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VFX Breakdown: Black Kite Studio's Jonny Freeman on Bicep's 'Water' video

VFX Breakdown: Black Kite Studio's Jonny Freeman on Bicep's 'Water' video

David Knight - 2nd May 2023

Released late last year, the video for Bicep's Water, featuring Clara La San, marked the return to music videos for director Aoife McArdle. The look of the mesmerizing clip required beautifully-crafted post work at Black Kite Studios in London. We spoke to Jonny Freeman, VFX Supervisor at  Black Kite, about the challenges posed by the project. 

As a female patient on a hospital bed is transported through white corridors with no apparent destination, the video has a cinematic style and dreamlike tone that echoes Severence, the acclaimed Apple TV+ series released last year that Aoife McArdle worked on as director and producer. But it was made in very different conditions to the big-budget television drama.

McArdle has a longstanding relationship with Black Kite, and Jonny Freeman explains how this required a very thoughtful and rigorously detailed approach by the studio’s VFX and Colour departments to achieve McArdle’s pristine vision.

PROMONEWS: The relationship between Aoife McArdle and Black Kite runs deep, but how and when did you personally get involved in the Bicep project? And have you worked with Aoife before?

JONNY FREEMAN: I became involved in the project at an early pre-production stage, after Aoife had a first draft of storyboards.

Aoife and I had worked together earlier in the year on a project together that unfortunately is still to be released! But we did get know each other while shooting that project in Romania.

Each camera move had to be carefully planned before a camera even made it on to the set.

Did you attend the shoot? Was it everything shot in the same location?

Yes, I was on location in an amazing old army barracks in Prague. Everything was shot on the same corridor and the rooms the film takes you into are scattered around the building.

Above: An endless hospital corridor is created, via grade and green screen, in the Bicep 'Water' video  

What were the main challenges that you identified in the pre-pro and shooting stage? How much discussion and planning went on during this phase? 

The biggest challenge we faced was that the location layout of the hero corridor and rooms were not geographically next to each other. This meant we had to work out how to shoot the film to make it feel the camera was moving seamlessly between locations.

This proved challenging due to the space we had to shoot in, so each camera move had to be carefully planned before a camera even made it on to the set. This ensured would be able to stitch shots together and make certain shots feel like one take. 

The second issue was the length of the corridor we had, knowing the final look was to feel as through the corridor was endless.

Above: More VFX and grade work transforming the army barracks location to create Aoife McArdle's vision

So what was the full process for extending the corridors?

When the schedule was being built for the shoot day we worked with the 1st AD to ensure we captured as much of the corridor as possible in clean plates and stills to build the corridor extension. This also meant we had to shoot using green screen at the end of the real corridor.

Then back in London, the 3D team here at Black Kite created a Digital camera which we then used to rebuild and project new walls, floors and ceilings to create the endless corridor.

How did you multiply rabbits, objects and people in the video?

This was achieved by replicating the same camera move multiple times with each character, animal or object in a different part of the shot. We then would use roto to isolate the object or person on each plate and then place them into the hero plate for that shot.  

We did not have enough chairs on the day, so the decision was made to rebuild these in CG. While on the shoot I took some HDRI and camera information which the 3D team used to rebuild the chairs and place them in the shot.

Above: Multiplying bunny rabbits via rotoscope in the Bicep Water video

And it turns out that the corridor location was not the pristine off-white it appears in the video. How did you achieve that?

I have to hand this one to our colourist George Kyriacou. George managed to pull so much out of the plates and push the look and feel to meet Aoife's vision.

What about the atmospheric strobing shots?

Most of these effects were shot in camera. So we just matched where necessary when extending corridors or transitioning into rooms. 

Was there anything that emerged as an issue that needed to be fixed during the editing and post stage?

As the location was an old building that was somewhat derelict there was a lot of dirt, grime and general untidiness. There was some extensive clean-up done as well and some major help from the grade to really push the look of the location to give it the look and feel it needed. 

• Watch the BTS/Making Of Bicep's Water here.

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David Knight - 2nd May 2023

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