Chivas Virtual Band

Motion captured CG performances

Designed as a traveling live event and Music Video.

Director / VFX Supervisor

the Premise

A 'holographic' performance was to take place in many places around China. Then we were to deliver 4 videos, 2 music videos to play online, plus all the marketing images eventually shown on billboards everywhere.


Pernod Ricard China wanted something really different to put on the road with famous singers. Their idea was to create a virtual band. It would need to seem holographic so it could literally play behind the star on stage.

To get the job we did this proof of concept in a matter of a few days by 4 people. This included modeling the performer, motion capture (which we found online), rigging, render, etc.

Once we got into production, as you can imagine, the characters had to be designed just right to represent the brand. With the help of the agency as to what was most important we came very close. Even the clothes materials had to be carefully styled.

That caused a problem that the hardware people had failed to properly explain. The projection technique was the same as one used by Madonna on the very impressive performance with the Gorillaz, it's reflected on a large sheet of mylar tilted towards the audience (good description here).

That performance had a lot of advantages we couldn't match. They had keyframed cartoon characters (something I pushed for), a hit song, a famous band, Madonna, etc. They also had a huge projection screen (mylar) so the characters could be large, and an additional screen set farther up stage for the drummer so the effect was more 3d for the band as a whole.

So the problem is that since it's a projection it needs to be against a black background to be believable and have the greatest contrast. This unfortunately meant that anything in our image even close to black becomes transparent (at least it's invisible on the black background). The original designs had the band almost all in black! This became one of those 'when is black actually black' issues of going back and forth with the colors, the agency finally understanding it wasn't just me being stubborn. For a long time we didn't have a mockup so we didn't even know how far off we were with the greys. So you might think, just put something lighter behind it, but it doesn't work that way. The solution is to not use any true black on the characters, but rather to lighten them up. Better would have been for them to be wearing bright rock and roll outfits (like the Gorillaz characters), but they needed to be more suave and cool, so... black, or close to it.

process cut down of the many steps of production.

We were simultaneously working on the promotional key visuals. These went back and forth a lot and we ended up with a wireframe overlay.

Lighting test. Note that in the dark all the black would be invisible.

There was never any question of how to do the animation of the characters. Since it needed to seem as real as possible we needed real musicians. We found a group of young guys who wanted to do it and they learned the songs. The lead singer really put effort into his performance.

one of many rehearsals - in a Shanghai bomb shelter

I wanted this to work out well so I brought an expert over from the US, Demian Gordon. He had been the head of mocap for my Sinbad film. He was keen to visit China so it worked out well. His resume is quite extensive even working on the Planet of the Apes films, responsible for the mocap (a bit larger budget than we had).

just had to add this. One of our animators helping out with capture volume.
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