Ingenuity Engine is a bi-coastal (New York and Los Angeles) visual effects facility that has worked on high profile TV and film projects like Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX), Parks & Rec (NBC), Whiplash (Sony Pictures), and many more. The team at Ingenuity has become well known for their creativity, VFX know-how and most recently the viral video sensation, Power/Rangers, an unofficial fan film. Imagineer caught up with Ingenuity Engine to learn more about their process and tools.
“We honestly use mocha on everything,” says David Lebensfeld, Founder and Creative Director. “mocha not only saves time, but it makes the impossible, possible.” The team uses mocha Pro in conjunction with Nuke in a variety of ways – planar tracking, burning in monitors, clean plating, and stabilization.
Power/Rangers: Unauthorized & Hardcore [Bootleg Universe]
A few weeks ago, producer Adi Shankar and acclaimed director Joseph Kahn unleashed the gritty Power/Rangers short starring James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Gallatica). It immediately went viral racking up over 14 million views, while also getting into a little trouble with Lionsgate. The 14 minute short enters into a violent dystopian world where the Power Rangers are no more.
There are over 200 vfx shots in the ambitious short which took the Ingenuity team six months to complete as they dedicated their time in between other projects. And there are a lot of high-octane bloody action sequences. To avoid messy incontinuity, the scenes were shot without any blood.
“Power/Rangers required many shots to have blood tracked perfectly onto actors performing martial arts,” comments Lebensfeld. “Instead of just using four-corner pin tracks, we actually used the many mocha shapes to stabilize the image with Nuke’s spline warp node.” This method allowed Ingenuity to “flatten” out the movement, add paint (or blood in this case), and re-warp the image back to its original movement. “Working with a warp-stabilized image lets us see exactly what we are doing with reduced variables and make any corrections necessary by hand if necessary,” adds Lebelsfeld.
In addition to using tracking to apply digital make-up/blood, Power/Rangers features 40 shots with graphic walls and futuristic HUD projections that relied heavily on mocha’s planar tracking capabilities. “The project was self-funded and had to shoot blisteringly fast,” continues Lebelsfeld. “Almost no consideration was put into tracking those screens beforehand. We couldn’t have gotten the volume of shots we needed. We simply could not have done those shots without mocha.”
When you watch an episode of the Golden Globe winning comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you wouldn’t necessarily think visual effects. But like most cases Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) and his team of quirky NYPD detectives need to crack, there is more beneath the surface. Ingenuity has worked on Brooklyn Nine-Nine since the first episode.
“It isn’t a show where somebody says, ‘We need to put tracking markers on this.’ It is also a handheld camera show with quick camera movements,” notes Lebensfeld. “Even stuff like things falling from the ceiling, etc, are done sort of off-handed and the expectation is you’ll just be able to sort it out later, which I swear to you, we would not be able to do with mocha.”
In one scene last season, Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) is digging around inside a dead body. “The scene is all about physical comedy. They felt overall that there wasn’t enough blood on his hands and on him,” states Lebensfeld. “His fingers are moving around constantly. There was no other way to do this than planar tracking each individual finger. It was a pain, but it went well and quickly. We were able to really execute tracking blood onto his white gloves. Forget tracking markers, it didn’t have any details on it and mocha did it! It was impressive!”
Another scene finds Detective Boyle running around on fire in the precinct. It’s all tracked with mocha. “We used a lot of stabilizing, so we’re able to see exactly what’s happening to be able to warp the fire to go in the right direction when he’s moving,” says Lebensfeld. “That’s all super critical stuff.”
“One of the biggest advantages mocha allows in production is for us to be less intrusive. Time saved not setting up tracking markers translates to real world dollars on a shoot day,” ends Lebensfeld. “We also don’t have to consider limiting the creative in many cases. Want to go handheld? Sure. Zoom? Sure. Have a quick idea for a new shot? Go for it. We’ve been using mocha since the beginning. It’s been great. It’s a very powerful piece of software that we absolutely love.”
Ingenuity Engine continues to use mocha Pro and NUKE to push the envelope on new projects. Continues Lebensfeld, “We recently used it on the Carly Rae Jepsen music video “I Really Like You” (which features Tom Hanks) for cell phone tracking. We have been using it on Sony’s “Powers” for complex clean plates and wire removals. We are also using it on Fox’s “Last Man on Earth” to track backgrounds in for green screen comps. I’m not kidding when I say it’s integrated into everything we do!”