Behind the VFX of Björk’s “Black Lake” by Andrew Thomas Huang
Commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of their Björk retrospective, Andrew Thomas Huang‘s “Black Lake” tones down the visual surreality of his previous collaboration’s with the singer while dialing up the raw emotion of her performance.
Appropriately, the VFX, by LA’s Wolf & Crow plays a subdued but thematically important role.
Andrew Thomas Huang: “Despite the seemingly raw, naked nature of “Black Lake” the visual effects are rich, varied and in some of their best moments seamless and slight of hand.
“The most prominent of these in particular, the blue lava (inspired by real sulfur-burning lava flows in in Indonesia) was a crucial part of the story as Bjork “wove” her music into earth with her footsteps. It was this “pure, icy burning liquid heartbreak” that became a significant character that mirrored the dynamics of Bjork’s own choreography through the environment.
“For many months I worked intimately with Wolf & Crow, whose team had to develop many different lava flows to match the emotion of Bjork’s song – ranging from slow creeping oozing magma to explosive raining lava flying through the air.
“This was a huge undertaking by VFX Supervisor Adam Swaab, who used his artistry in Houdini to design lava that felt nocturnal, geological, modern contemporary at the same time. Wolf & Crow also brought fashion designer Iris van Herpen’s costumes to life, particularly the flayed disintegrating cape at the climax of the piece which was created using Maya hair simulations.
“Autodesk provided Flame support needed to handle the large screen resolution we were working at, and to handle many of the key compositing shots throughout the film. This was implemented heavily to create the “prologue” for the film – the trailer for “Black Lake” which features the cherubic Bjork lying in a large wound set piece.
“This was a hugely ambitious compositing feat designed to be a sort of “living painting” that set the tone for the “Black Lake” installation in time for its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art.”
The “Black Lake” trailer:
Kevin Shapiro, EP at Wolf & Crow: “There rich visual history associated with Bjork and Andrew’s work is inspiring in its detail and personality. However, early on in the process, it became apparent to us all that this was a beast of a different sort.
“Black Lake is an intensely personal breakup song; one of desolation, loss and rebirth. An over the top visual effects oriented approach seemed to be at odds with the honest, bare emotional pulse of the song. We approached the effects as a supporting character and occasional punctuation, reflecting the maelstrom within.
“The process was an exercise in restraint and ensuring the visual effects never overwhelmed the narrative and yet heightened the film in a contemporary manner while keeping it raw.
“We traveled to Reykjavik for a few days of prep and shoot on the RED Dragon which accommodated the massive scale of imagery we would need for the MoMA installation. Back at our studio in Los Angeles, Andrew and Bjork collaborated on the edit while we completed R&D on how to achieve the various looks of the blue lava we wanted to create a story arc. We worked to integrate the CG through both compositing and grading all done on-site.”
production company: colonel blimp
icelandic production company: truenorth
client: one little indian records & moma
director: andrew thomas huang
creative direction by björk, andrew thomas huang & james merry
executive producers: tamsin glasson & kevin shapiro
producer: tamsin glasson
cinematographer: lasse frank
production designer: thorgeir frímann ódinsson
choreographer: erna ómarsdóttir
truenorth, icelandic production:
general manager: helga margrét reykdal
executive producer: rafnar hermannsson
producer: hrönn kristinsdóttir
production manager: linda vilhjálmsdóttir
location manager: haraldur daddi bjarnason
stedicam operator: ari robbins
focus puller: ómar jabali
loader: elva sara ingvarsdottir
digital image technician: búi baldvinsson & gudjón hrafn gu›mundsson
audio recording and playback: frank arthur blöndahl cassata
playback assistants: gestur sveinsson, fannar freyr magnússon
gaffer: jonathan devaney
key grip: hinrik jónsson
assistant lighting & grip: valdimar jóhannsson, bergur hinriksson
assistant grip: dagur benedikt reynisson
production designer: thorgeir frímann ó›insson
art director: martin busko
props master: haukur m. hrafnsson
props assistants: fridrik steinn fridriksson, soffía ósk kristinsdóttir
carpenter: hilmar páll jóhannsson
sfx supervisor: davíd geir jónasson
wardrobe designer: iris van herpen
wardrobe design manager: bradly klerks
make-up: andrew gallimore at clm london
hair: lok lau at clm london
assistant make-up: frida maria hardardóttir
1st assistant director: george nessis
2nd assistant director/key pa: brynja dögg
pa: kormákur arthursson, hilmar mathiesen, fernando cunha, jerry
nessis, árni jóhann ólafsson
stand-in: maría nielsen
vfx capture xrez studio: eric hanson & greg downing
local icelandic assistant to xrez studio: ólafur haraldsson
vfx: wolf & crow
executive producer: kevin shapiro
production: kate berry
production: cole darby
production: matt olson
production emmi nakagawa
vfx supervisor: adam swaab
fx artist: brett albert
technical director: henry foster
lead flame: brandon sanders
compositor: chad howitt
compositor: sven dreesbach
compositor: youn kwack
compositor: lindsey fry
cg lead: matt berenty
cg artist: richard daniels
cg artist: troy barsness
cg artist: josephine khang
cg artist: joseph grossmann
rotoscoping: dan everson
powered by autodesk
autodesk executive sponsor: chris bradshaw; vp & chief marketing
autodesk producer: brian pene; director of emerging technology and cto
autodesk behind the scenes location capture: keith chamberlain
autodesk practical effects designer: arthur harsuvanakit
autodesk finance: tasha koellsted, jezabel cloutier
black lake theater environment by david benjamin, ray wang, jim
stoddart, and brian lee
special thanks to tom berendsen, andrew mechoir, brian pene, adam
joseph, michelle jaffe , james studholme and martin howe.
Autodesk Maya Creation Suite
The Foundry’s Nuke
Side Effects Houdini