Here we are again: It’s that time of year that every company starts to announce and release their amazing flagship phones, and we want to make it just as big on the review. For our iPhone 11 Pro review last September, we took one of our most ambitious and artistic inaugural shots ever. Unfortunately, that means we have a brand new base for production quality. Hard for us, good for you!
Our Microsoft Surface Duo review was published yesterday. For obvious reasons, we didn’t have access to our usual cool toys so we had to get creative. The end result was this shot: a composition of a 3D replica and practical footage that was created together on both sides of America within a few days.
While our inaugural shot for the iPhone 11 Pro came in handy, this time around we decided to mix a practical shot with 3D. Without extremely expensive equipment, some movements simply cannot be filmed – and an unfolding, floating, spinning phone is one of them.
Let me pull back the curtain to show you how it was done.
The first thing I like to do when planning a shot like this is to see beforehand or visualize what the shot will look like. If you plan to record it in Cinema 4D before filming, you can chat with the team members about what a whole lot we need. That way we can plan our shot lists and make sure we get everything that is needed for the final composite. Plus, I can easily work with any model and texture we use when it comes to a composite 3D / practical shot. Another nice bonus is that we can actually schedule these shots before we even get our hands on the device.
Next comes practical shooting. Vjeran Pavic, our fantastic senior video director, shot this on a skeleton in San Francisco – basically just a wooden desktop, lights, and some reflectors.
I had a list of things he needed to get so I could seamlessly blend a 3D rendering of the Surface Duo into a real practical shot, including camera ISO, lens, focal length, and aperture. There is an entire industry of talented professionals whose job it is to build assets that others can use to create. As a result, we were able to buy a model from an online marketplace instead of creating the duo from scratch.
Aside from a ton of reference photos, one of the most important things I needed was a (mostly) 360 degree photo of the set, which I could use to recreate the lighting and reflections of the scene.
The key to planning these shots is working backwards: knowing where you want to land and getting there is easy. So we shot the duo in their landing position so Vjeran could close and pick it up. After adjusting the starting position of the model to the first practical frame in C4D, all I had to do was map the textures of the original shot directly onto the model so that the two would be indistinguishable when placed on top of each other and we would almost do it to be there.
The last 5 percent of a project is usually the toughest – even if you have the most self-doubts. “If that works?” “People will obviously see the transition.” “It will never work.” One of the hardest parts is restoring the imperfections of reality: camera movement, drift focus, etc. But after some persistence and careful After Effects magic to adjust color, film grain, blur, and movement, you’re finally there – and it feels great.