Here we are again: it’s the time of year when every company starts announcing and releasing their amaze-o flagship phones, and we like to be the same size when we review them. For our iPhone 11 Pro review last September, we made one of our most ambitious and artistic opening shots ever. Unfortunately, this means that we have a completely new baseline for production quality. Tough for us, good for you!
Our Microsoft Surface Duo review came out yesterday, and for obvious reasons we did not have access to our usual set of cool toys, so we had to get creative. The end result was this shot: a combination of a 3D creation and practical images, created in tandem on both sides of America in just a few days.
While our iPhone 11 Pro opening shot was practical, this time we decided to mix a practical one with 3D. Without extremely expensive equipment, some movements are simply impossible to film – and a developing, floating, spinning phone is one of them.
Let me pull back the curtain to show you how it was made.
The first thing I like to do when I plan such a shot is to preview or visualize what the shot will look like. Planning the filming in Cinema 4D before filming makes it easier to talk to team members about what we need to accomplish. It allows us to plan our shot lists and make sure we get everything needed for the final composite. It also makes me comfortable to work with which model and structure we use if it will be a composite 3D / practical image. Another nice bonus is that we can actually plan out these images before we even get the device in hand.
Next is practical shooting. Vjeran Pavic, our fantastic senior video director, shot this on a skeleton in San Francisco – basically just a wooden table, lamps and a few reflectors.
I had a list of things he needed so that I could blend a 3D rendering of the Surface Duo seamlessly into a really practical touch, including the camera’s ISO, lens, focal length and f-stop. There is a whole industry of talented professionals whose job it is to build assets for others to create with, so we could buy a model from an online marketplace rather than recreate the Duo from scratch.
Along with lots of reference photos, one of the most important things I needed was a (mostly) 360-degree photo of the set that I could use to recreate the scene’s lighting and reflections.
The key to planning these pictures is to work backwards: know where you want to end up, and it’s easy to get there. So we shot Duo in landing position so that Vjeran could turn it closed and pick it up. After matching the model’s starting position to the first practical frame in the C4D, all I needed to do was map the original shot’s textures directly on the model so that the two could not be distinguished when they were on top of each other, and we had almost been there.
The last 5 percent of all projects tend to be the most difficult – and even when you may have the most self-doubt. “Will it work?” “People will obviously see the transition.” “It will never work.” One of the most difficult aspects is to recreate the shortcomings of reality: camera movements, driving focus, etc. But after a little perseverance and careful After Effects magic to match color, film grain, blur and movement, you finally get there – and it feels great.