Plugged as one of the most elaborate music videos to date, Taylor Swift's cameo and VFX heavy video for Bad Blood caused a lot of hype when it was released in May and received the award for Best Video at this years MTV Video Music Awards, held yesterday.
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Ingenuity, who worked on Taylor's Blank Space, as well as a wide range of visionary Joseph Kahn's music video projects, were responsible for this mammoth task of bringing a faux futuristic London to life, equipped with Tron light cycles, RoboCop technology and Sin City styled femme fatales performing some excellent stunt work.
"We've done some big projects over the years but when it comes to density I think this one might take the cake. We had three weeks to do four minutes of pretty much non-stop VFX shots, many of which had a lot of moving pieces that needed to all come together," says creative director and lead CG artist at Ingenuity, Grant Miller, who we caught up with to reveal the videos VFX secrets. "There are 150 shots in the video, 148 have VFX. We had a team of twelve artists so everyone definitely pulled their weight."
Music videos regularly experiment with VFX, did this add pressure?
We definitely get to have a lot of fun with music videos, the FX work tends to be more over the top and everything moves much faster than it does in the commercial world.
Most of the pressure came from the more design-heavy elements. While he more straight forward aspects like the explosion comps and invisible car certainly took some finessing, three weeks is a quick turnaround to design a high-tech conference room or a futuristic motorcycle. Getting those elements finished in time to render dozens of shots was certainly a difficult.
What was the most challenge shot you created and why?
The ending explosion shots I'd say were the most challenging. They had to look completely real which required a ton of hand work with the keys and explosion elements. The comp team really did a great job layering all that together.
What key software proved a life-saving in production?
We switched to MODO for 3D earlier this year and it really performed brilliantly on this job. We had to push a lot of CG through the pipe very quickly and the speed of lighting and shading in MODO made sure everything still looked great on the other end. PFTrack is another standout, the object tracks on the bike shots were incredibly difficult and it really provided a robust toolset to get the job done.
Are there any details you are proud of that viewers may miss?
There are tons of little FX throughout that can easily get overshadowed by the larger sequences. The shot where blades pop out of the compact mirror is honestly one of my favorite shots, it's a great bit of animation, rendering, and compositing and looks totally believable. In a commercial that might be the only shot we do, but on a music video like this it's almost a throw-away!
Describe the general process of creating one of the shots?
The invisible car shots required a lot of pre-work that's easy to skip over: First we'd 3D track each shot and clean up the rigging under the seats that Taylor and Kendrick were sitting in. We'd then roto Taylor and Kendrick separately and render all of those plates out. In 3D we'd then place the invisible car and rotomate geometry to match Taylor and Kendrick.
The plate and roto were projected onto the 3D geometry when rendering the car in order to get proper reflections and refractions and make it feel like the pair were actually sitting in the car, not behind it. Finally a variety of passes for the car were rendered out which comp combined to achieve the final shot.
What did you learn from this video?
I think one of the biggest takeaways for the whole crew is really just knowing how much work we're capable of doing. I can't overstate the amount of effort that went into getting this video done, but everyone really pulled together and we crushed it as a team. At the end of the day that's what matters most to me.
How have expectations of music videos changed?
In the '90s and 2000s music videos were huge spectacles with crazy budgets. Nowadays people are getting numb to spectacle, so the task has become figuring out how to break through boundaries in unique ways to make something fresh and amazing. We're fortunate enough to get to do a lot of work with the video's director Joseph Kahn who's really known for pushing the limits like that.
Were you starstruck working with any of the singers involved?
It's definitely intimidating to work with Taylor. She's got quite the entourage of people but at the end of the day she's one of the nicest musicians I've met. I think she really sets the tone for everyone else that she brought to set which helped keep things friendly and relaxed.
Watch the VFX break down of Bad Blood here.
Words: Alice Pattillo/Grant Miller
Grant is creative director and VFX supervisor at Ingenuity, who create moving images for film, television and advertising, with clients ranging from FOX to Coca-Cola and Sony Pictures. This is an extended version of an article that appeared in 3D World issue 198.
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