David Lewandowski would always choose confusion over boredom. So it’s okay with him that some parts of “Tiny Tortures,” the surreal video he directed for a track on musician Flying Lotus’ recently released Until the Quite Comes, aren’t completely spelled out. The storyline behind the darkly magical video comes through loud and clear. Elijah Wood stars as a former baseball player relying on prescription drugs to ease the guilt he feels following a car accident that killed his girlfriend and cost him an arm. In his drug-addled grief, he hallucinates about the regeneration of his missing limb and winds up overdosing in response.
In addition to directing “Tiny Tortures,” Lewandowski wrote the treatment for the video and created many of the animations and visual effects using Maxon’s Cinema 4D. Well-known for his work on TRON: Legacy, Lewandowski recently served as the lead graphics animator on Oblivion. He and Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) connected via Twitter. “Steven wanted to learn more about animation so he put out a call out saying he was looking for the head vampire of Cinema 4D, and people directed him to me,” Lewandowski recalls, laughing.
The two got in touch and started spending time together in Los Angeles, talking about art and their shared love of Asian cinema, particularly Japanese animation. Nailing down the look of “Tiny Tortures” took several motion and camera tests, and Lewandowski admits to worrying a bit that the subject matter was too dark. “It’s a midnight, pure-black song, really, so we went with it,” he recalls.
Elijah Wood is a mutual friend of Flying Lotus and Lewandowski and readily agreed to star in the video, which opens with him lying in the dark on his bed next to a nightstand strewn with prescription drug bottles. Suddenly, everything from spare change and guitar picks to baseballs and a smart phone begin floating over to him, coming together to form a cyborg-like replacement arm. Concept artist Ben Mauro came up with the design for the arm, and was one of several members of the freelance creative team Lewandowski pulled together for the video.
Dustin Bowser supervised much of the VFX for “Tiny Tortures.” Cinema 4D was used for animation and rigging, and because they were shooting in extremely low light, Lewandowski designed and built a rig that could work under those conditions. The practical arm nub that was fabricated with silicone for many of the shots was scanned using Agisoft Photoscan so that a digi-double could be swapped in for the CG arm shots. “I wanted to shoot this as dark as possible, single-digit foot candles and do effects over it, letting everything live in shadows,” he recalls.
In order to do that, Lewandowski upgraded the arm rig to include dimmable strips of LEDs to ensure good visibility without light pollution in the plate images. Additional LEDs were used in parts of the room in the shadows to add parallax information for PFTrack. Motion capture for the arm was pretty straightforward, Lewandowski says. “Sometimes we used a prosthetic arm stump and we digitally squeezed the pixels to remove where his real arm was concealed.”
Character technical director Bret Bays and rigging technical director Patrick Goski came up with rigging solutions to make the arm appear to be growing together. Ultimately, though, the CG arm rig was slow and difficult to work with, Lewandowski recalls. “It was a great rig but we had to model and buy so many assets for it and create the wires from scratch; it just wound up being pretty cumbersome.” Xrefs ultimately saved the day and made the rig more manageable, Lewandowski says.
Lewandowski also credits Goski with using Cinema 4D’s sculpting tools to create the eye-catching shot of the coins floating out of a bowl on the dresser. The idea was to have the coins rise from the bowl, form a sort of double helix and then move across the room toward Wood. “Patrick did around 100 animations to get a double helix that still felt loose and abstract, and did the simulation with MoDynamics to really nail it.”
David Lewandowskis website: http://dlew.me
Making of video: http://dlew.me/Flying-Lotus-Process
Tiny Tortures video: vimeo.com/54585743