An interview with Previs and VFX artist Miran Dilberovic, discussing his spectacular, looped skateboarding animation featuring Marvel's friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. We find out how it was made, the ideas and inspiration behind it and how Dilberovic got into the film industry.
When did you start this project and what made you use Spiderman?
I had a Spiderman rig that I had always wanted to create an animation with, and it wasn't until around September time that I started the RND (research and development) stage. I first began creating my own costume materials using the Redshift shader. It was around then that the Tony Hawk warehouse demo came out. I was playing that and when I found out there wasn't going to be Spidey in it like the original, it got me thinking; “Oh, maybe I could use that Spiderman rig”
After my idea, I spent the next few days setting up; before the project had to be put on hold because I got accepted into the unreal fellowship. I spent the next few weeks working on that whilst my Spiderman project was sitting there half baked. As soon as I had finished the fellowship, I picked this straight back up and it was complete by mid-December.
What was your inspiration behind this idea?
It was annoying that you can't play Tony Hawk as Spiderman anymore, that was the biggest annoyance for me! Spiderman was always cool, I don't know about you but for me he was the top dog. For Sam Raimi's 2002 movie, there was a trailer which featured the World Trade Centre, which was later banned, but it was so good. It had four or five shots of Spiderman swinging. I remember seeing it as a kid around the same time I started skating. It was like Spiderman, Tony Hawk all combined. So I had this Spiderman rig, Tony Hawk came out and I just decided to do something about it.
You always want to do something grand and epic, like swinging or doing some kind of amazing air trick, but I wanted to be on the road. Down on the pavement, close up, seeing the camera shake, despite the fact it is Spidey who you expect at a certain point to be swinging. To keep him grounded as much as possible, that was the goal.
Tell us about Spiderman’s costume.
It's a rig by Kiel Figgins. He had this rig for a few years and I really wanted to make my own costume, something more like the classic style. The rig originally had the first Andrew Garfield movie costume, so I scrapped that and made my own. I'm a big Redshift fan. I love the way the material works. I played around with it for days and days, trying to get the right texture and include the small details, like the wrinkles which automatically make it look much more realistic.
I was taking snapshots before each new render, so I could go back to the earlier versions and see the progression. Along the way I would make changes and then wake up the next morning and think “oh it doesn't look that good” and I would take it back into photoshop and paint it all over again.
Were the Nike Trainers always part of the plan?
I had just downloaded a new android app for photo scanning and I was trying it out but it didn't really work very well. I mean you can use your phone camera but of course you're gonna get better results with the DSLR camera. So I took my DSLR and I tried scanning a stack of Blu-rays, and that worked out. I used reality capture software where you press two buttons and within an hour you have your 3D model with textures, ready to take into Blender or Maya. I scanned my Nike trainers and I was really happy with the result.
Was Mocap part of the process or was the whole project hand animated?
It was all hand animated because it can be difficult to find good Mocap, and if you do, you then need to adapt your rig to it. One of the cheats I used in this project is that Spidey is not actually moving, the environment is moving.
I wanted to use an android app for the camera so I tried the Wiley Cam app as it was the only one I could find for android phones. It was really straightforward. You can link it up through Wi-Fi, but you do need to reduce your textures otherwise it can be a bit laggy.
It was great to have the ability to just say “Oh this camera doesn't work, I'll open the app and record it again” It worked like a charm. I have had a lot of comments about how the wobbles and the jitter of the hand really add to it. I really wanted to incorporate those subtleties. Playing Tony Hawk gave me lots of ideas, it's amazing how they have developed those old janky ass animations and upgraded everything.
Was the animation always going to be looped?
No it wasn't. I didn't have the idea to have it looped until midway through the project. I saw a YouTube video made by The Corridor Digital Guys (The Corridor Crew) about how to make loop videos. It was really inspiring and it gave me the idea. I knew that I wouldn't be able to loop it perfectly with my camera live so I needed to stitch it somehow. The first frame and last frame had to be as close as possible for it to work. I used After Effects to zoom right into both the first and last frame. This was my first looped animation.
We know you also use Nuke, is there a reason you chose to do this project in After Effects?
I'm more comfortable in After Effects but I am always promising myself that I will complete my next project in Nuke (compositing software). I actually learned Nuke two years ago when I was on Rise of Skywalker. Dave Edwards was the supervisor and he was very patient teaching me the software but I was able to pick it up pretty quickly with his help.
It was my first time using Nuke and I had a really difficult shot assigned to me. It was the speeder chase in the desert, with Chewie and Rei. There are three missiles coming in above them and the camera is underneath Chewie with all his fur. There is lens flare, sky, missiles hitting the dust and explosions. I spent half a day trying to key the sun, then I would lose the flare, or I would lose chewy but I wouldn't lose the blue screen. I was almost in tears man. So Dave Edwards printed out all the shortcuts, placed them in front of me and from there it took me only a day and a half to finish that shot. It was in doing that crazy ass shot that I learned how Nuke behaved. I was really proud of myself for being able to learn the software that quickly and complete such a shot.
You specialise in previs, how did you get into it?
In high school I wanted to be a director. I wanted to make my own movies. I attained my master's degree in animation and took on a lot of freelance work back home in Croatia.
I went on to become a VFX data wrangler, working on the set of Solo. It was a 6 day week, working 14-15 hours a day and I remember thinking “This is going to be very tough”. I had to decide if this is what I wanted to do, if I was going to continue. I started to think about my options and what I wanted to do with my life. I knew of previs because I had seen it in the “making of” documentaries that come on Blu-Ray DVDs. I liked the idea of it because it's fast paced. The process starts off quite rudimentary before it evolves and adapts.
Previs sparked my interest because it has similarities to directing. It’s not just animating, you are in control of the lights and the cameras. So I decided I would go for it, I prepared my show reel and started applying for Previs jobs. I got quite lucky as I was working with someone who had contacts at The Third Floor. I had heard of The Third Floor because they had done a lot of work on Star Wars. They liked my show reel and offered me the job, which I started in mid-October, only 2 days after I had finished on-set.
Will you be using Previs to make your own short films in the near future?
Of course! it opens up a whole new world when you can make stuff, you learn, and you learn,
you work with amazing people, brilliant supervisors that share their knowledge. The ever evolving technologies open up so many possibilities and when I come home from work...it's when I can work on my thing. It’s exciting to implement all of the things you learn day to day...it is just about making the time for it.
In our Next video we will be talking with Luis.F Andrada who has worked on The Mummy, Cloverfield, Passengers, Jumanji and X-men (To name a few). You can check out his work at www.luisfandrade.com. We're going to be talking about his process and he's gonna give us some of his top previs tips, tricks and insights. We will also get to see Andrada recreate some of his favourite scenes from movies, including Avengers, Mission Impossible and Batman.