Orchard Post - 2022
I had the opportunity to work with Orchard Post, who were commissioned by House of Greenland, to assist them in producing Nothing Tech's 2022 keynote presentation. As the supervisor, I managed the one-day shoot and compositing pipeline in After Effects to create a highly ambitious 20-minute film that would be broadcast live on YouTube. This presentation marked Nothing's entrance as a formidable tech disruptor with the launch of their first mobile handset.
The CEO, Carl Pei, was filmed in a green screen studio within a single day, which added significant importance to ensuring we captured all the necessary aspects of the keynote. We used a Sony camera for the shoot, although they are not ideal for studio settings with constant lighting in my experience. Sony cameras are well-suited for low-light and outdoor shooting, as their log files capture a wide dynamic range. However, in a studio setting, the most critical dynamic areas tend to be more compressed, with more light and dark areas using up more of the data range. There's always a trade-off between capturing useful information and the entire dynamic range, and it really depends on the intended use. Setting up the lighting well for green screen was crucial to achieve clean keys, separate any light leaks, and capture keyable shadows for feet interaction. Sony cameras tend to introduce some noise and compress useful information, especially in fast-turnaround projects that require a consistent look. Ideally, we would have spent more time in the studio perfecting this, but due to schedules and budgets, this wasn't always feasible, and sometimes testing shooting methods was unavoidable.
To facilitate the compositing job, I devised a pipeline that allowed the artist to easily key the footage, output it in camera log, and then integrate it into a project, all in 4K and sometimes 6K, at 32 bits in a color-managed pipeline. After Effects is not typically the best tool for this, due to the size of files and precision required, unlike in linear workflows. However, I was aware of its versatility, especially as the footage was re-edited and the screen content changed frequently.
I was able to establish a comprehensive keying and color correction system that required minimal tweaks to maintain consistency across the 20-minute film, and also adapt to the changing video screen wall, which was updated until the day of final delivery. After ingesting the 20 minutes of plates, we had approximately 20 days to track, key, composite, and render all the shots. In total, we had over 65 shots to complete. Keeping a figure mostly dressed in black against a dark screen in a dark environment proved to be extremely challenging in terms of maintaining readability in a spatial visual manner. However, the team at Orchard pulled it off, and the client was extremely satisfied with the progress and speed at which we were able to complete this seemingly insurmountable task.
As the studio space was relatively small, we were heavily relied upon to make the digital space appear cavernous. We used C4D's camera tracker to extend the sets and add post and CG camera moves to the plates. We switched to using ACES CG color once we started, which proved to be a hugely important decision given the creative scope of the project. The depth and range of color provided by ACES allowed us to work with the dark backgrounds while maintaining detail and options in compositing, which also allowed the light effects to have impact, which would not have been possible with lower bit depth renders. Once we started receiving the screen content, we developed a clever LED effect using real 4K dot matrix overlay layers. This helped create a more realistic feel in the final compositions, especially as the creative required the end result to not be overly polished, but rather match their dot grid branding guidelines and align with the aesthetics of competitors, like Apple, who produce these types of keynote speeches, with hughley expensive budgets over many months.
All in all this was a huge undertaking, but with the production savvy of Orchard and a few trusted artists we were able to keep on track this complicated project and deliver a very well received keynote, that has enabled Nothing to gain a sizeable chunk of the smartphone market worldwide and introduce as them as a serious operator in the tech industry.