Behind the Scenes // EXPLORATION

Behind the Scenes // EXPLORATION

Behind the Scenes // EXPLORATION

Like many creatives, we are completely fascinated with space and floored by the idea of exploring it. So we were naturally excited when we heard about CineSpace, a new short film competition focused on films that utilize NASA’s actual footage archive. One entry called EXPLORATION came to our attention since a handful of our effects were used in it. We thought the film was really well done and decided to get the inside scoop. When we found out the UK based filmmaker Ryan Thompson is only 22 years old, we couldn’t help but share. Ryan was kind enough to answer some questions about the film and share his VFX process along with a VFX breakdown video.

What inspired the storyline for EXPLORATION? Did you already have an idea for it before the CineSpace competition, or was it created entirely for the contest?

Growing up, I became obsessed with creatures and monsters in film and TV such as Labyrinth, Goosebumps and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So naturally I leaned towards making horror films, but I always try different styles and genres to see if I am as versatile as I hope to be as a director/creator. I do the rounds every month just checking for any film competitions or festivals that catch my eye, and as soon as I saw ‘NASA’ I got excited. It sounded like an excellent competition and it gave so much creative freedom, with the main objective only being that you are to use NASA Archive footage/imagery for minimum 10% of the projects running time.

When I think of NASA, as I’m sure is the case with most people, I immediately jump to the space race and man landing on the moon. I think of pride and ambition and wanted to celebrate that in this short, so that was my starting point. I came up with several ideas which I still like and will hopefully use in the future as my own shorts. These were more narrative and sci-fi based, but my mind kept going to a sort of compilation/documentary summation style – shots jumping back and forth between time, between archive footage, between people and space.

“I want our collective achievement to be the focus, so that when the short finishes, it leaves you feeling proud of our species.”

What is the primary thing you want the viewer to take away from the film?

I want people to feel pride. I want our collective achievement to be the focus, so that when the short finishes, it leaves you feeling proud of our species and the drive and ambition we can have to push boundaries and explore, be it this world or the stars. Although the finished film isn’t exactly how I had it in my mind, I think it evokes the emotional and patriotic response I intended.

What did your live production rig consist of?

‘EXPLORATION’ was filmed over 4 months in an extremely indy way. All the actors are friends and family, so it revolved around their work schedules and when we did shoot, it was incredibly run and gun, usually with just a tripod and cheap LED lights. It’s not the best way to film something but I’m glad it worked out well in the end.

It was also my first time working with the Sony A7S (or any DSLR for that matter) which I purchased a few weeks prior to shooting. I think it’s always good to have some sort of physical prop, even in a VFX heavy project such as this, which is why I used ski gloves and a motorcycle helmet as part of the astronaut gear.

Ryan Thompson - Exploration - Astronaut

Walk us through your post-production tools and workflow.

I spent a long time going through the NASA archives, sorting through hours of clips and thousands of images. The imagery they have captured over the years is incredible, my personal favourites being Saturn 5 rocket cams footage (for example at 00:38 and 02:27) and the International Space Station Time-lapses.

As with 99% of all my projects, I worked completely within Adobe After Effects CS6. I even use it as my editor, which often confuses people, but I find it easy. I started with the space shots since I didn’t need to film anything for those. The majority of space shots consisted of 2D images used as 3D layers (images from the NASA archives) and several layers of Optical Flares for the sun.

  • Before-eyes
    Before eyes After

A lot of the footage I shot was on green screen so often the background environments were static images used as 3D layers that I had taken myself, or once again from the NASA archives for scenes such as inside the International Space station. The opening shot’s landscape was constructed from photos my father took in Italy last year, and the night city streets are collaged backgrounds of footage and photography my father and I took in London.

For any 3D objects such as the moon surface I used a 3rd party plugin for AE called ‘Element 3D V2’. I did originally have 3D space stations and satellites too, but wasn’t happy with the digital look of them so they were removed from the shots.

This is the third project I have used Lens Distortions products in. For this I used clips from the Legacy 4k pack. I love the quality and style which worked perfectly for that ‘ethereal’ space look. They give both a glossy and dream like feel whilst at the same time adding realistic lens reaction to a shot.

