VH1 recently called on Brooklyn-based animation and VFX boutique Galaxy 61 to create a show intro for the 2014 season of The Fabulous Life – a series that reveals the extravagant places, possessions and pastimes of famous celebrities. The facility created a lavish intro that personifies the opulent lifestyle with a series of iconic objects formed out of cascading simulated liquid gold.
The intro begins with a close up of a female hand, coated in gold dropping a golden cherry into a gold martini glass. The cherry splashes into the glass, setting in motion a cascade of liquid gold that takes the shape of a luxury cars, and then drips from the vehicle to form a series luxury objects – from a couture high-heeled shoe and private jet to a Rolex watch. The intro closes as a huge splash of the gold fluid reveals the show’s logo.
VH1 created the concept and storyboard, and then tasked Galaxy 61’s owner, designer/animator/VFX artist Doug Johnson, along with VFX artist Fola Akinola and modeler/VFX artist Jasper Johnson with the complex execution of the concept.
Doug Johnson and his team did extensive R&D at the outset to ensure that the content would have the specific look and feel that the client wanted. They then began the time-intensive process of sourcing all the models and putting together a full 3D animatic that choreographed the reveal of each object.
Doug Johnson and Akinola worked in tandem to create the multiple simulations and renderings of the objects, as well as the big splashes. Jasper Johnson helped reshape the generic models of the objects, simplifying some of them so they didn’t overwhelm the simulations, while still maintaining their integrity, and adding fine points to others to create more detail after the liquid solidified. Additional transitions were created at the compositing stage and 3D elements were specifically designed to smoothly transform the initial molten liquid versions into the sharply defined finished objects.
The client’s directive also included making the gold liquid flow with the consistency of honey, which was achieved by finessing the parameters in Realflow to get the right combination of viscosity and friction. Each string-like drip had to be individually simulated and then merged with the objects as they took shape. Rather than keeping the camera on the same plane, Doug Johnson devised a spiraling camera motion to emphasize the depth of the accumulating drips.
The company previously worked with VH1’s in-house graphics department on a package for Best Year Ever, which also called for complex fluid simulation. Galaxy 61’s team relies on a mix of tools, including Apple Mac Pro (Bootcamp) running Windows 7 64-bit, Autodesk Maya, Next Limit RealFlow, Adobe After Effects CS6 and Adobe Illustrator CS6.
“This was the first project that really maxed out our newly updated render farm and 4x gigabit network, and we really enjoyed pulling out all of the stops and pushing the technology to its limits,” said Doug Johnson. “The Rolex watch was the ultimate test of our capabilities because it was comprised of so many separate pieces and details that needed to be simplified, without losing the essence of the object. This simulation consistently took the longest, and the resultant mesh contains millions of polygons.”
Part of the creative challenge of creating high-quality liquid simulations is the long computation time required for each individual transformation. The intro for The Fabulous Life included seven individual liquid transformations – plus the two large splashes that revealed the logo at the end. Even with the technical capabilities of Galaxy 61’s extensive network of workstations’ running multiple simulations, a full revision of the open still required a two to three-day turnaround. VH1’s in-house creative team did the final compositing, added background elements, the logo end tag and provided the music.
“Another consideration was that there’s no such thing as presets for this kind of dynamic simulation, so the R&D was critical to achieving the desired look,” explained Doug Johnson. “Any project featuring multiple fluid simulations is a challenge, but at the end of the day we were trying to direct and choreograph a liquid being poured out of a bucket, so a two-and-a-half week schedule is really pushing the envelope.”
“VH1’s has a very skilled and innovative in-house team,” he added. “Their creative director, Lucien Yang, and producer, Shelli Sweeney, are always a pleasure to work with. Their of-the-moment design for the intro, and their patience while the R&D process played out, allowed us to create a final product that we’re extremely proud of.”