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Dvein production studio in Barcelona created original concepts and Dvein-GHOSTS 01a
a fantastic indoor set for Alagoas’ new music video ‘Ghosts’, working
with Trizz Studio and Lanczos on VFX and post.


Dvein and Alagoas Show How the West Was Won

Dvein production studio in Barcelona created original concepts and a fantastic indoor set for Alagoas’ new music video called ‘Ghosts’ by the US band Alagoas, working with Trizz Studio and Lanczos on VFX and post.

Dvein’s initial interest in the song grew in response to its lyrics about the conquering and settlement of the American West. When they asked Alagoas’ songwriter Wilson Brown about it, he explained that the band wrote ‘Ghosts’ during a road trip through the north of Spain.

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Marga Sarda, head of production at Dvein, talked to Digital Media World about the project. “The band was in Los Monegros, a desert in Spain that recalled to them the first settlers in the West of the US and is also known as the location of some of the 1970s Spaghetti Westerns,” said Marga. “He then gave us a master class in American history, introducing us to a stunning concept called ‘manifest destiny’ - an irresistible destiny dictating that the American settlers had to conquer the West of the continent in order to expand their virtues. In short, it was a moral mission.”
Go West

The artists at Dvein were amazed by that idea, which has served to justify activity ranging from the displacement of the native Americans to the war with Mexico. They also found the 1872 painting ‘American Progress’ by John Gast in which Columbia, a giant, symbolic woman, leads the settlers into the dark West bringing with them their technology and fascinating new thoughts.
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These concepts triggered the story on which the music video is based, where a colourful, psychedelic alien arrives at an ancient settlement and mesmerises the people with his delightful performance and extravagant colours. Marga talked about the work involved in the production and post.

“We started to work on this project in early 2014, and had the first rough treatment ready by April. The pre-production itself however started in late May, and the shoot took place in July 2014,” she said.
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Building a Ghost Town

“The set was designed by our production designer Anna Colomer, who did a huge amount of research into how we could recreate the tribal village on an indoor set. Everything was specially constructed for the shoot, building up a ghostly but realistic environment incorporating different indigenous elements. We covered the whole 1,000sqm floor with 44 tonnes of sand and, during filming, the set was permanently filled with smoke."

Creating the costumes for the 20 cast members was another major task. The wardrobe designer Renée Jablonski and her team designed and crafted everything especially for this project, including the alien’s suit.
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Marga said, "We went through a fairly long pre-production process in which we generated previz and a range of concepts. Alagoas themselves gave us a lot of freedom regarding the proposal, so we relied on our own internal documentation to make sure each department head had all the information clear. At the same time preproduction was quite detailed because we only had a few days and a small crew for the shoot, so we had to carefully consider time and resource management.

“This also involved the post production team at Trizz Studio and Lanczos. One of their primary tasks was building and integrating the alien’s pulsating, animated CG head into the footage as he performs, which meant scheduling in spots when they could shoot HDR images and reference photography on set, and constantly checking with them to make sure they were aware of everything we were planning and how it would affect the compositing process."
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Dance Tracking

Starting in July 2014, the whole production was shot with a single ARRI Alexa Plus camera and a set of Canon aspherical K-35 lenses. For us, the Alexa is the best digital option, and it’s actually the camera we use in every film because of the texture it gives to the image. We worked on the set lighting with the DP Miquel Prohens because the smoky atmosphere was a key element of the story, but made the light very diffuse. We have only the spaceship as a source of artificial light once it is opened, and consequently the viewer really doesn’t know if it’s day or night.
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About nine months of post production followed the shoot. Nearly everything except the alien’s head is real. The alien suit weighed over 20kg and the dancer Claudio Rojas literally needed an assistant with a chair next to him, to sit down and rest after each take. He also had tracking device installed on his head, which the Trizz TD Oriol Mayolas and their 3D team designed, constructed and supervised on set to collect information for the tracking job for the CG head. So, while all the contact that the cast has with the body on set could be real, a fair amount of rotoscoping was needed for everything that interacted with the head area, which had to be replaced with the CG element.

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The head, face or body of any of the other cast members who were ‘invaded’ by pieces of the CG alien had to be 3D scanned. Dealing with the smoke on the set was an issue as well. Most of what you see in the film is real but, of course, interacting with the CG elements needed extra smoke added during compositing using both Nuke and After Effects. The design, animation and looks closely resemble coral and other organisms living in coral reefs.

Trizz had to clean, grade and track over 98 shots to prepare for the 3D, and created style composites. The models are sculpted from organic references in Zbrush, and given high resolution textures. They have all been rigged and hand animated very precisely in Maya in order to accommodate any requests from Dvein who were concerned that all movement would be organic, especially if it was in slow motion.

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Dazzled by Colour

Colour is another concept that was important from the very beginning. The contrast between the colours of the indigenous people and the brilliant emerging creature are central to the story. The tribe and its natural brown and grey tones represent the purity of the natural world, while the alien is colourful and almost surreal. “Even so, its colours are based on earthly, venomous creatures, from its head made of coral to its anthropomorphic body, that use that kind of colouring to dazzle, mesmerize and attack their prey," said Marga.
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“We wanted the look to be divorced from the tribe’s world but still maintain a connection with the terrestrial to maintain the metaphor of the far West. The colour transformation was consciously designed to be captured in camera, with the help of make-up created by artist Nuria Céspedes, and then carried through in post through the work of colourist Xavi Santolaya who maintained and emphasized that look in the grade. The project was completed in June 2015." www.dvein.com

Trizz had to clean, grade and track over 98 shots to prepare for the 3D, and created style composites. The models are sculpted from organic references in Zbrush, and given high resolution textures. They have all been rigged and hand animated very precisely in Maya in order to accommodate any requests from Dvein who were concerned that all movement would be organic, especially if it was in slow motion.