You’re VFX work is fantastic in this film. Any scenes that were particularly fun or difficult create? Did you use any post-prod techniques for the first time? What are some of your favorite scenes from the film?

Thank you very much. Although the majority of these shots were completely new for me, they all seem to need the same basic techniques as any genre or style: rotoscoping, chroma keying, matte painting, colour grading, etc. One thing I enjoyed with this above my usual work is how colourful and saturated it is, so the end colour grading process was really interesting. It completely changed the look of my original idea for the better.

This has been one of my most difficult and time consuming VFX projects. The most notable shot being the sun over earth at 01:10. I went through 8 revisions of the shot, trying to get the sun flares just right, and the earth’s clouds to look 3D vs a flat plane.



Ryan Thompson - Cinespace - Exporation

I ended up being able to fake the clouds perspective change by simply using the liquify tool built into After Effects, and slide the top of each cloud up an extra 50% (or more, respective to their visual size) and do a simple animation of the effect which works well in conjunction with the camera move. This was one of the shots that I originally had a 3D version of the Hubble Telescope in the foreground, but it was just falling flat and I presumed the obvious VFX would pull a lot of people out of the moment.

The fireworks are also VFX so that was a new one for me.

My favourite shots include the difficult one mentioned, as well as the wide shot of the rocket takeoff as the spectators watch at 01:48, and the astronaut looking out the window down to earth at 2:33.

Ryan Thompson - Cinespace - EXPLORATION

“The majority of my ideas and projects are generated and inspired from music, ‘EXPLORATION’ being a prime example.”

The score is fantastic and is a perfect fit for the film. Tell us about working with the composer. How did you describe what you were looking for in a track? Did you go back and forth quite a bit or just let him run with it?

I met Benjamin Squires (the composer) on a short course at film school a couple years ago and absolutely loved his creativity and talent. We first worked together last year on my project called ‘Pulse’, the first short I used lens distortions in. He was one of the first people I spoke to about the competition when I found out about it, and I was hoping he was as interested as I was to collaborate again. I actually came up with my four main ideas for the short whilst listening to his work on repeat.

More often than not, the composer will write the score whilst watching a locked edit version of the short but in this case we both felt it was right (especially due to timing as I knew I would only have the edit complete in the last week of the competition) that the score should be written and completed during production/post. Benjamin didn’t see anything until the short was online so in some ways I guess there could have been reservations but both works come together so cohesively that we are both very happy with the result.

I told Benjamin which of his tracks I was using as the temp idea track and tempo, and threw around words such as ‘inspirational’ and ‘patriotic’. The first draft he sent was basically 99% of what you hear in the short, we just went back and forth over certain details till we got this final version which works so perfectly with the imagery, and served as motivation for me in my final month of editing.

As filmmakers, we’re always looking for sources of inspiration. Where do you look to be inspired?

I would say listen to music. The majority of my ideas and projects are generated and inspired from music, ‘EXPLORATION’ being a prime example. It doesn’t have to be music you would usually listen to recreationally. I find it paints vivid imagery in your mind which could always serve as inception for something great.

To see more of Ryan’s work, check out
He currently uses Legacy 4K from Lens Distortions.

I love the quality and style, which worked perfectly for that ‘ethereal’ space look. They give both a glossy and dream like feel whilst at the same time adding realistic lens reaction to a shot.

Ryan Thomspon

Filmmaker, VFX Productions

Sky Replacement Tutorial // Eclipse

Sky Replacement Tutorial // Eclipse

Eclipse | Behind the scenes and sky replacement tutorial
Mark Lediard is a Director, Editor, and VFX Artist who works all over the UK and occasionally abroad creating video and film content of every type. He’s directed commercial for a plethora of notable entities, created short films out of nothing but a green screen and a couple of actors, directed comedy skits for BBC online, shot pop videos for Geordie girl bands and edited movie trailers for Eddie Izzard.

His latest short film, Eclipse, won Best Cinematography in the 2015 My Rode Reel short film competition. We caught up with Mark to get the inside scoop on Eclipse and the VFX work that went into creating it.

Tell us a bit about your new short film, Eclipse. How did you come up with the story?

