How to bring back history with CG

Nigel Hunt explains how Glowfrog made modern-day New York look like a scene from the past.

Of all the different categories of TV show, you'd expect travel programmes to be one area where CG effects wouldn't be needed. But you'd be wrong, explains Nigel Hunt, owner and creative director of Glowfrog Studios.

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"We have recently finished a 9 month project, working with the amazing team at Nutopia on a six-hour show called Metropolis," he explains. "It's a travel program showcasing six cities around the world, New York, London, New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris and Rome.

"Within the show, story anecdotes are used to time-travel back to a point in time to reveal how it looked in the past. This was a dream come true for me as a fan of history and with a strong background in architecture."

"The client wished to transition in time throughout the series, taking a location plate and rewinding it back in time through the decades to a historical point in time. We needed to produce these on two levels, street views and wide aerial shots of entire cities, such as New York."

"For the street level shots we wanted to maintain a constant feature, such as an old warehouse from near the period we were going to timeslide it to. This would allow a fixed point in the image as everything surrounding it transforms in timelapse speed. The Glowfrog team developed a pipeline around Nuke and 3DS Max."

01. Modern day

Location footage of New York’s present day Highline with the recently opened The Standard Hotel central to the shot.

02. The shot ramps up

We needed to roto most of the plate to allow for sky replacement, deconstructing the hotel, rendered in 3D, and transforming trees.

03. Shrinking trees

The hotel disappear, signage, cars, people change. The trees start to shrink. The cars were rendered in 3DS Max.

04. Steelwork

The highline is shown in operation with trains running along its raised tracks. We move back in time and the highline steelwork begins to deconstruct.

To achieve the deconstruction of the highline we rebuilt the steelwork and top deck in 3D and re-projected the original plate back onto the geometry, cleaning up the plate to remove foliage, cars, etc.

05. Brownstone's back

As the highline deconstructs into the distance. 19th century warehouses and brownstone building spring up. The road asphalt gives way to packed earth. The original plate by now has been replaced completely by matte paintings projected onto geometry in Nuke.

06. No more cars

Cars have disappeared and more buildings build up in the background.

07. Horses and carts

The streets fill with greenscreen people. Horses and carts fill the streets.

08. Train again

A rail track is laid towards the camera with a large steam train rolling towards camera. The train was modelled and animated in 3DS Max, with the smoke simulated using Fume.

Words: Nigel Hunt

Nigel Hunt is owner and creative director of Glowfrog Studios

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