Robot Wrangling

Dark Empire

This video was inspired by a classic viral video called Dove Evolution that really was at the advent of online viral advertising. At some point when talking silly ideas for little star wars films this popped into my head.


I needed to gather a few things to make this video work. A Makeup Artist, A Photoshop Aritst and the subject to get made up.

The subject wasn’t hard as Nick from 501st is always up for something fun. I put a call out on facebook for a makeup artist and Kel offered to help out. I have never actually worked with a makeup artist before, so that was fun and different. Lastly I needed someone who was awesome at photoshop. I called my friend Marco who was an award winning matte painter and has worked on many films, tv shows and commercials and ask if he would do me the honor of doctoring the photo. He agreed and then I needed to do the shoot.


So we all gathered at Photobat Natural Light Studio (aka my brothers studio) and set up some basic lights and a white background. Kel went to work and I set my camera to do a time-lapse. Once the makeup was finished I turned on the flash and took a heap of RAW photos which one would become our master for Marco to photoshop. 

I did a visualisation of the final video with the time-lapse and some plate stills to show marco sorta what I meant by the final product.

So I packed up the stills and sent a hard drive to Marco in Sydney (I am based in Tasmania). The next issue was shooting the stormtroopers plate (well they are actually scout-troopers in the video). The challenge was to find a background that could easily have a digital billboard placed on it. Since this was my first time of compositing in this style I wanted it to be simple as possible. I scouted around Launceston CBD and found the one I liked. I then arranged for our troopers to come and film for 30 minutes on a Sunday. 

This where I came undone a little. I chose a petrol station billboard thinking that the business was closed on a Sunday. I was wrong, but luckily only one block up from there was something which turned out to be better. So a quick move, shoot and some silliness and we had our skipping trooper plate.

At this point I got an email from Marco saying he couldn’t record his photoshop as it slowed his computer down to much to work. This was a sticking point as I really needed the photoshop work to be a progression of video from Nick to Emperor. So not to be a pain as Marco was doing me a huge favor, I ask him to save out progression images. I would worry about how to make it look a time-lapse later.

Post- Production

So with all the assets in hand I opened up After Effects to start compositing. First thing to do was learn how to rotoscope. I took me two goes and learning how to use the matte tool effectively in conjuction with the roto tool to get it right. I knew that I was going to need to roto when I shot the plate, so I made sure that my shutter was very fast so no motion blur was present in the plate video. 

After I got that sorted I jumped into Photoshop and with a clean still from the plate above (no troopers), I took Marco’s awesome final work and made a billboard. I then cropped it and dropped the final image into After Effects. I then did a tidy up of the rotoscoping and exported a ProRes version of the composition to Adobe Premiere.

Next was what to do about the Photoshop files. I had no time-lapse of the work being created but Marco did supply me 30 images of the final file being made up (plus the actually full layered Photoshop artwork). I hit on the idea of “fluffing” the time-lapse. I loaded each still into one Photoshop document and made a mask for each so apart from the bottom layer, nothing could be seen. I then recorded myself using the brush tool drawing on the masks to revel the layer underneath. If you watch the final video and know photoshop, just look at the bottom right hand corner at my layers. This seemed to work really well.

Now that I have my last two pieces of the vision. I dropped them into Premiere and edited it together. I then went looking for some creative commons music that fitted on SoundCloud, purchased a camera snap sound effect and finished off the audio.

The last thing to do was colour grade the video. I didn’t want to change the first two sections of the video as I wanted it to look raw. The billboard reveal bit I did want to grade to make the billboard fit better and also so the scene felt a bit more sci-fi. So off to Red Giant’s Colorista II, Mojo & Misfire Vignette.

Then Render, and post.

What I Learnt

  • If you like rotoscoping, you are mad.
  • I need to have a clear idea of what I want before I ask for something. Marco questioned me a fair bit about the final idea and I needed to have answers.
  • More general film making techniques.
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