Eclipse was something that had been in my head for a long time in one form or another but never managed to make it any further. I recently moved back to the small town where I grew up to raise a family, so there’s definitely part of the story thats about accepting that life goes in cycles and coming to terms with that. Then when the My Rode Reel competition was announced this year, around the same time there was a Solar Eclipse visible from the UK and the conjunction of the two things kicked me into finally writing this thing down and making it. I work full time making commercials and editing for other people so it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to make something for yourself. The My Rode Reel contest was a perfect opportunity to do this as it has the two things I need to get things done, a time limit and a deadline.

“That’s a big part of working with digital images these days, finding ways to make them look more organic, more natural.”
Tell us a bit about the VFX techniques that you used throughout the film.

All the Solar Eclipses are obviously added in post although some are in part from plates I shot during the March 2015 event. I also looked closely at the lens flare elements created during an eclipse, you get these beautiful crescent shapes, and I extracted some of these from the plates and used them to create my own custom lens flare elements in Optical Flares from Video Copilot.

The big close ups of the Eclipse itself were completely created in After Effects. As you can see in the following BTS video, it’s basically a combination of lots of elements designed to reduce the cleanness that a purely CG creation can have. So lots of grain, Lens Distortions (shown around 7-minute mark), flares, etc… anything that helps it look like it might actually have been shot. That’s a big part of working with digital images these days, finding ways to make them look more organic, more natural.

I do a lot of sky replacement in my film work and it’s a technique that is really useful to know. As you can see below, this process can completely transform a scene. I’ve made an in depth BTS sky replacement video to show my process.

For the traveling sequence, I used lots of shots from my own archive of places I’ve visited around the world, sometimes with work and sometimes on holiday. Everywhere I go I try and shoot something, you just never know when a shot can be useful or an inspiration and it’s a great way to add production value to a short by including an establishing or incidental shot of somewhere that your budget would never allow. As a director it’s the best piece of advice I have – always be looking for a shot.

What camera(s) did you shoot with? What programs made up your post-production workflow?

Eclipse was shot principally on an Arri Amira with Arri Ultra-prime lenses (still using Arri cameras after all these years) lent to us for the day very kindly by our local hire company, Picture Canning North. We also shot some additional shots on a GH4 mounted on a DJI Ronin and on an Octocopter from local aerial company HorizonAP. The travelling sequence archive shots were shot on my own Blackmagic Pocket Camera and a Canon 5Dmkii.

Post was Adobe Premiere and After Effects which work so well together – just the fact that I can copy and paste a shot from one into the other saves so much time on a quick turnaround job. The final grade was done in DaVinci Resolve Lite. Everything was cut, comped and colored on my 2-year-old iMac using an HP27x as a grading monitor.

What’s next for you? Any other fun projects in the works?

More of the same I hope. My day job of commercial work keeps me busy but I’d like to keep the momentum going off the back of Eclipse and try and put together another short this year. I’m always interested in hearing from writers who have a good idea. Beyond that the idea of doing a feature film used to scare me, I have a notoriously short attention span, but as I get older it’s something I would consider more. The problem these days isn’t so much in making a film, though, it’s making something that an audience wants to watch.


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As Filmmakers, we’re always for sources of inspiration. Any sources you care to share?

I find the internet inspiring, by that I mean the depth of available knowledge that’s out there now. When I think back to how I started, there were no online tutorials, Andrew Kramer was probably just starting school, there weren’t even any books. The only place to learn was from the manual! The rest I had to figure out for myself. These days if I need an inspirational kick it’s as easy as loading up Vimeo and being amazed by the breadth of talent, skill and love that people have for making films. I’m always inspired when I see people with a DIY attitude just getting out there and doing it.

Mark currently uses our signature glass effects. To see more of his work, be sure to check out

Interview // Renato Marques

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Renato Marques | Conceptual VFX with Legacy glass effects

Renato Marques is a motion designer in the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal. A quick look at his body of work, and you immediately get a feel for his love of architecture, fashion, and design. His aesthetic shows a fascinating tension between organic elements and clean design.

His VFX piece for Histibe & Balkansky, Late Night 2.0 was Staff Picked on Vimeo and had a tremendous response from the community.

