of flexibility to many productions. Artists at VFX Legion have worked on many projects, including recently on the film Hardcore Henry and on the TV show’s The Catch and How To Get Away with Murder.
For roto, paint and tracking work, VFX Legion is a big user of Mocha Pro, one of AV3’s key plug-ins, and here we find out more about how the software was used in particular by visual effects artist Kyle Spiker on How To Get Away with Murder.
AV3: What kinds of visual effects are involved in VFX Legion’s work for How to Get Away with Murder?
Kyle Spiker: The show’s visual effects are what we call invisible effects. Most of the episodes involve small fixes – things you just don’t notice. But every once in a while you get something bigger. In the last season there were blood additions to make sure blood matches from episode to episode. And there was a house fire that we’re making match from episode to episode even though it was shot at different times.
AV3: Is the invisible side of that work a fun part of working on the show?
Kyle Spiker: Yes, it’s good problem-solving. It’s a little unfortunate that you spend all this time to make something look good and no one notices! But that’s part of the challenge. I really like set extensions where you’re adding whole new parts of the world and no one knows the difference.
AV3: Can you talk about how mocha forms part of the pipeline at VFX Legion? What are the typical tasks you use it for?
Kyle Spiker: Mocha is used primarily for tracking here at Legion. I use it specifically for roto, tracking and paint, but for most of the artists it’s tracking only, doing corner-pins and getting that exported to their compositing package of choice. We have a pretty even split between After Effects and NUKE artists.
AV3: What would be an example of a shot on How to Get Away with Murder where mocha was particularly useful?
Kyle Spiker: There’s a shot which is the end of episode one of season three which involves the house fire. It has a lot of crew workers, firefighters, policemen, pedestrians, emergency vehicles. All of those had to be roto’d so we could add smoke and fire and embers and modern steam to the hoses, and to add damage to the house. Mocha made it pretty quick to roto all the characters at the level that we needed in a very short amount of time. I think I did all of the roto required for that shot in four hours.
AV3: Why do you think you could do that so quickly in mocha?
Kyle Spiker: We can do that so quickly in mocha because of its planar tracking – it’s ability to lock a mask to a plane and only have to do small adjustments to the actual mask shape itself. This is instead of the traditional roto where it is not tracking assisted involves a lot more keyframes and movements by the artist instead of the software. Having that planar tracking built in and so easy to use adds a lot of speed to the pipeline.
It also has a secondary benefit where every track of a head or body also gives you tracking data you can use for other purposes. It’s not just the mask, it also gives you the track at the same time.
AV3: What’s the workflow when you’ve done that roto or tracking into other programs like NUKE?
Kyle Spiker: In the latest version of mocha Pro they have many different options for different packages, so whatever your compositing package needs they have the right exporter for that. With NUKE it’s very simple, you get a roto and paint node, all of the masks separately and it even separates tracking data and mask data so you have further control.
AV3: Any mocha tips or tricks you can share – say, something you use in the software every day that saves you time on particular shots?
Kyle Spiker: Most people don’t use the stabilize button! I love using it. I’ll draw a mask around say a head or object and normally it’ll track the object off the screen and you always have to move your view to follow it, but if you click ‘stabilize’ the mask stays in the same spot and you’re just adjusting the little differences on the edge of the mask. I find that alone frees up a lot of time – less clicking, less objects moving. That seems pretty unique to mocha mostly because it tracks to a single plane instead of a single point.
For roto in general, I also have a few tips. Keep your masks simple. The fewer the points the better. It’s better to have more masks that are simple than less masks that are complex. It saves you more time and your rotos are better and it’s easier to do. Also watch your shot before you start roto’ing, looking for points that make sense for your keyframes. Instead of just putting every keyframe every ten frames, look for the motion of the arm where it begins and ends and save your keyframes to match your footage.
AV3: What are some of the biggest improvements you’ve noticed in mocha over the past 10 years? What would you like to see in future versions?
Kyle Spiker: Mocha has definitely gotten faster, but I think the biggest thing that I liked was when they changed their whole hotkey setup. Being able to remap and change and add however you want your software to work from package to package is really great. I have it now where all of the same hotkeys from NUKE are now the hotkeys of mocha. I can interchange between the two without having to think where my hands are supposed to go.
In future versions, I’ve always wanted someone to add a rigging system for roto. Say points on each elbow or arm and then use the data to help with that. What would also be great would be faster organization of layers and those layers having names. Changing the color of a mask is easy but changing the name you have to click on the layer, double-click on it and then re-name it. It’d be great if I could just hit ’N’ and then type in the name. Especially since in roto you have so many layers so quickly – a person just standing there can be 30 layers of masks.
Find out more about VFX Legion at their website: http://vfxlegion.com