VFX Breakdown: Faking My Way Into the Vatican

I might have spent more time on the opening gag of Animorphs III than the entire rest of the video.

Eric Ravenscraft

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Lord Ravenscraft is a video essay series created by Eric Ravenscraft. You can watch the latest full episode on YouTube.

For the intro Animorphs III, I wanted to do something more elaborate than I’ve done before. I’ve made an intentional point to use these essays as an excuse to practice working in Blender and After Effects, but usually I’ve put that effort behind title cards and simple gags. For this one, I wanted to try something…well, “photoreal” isn’t quite the right word, but something more reasonably approaching it.

The sequence ultimately included three shots: one medium shot facing the balcony, one OTS shot facing the crowd, and one wider shot facing the balcony from within the crowd itself.

Each of these posed unique challenges. I don’t think anything I did for this sequence is particularly novel, but it was fun enough to share how it was done.

Shot #1: Medium Balcony Shot

This shot was more of a modeling exercise than anything else. And if there was a step I could’ve cut some corners on, it was probably here. The railing consists of a single column and banister, repeated enough to extend beyond the camera.

Every other object (save for the plate of green screen footage, which I’ll explain in a bit) is a fabric simulation. I based this scene loosely on the window from the Apolistic Palace where the Pope frequently addresses the people in St. Peter’s Square.

No, I don’t have an overinflated ego, why do you ask?

Both the curtains and banner over the banister are simple cloth simulations. This feels a bit like cheating. Set up a few key variables like which parts of the model should stay in place and what obstacles it should interact with, and you can get a highly detailed object that looks like it belongs. Like a lot of the scenes I build, I took some materials from the Quixel Megascans

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Eric Ravenscraft

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.