Back in March 2009, I started to create the opening credits sequence for The Book of Zombie. It took over three months and hundreds of hours to complete. I’m writing this to both show the completed sequence and to illustrate how it was done. Get started by watching it below and then we’ll dive into the How-To. Don’t forget to turn up the sound because Adam Gehrke’s original score is killer!
Watch a larger version here.
Step 1: Shooting the Actors
The process began with having the actors performing their parts and shooting in HD. We used the Panasonic HVX-200 for its ability to shoot HD video at 24 progressive frames per second and because in can shoot in true slow motion. We shot both the running and walking scenes at slower than half speed. Those scenes were shot on a treadmill that was later masked out. All of the footage was also shot in front of white backgrounds to make it easier to have small white outlines around all of the characters. Here’s a few samples of what our raw footage looked like:
Step 2: Moving in 3D
The next step was moving the footage into After Effects and selecting all of the best takes. Each shot was then edited down to the length I needed and put into a 3D sequence. The timewarp effect was used to create a custom “stop motion” look to each shot. I used key-frame animation to make the characters move at a convincing speed over a simple surface (simple masks and luma keys were temporarily used at this point). Once the animation looked good, I created camera moves to follow the action and provide an interesting cinematic look to the sequence. Shots that had multiple characters crossing each other’s paths were quite complex and difficult to get the animation and camera moves to work out as I envisioned them. I used lenses of various focal lengths to create different looks for each shot.
Step 3: Rotoscoping
Rotoscoping is the process that was used to cut the actors out of their original backgrounds. This process began once each shot was complete. The speed, length, position and camera work needed to be perfect before this step. I recruited artists to do the cutting on each shot frame by frame. This step was extremely important, because when it was completed the characters would then look as though they were walking through a small town instead of on a treadmill in front of a white sheet. Thank you to everyone who helped me out here: Steven Quimby – Jason Shankel – Olin Padilla – Maxwell Worthington Walker – Fred Beahm – Jared Allen – Mason Reitz – Victoria “Vic” Simiele – Ryan Czaplinski
Step 4: Background Art
I knew early on that the sequence would take place on the streets of a small town and inside a young couple’s home. I recruited my wife, Leah, to hand draw everything that you see. Using white paper and a pencil she drew many houses, two blocks of storefronts, an alley, a church, over a dozen tombstones and four pumpkins. This is what gives the credits the handmade look that I was going for. After the drawings were complete, I scanned them into Photoshop where they were cut out and colored.
Step 5: Building a town
This step involved placing all of the new art into the shots that I had already built. This was the most time consuming and tedious process of the whole project. Each house had to be placed into 3D space one at a time. However, the shots were really starting to look close to the finished product at this point.
Step 6: Sky
The sky was created in my basement using dry ice. I set up a small set with a baking sheet, a couple of lights and a black background. Again, we used the HVX-200 and shot in HD and slow motion. The smoke would flow over the edge of the elevated baking sheet and fall in front of the black backing and back lights. The resulting footage was then imported into the computer where it was colored orange, flipped, played in reverse then composited over a dark red background using track mattes.
Step 7: Lighting
Up until this point, the look was a quite bland. That’s because most of the colors and all of the shadows of the final product are coming from digital lights. I back-lit all of the houses so they would be black and cast shadows across the sets. The lighting basically completed the look of the scene.
Step 8: Editing and Credits
This isn’t exactly the right order, but I wanted to put editing here at the end. Before I finished all of the lighting, I rendered all of the shots low quality. Rendering with lighting and depth of field takes a very long time, so I wanted to edit everything together and see how it looked before I made that jump. I also needed to determine what the order of shots would be before I started inserting all the the cast and crew names. With the edit, I determined the best way to tell the story that takes place before the movie. I then placed temporary credits over the sequence and got all of the titles approved with Scott, our director. The final design step was then to create final credits and place them in interesting places within the shots.
Step 8: Rendering
I mentioned that rendering takes a long time. My computer churned for about two weeks processing everything. I would start shots before leaving for work and if they were done when I got home I would set up more to process while I slept.