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COPA Brings Nicki Minaj to Life in “Turn Me On”


'Turn Me On'
Fresh off its official launch, COPA (Co-Op of Artists) has delivered high-end imagery for “Turn Me On,” the new music video for David Guetta and Nicki Minaj, directed by Sanji at Wondros Productions via EMI Music.

The spot is set in a fictional antique world, where a precision tinkerer (Guetta) brings a robotic Nicki Minaj to life piece by delicate piece, starting with lips animated by a complex mechanical gizmo. Once fully constructed, the newly animated starlet rises from the laboratory table as part of her gradual transformation from walking mannequin to full human. She then gallops through the streets of the medieval town by foot and by horseback, performing for legions of half humans who surround her in adoring swarms. The inventor, too, turns out to be an odd human hybrid, revealing a sheen of metallic snakeskin when his creations strip him of his clothing.

“When I first heard the song ‘Turn Me On,’ the imagery for the video came flooding into my head immediately. I envisioned it as more of a cinematic experience than a performance video. The track really spoke to me in a cinematic way,” said Sanji. To help realize his vision, Sanji approached COPA co-founder and VFX supervisor Alex Frisch with the challenge of designing feature film-level VFX for the music video. “I’d worked with Alex before and knew he would pour his heart into it. Alex had introduced me to the fantastic COPA team,” Sanji added.

“There were many obvious challenges on this project. COPA’s artists worked very closely with Sanji’s and Wondros to prepare the shoot and get all of our elements lined up. Both Sanji, David Guetta and COPA wanted to make sure we were going to create a very cinematic original story, a little film in itself,” said Frisch.

The VFX are indeed impressive, creating novel impressions of familiar characters. COPA built Nicki Minaj as a full CG doll, while taking special care to maintain 100 percent of her initial movements from pre-shot motion-capture and facial-capture sessions. “Building people in CG is always a challenge, and it becomes even more challenging when your subject is an icon such as Nicki,” noted COPA co-founder and compositing supervisor Vico Sharabani. The studio solved the problem by employing 3D scanning and facial capture technology and combining it with a photorealistic rendering of complex design – a process called Physically Accurate Rendering. “The level of accuracy we’ve been able to get from this process is truly remarkable,” said Frisch.

COPA, which works in a virtual studio accessible from a network of global offices, drove the project from its L.A. headquarters, working directly with their offices in New York, Tel-Aviv and Serbia. COPA animation director Joe Harkins and CG supervisor Scott Metzger handled the majority of the CG in Los Angeles. “From a technical and logistical standpoint, this video is a huge accomplishment for COPA, and creatively, it’s a great initial statement,” said Sharabani.

One of the first tasks at hand was to design the look of Nicki Minaj being built as a mechanical robot. COPA concept artist Marco Iozzi created the initial designs that Sanji and CG approved early on.

COPA artists used a number of high-tech tricks to deliver the video on time without sacrificing quality, including a singular approach to the animated scenes. “Rather than go backward into the raw footage and select the shots and then animate to that, we simply animated the entire scene and then created the shots afterward as if we’d actually filmed it,” explained Harkins. “Nicki’s performance was entirely based on what she did in the motion capture booth. Working in reverse this way saved us a ton of time.”

Part of the formula was intense preparation and constant collaboration from the design process onward. The collective sent a team of three supervisors on the one-day, 20-hour shoot to capture the background light, images and color. “With most one-day shoots, some things get abbreviated during filming and the much of the heavy lifting gets passed on to VFX,” explained Wondros EP Joseph Uliano. “So much credit is due the team at COPA in that regard.” Once the raw RED Epic camera footage arrived, COPA’s prep work made it much easier to churn out the CG and intercut it with the practical shots.

“On the start of the shoot we were very thorough on collecting all light, color, and set data to create physically accurate environments for rendering. A lot of our 3D renders ended up being first pass finals,” said Metzger. “That’s a pretty rare thing – to have the first rendered images end up as final says a lot about the work flow and quality of talent here at COPA.”

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