Where are you from? What’s the creative culture like in your community?
I’m from Lisbon, Portugal. You may have heard it in the news that my country alongside with others in Europe is going through a financial crisis, and with that comes an identity crisis. That has some very nasty effects, but it also creates an opportunity for us, as Portuguese citizens, to take a fresh look around us and within. It makes us question where we came from, and what we are representing. That is starting to create a moment in time where we are being reborn as creative individuals. This is not a new thing but has been more pronounced in these last 5 years.

This is not a new thing but has been more pronounced in these last 5 years. We always had an amazing creative force, but now we see talent like Joana Vasconcelos and Vhills that each in their own way represent a vision of what Portugal culture looks like in the 21 century. And they, as many others, were able to recreate an identity and visual realm that is truly inspiring, either as Portuguese and also as European.

Also, Lisbon itself has recently been in the media around the world as a must visit destination. I think that is due much because of the importance that Portugal had in creating the “New World”, being one of the first to realize that cultures and countries were moving to a globalised society. And also because of this new intellectual territory that had to be rebuilt and is now being shaped in a new fresh way. So it’s an exciting time to live in Lisbon, and I’m trying to make the most of it.

“… if you look too much to films and animations for your visual references, you take the risk of ending up with a look very similar to someone else’s aesthetic…”

Tell us a little about your background in design and CG work.
Well, I wanted, before college, to be a painter. Jean Michel Basquiat was at the centre of what I looked up to in an artist. The work he created made me understand what an artist does.

That was my first encounter of the yet undefined path I wanted to take. As studies went further, and I started to learn more about design, design thinking, and designers. I started to grasp the power of a well thought out idea. The number of people that one idea can touch and influence really inspired me. When that school of design and thought came across the dimension of time, we suddenly started having amazingly talented designers creating motion design pieces with fewer restrictions.

It became clear to me that I should go down that road, and start to be involved with it. Of course, Eames Office did some amazing motion design pieces like the Powers of Ten, and Saul Bass did fantastic title sequence design and corporative film, but now this was, in many ways, a fresh way of communicating. That took me to explore the technical part of how was it all made.

How did this project for Histibe & Balkansky come about?
Maks Histibe saw my work online and asked if I wanted to create a video clip for his latest track “Late Night 2.0”. I really loved the track so I said yes with a condition. I wanted to research, develop mood boards, render out all the shots and edit without him seeing any part of it. He would only see how the clip was going to look at the end of it all. He agreed with that, so I had total creative freedom to deliver him what I truly believed to be the best work possible for his track.

That was an amazing process: to be in control of everything from start to end gives you so much freedom. That is definitely a workflow I want to use more frequently. It’s not always possible, but it’s incredibly powerful to create without compromise. This, I believe takes me to the beginning of it all, and to one of my biggest influencers, painting, and Jean Michell Basquiat. This was one of the few times that I could introduce a more art-like process as opposed to a design workflow. And I truly loved the result.

What informs your aesthetic most?
Well, aside from daily inspiration around the web, I would have to say that right now I am most inspired by fashion design and architecture. Designers and directors always inspire me in the process of refreshing and renewing my aesthetic. But I think that if you look too much to films and animations for your visual references, you take the risk of ending up with a look very similar to someone else’s aesthetic, and not really being able to find and try, and fail, for yourself.

When you look directly at the aesthetic of a specific director, for example, you are looking at an amalgamation of imagery and visual concepts that are already processed. And when that happens, a lot of information is missed. You miss all the design, art, and architecture that director is using. It’s rewarding when you can do your research, and after all the process and workflow you go through, come up with a look, a mood that you can, in part, call yours.

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What kind of projects would you love to work on in the future?
I am really focusing on creating tailor-made films for brands, artists, and studios. That is unquestionably where I feel more at home, and on the other hand, it’s where I feel I can create and reinvent my process and workflow without restrictions. Which always ends up to be the best thing for me and for the client.

I get easily unsatisfied when I need to go through a workflow over and over again to get the same result as before. I see myself going deeper into art and step by step starting to do less commercial work. In the end, I think I’ll be returning to where I believe I belong.

You can see more of Renato’s excellent work at

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