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22.10.31 + Studio

Smoke + Mirrors

For the past 100 years, Rorschach inkblots have put a name to one of our most primal instincts. Our brains are wired to translate what we see. We will often try to find faces in the unknown. Abstract images become lingering figures, and inkblots become moths. As designers, we set out daily to communicate clear universal images. This Halloween we decided to leave the image-making up to you.

Visual FX have been around for over a century, produced both in-camera and by other, simpler means: superimpositions, jump-cuts, projections, simple mattes, and so on. Smoke and mirrors, as one example, literally refer to the materials used to create some illusions.

In the spirit of Halloween, we wanted to create some spooky illusions of our own. We reached out to our longtime partners Christopher Webb and Graceann Dorse at FX WRX. Their studio is dedicated to the art of cinematography and in-camera visual effects, and Chris brings a wealth of knowledge and artistry to everything he touches. He’s worked as a special effects artist, stop motion animator, sculptor, animatronic puppet builder, and mechanical engineer.

Beyond just loving to work with Chris, we at Trollbäck are always looking for reasons to design in-camera. At Trollbäck we place a high value on craftsmanship and the natural beauty that comes from working with real light and material. We believe in finding better ways of doing things through collaborating, and taking approaches outside of any one person’s comfort zone.

Through highly collaborative work with designers and directors, Chris has helped create one-of-a-kind opening sequences, main titles, VFX, and branding. His expertise includes in-camera optical and liquid FX, motion control, super slow motion, tabletop product work, macro cinematography, live-action moving portrait, photography, stop motion animation, and mechanical engineering. His work ranges in scale and includes location and studio production. All of this contributes to the vast creative and technical skillset Chris brings to each project. We’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a number of projects including Mr Robot, THEM: Covenant, Motion conference, MR ROBOT, and The Slap.

Chris had just tested a new smoke effects setup when our ECD Elliott Chaffer shared his concept for Trollbäck’s Halloween smoke and mirrors project. It felt like serendipity – time to collaborate!

The trick would be creating a symmetrical, in-camera Rorschach swirl of spooky smoke. We set up a blackout box to remove any stray light and contain the smoke that was being generated by a miniature smoke machine. Next, we created a highly-focused wall of light, coming through a narrow slot to illuminate a cross section of the smoke. We filmed with a slow motion camera, and used a black mirror to divide the frame in half. The results were slow-moving smoke sculptures that come out of the darkness and drift into the light, and take on perfectly symmetrical forms.

This practical method caused the smoke to interact with the mirror, and behave in specific yet delightfully unpredictable ways. This would not have happened simply mirroring the images in post. The micro air currents caused by the smoke provided endless surprises and happy accidents as they approached and wrapped around the edge of the mirror. All of this material could then be exploited and amplified by the designers and artists at Trollbäck.

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