It’s no secret that I frequent Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts. And, friends and family will all attest that there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing Voices of Liberty (VoL) perform at The American Adventure inside Epcot. I grew up doing musical theatre, but my true guilty pleasure was always performing with vocal ensembles. There is something so powerfully peaceful when voices unite, and each singer gets to experience his or her own voice’s resonance among the others’. That sensation is only amplified underneath the acoustically brilliant dome inside The American Adventure at Epcot. Translation: I love the Voices of Liberty!
Most of the VoL cast members belong to multiple other vocal ensembles, and one of them is Voctave – the lovechild of the brilliant Jamey Ray. I stumbled upon the group by chance on YouTube at the end of 2015 and their covers of “All is Well” and “This Is My Wish/Let There Be Peace On Earth” brought a little extra magic to my Christmas season. I closely followed the group’s development throughout 2016 and when they announced that their sophomore album would be Disney/Broadway, I got a hold of Jamey Ray and insisted that we needed to collaborate on a music video.
Creating Voctave Music Videos
Fast forward to 2017. We were commissioned to produce “Beauty and the Beast” feat. Sandi Patty and “Poor Unfortunate Souls/I Put A Spell On You” feat. Rachel Potter! Oh, and we would only have two nights available to gather all 11 singers and the featured soloists in Winter Park/Orlando. And, did I mention that we gave this project the green light with only a week or two before the shoot nights?! We had so many obstacles before us. We needed to create visual spectacles for some of the most iconic songs in the Disney songbook and with only a rehearsal room at Rollins College available for our set. I didn’t tell Jamey, but I was freaking out that we’d need a lot more than pixie dust to pull any of this off.
It happened though! And those pieces have netted millions of views across multiple social platforms.
The Backstory Behind Producing the Videos
For “Souls”, this was our synopsis: “The spirits of Ursula the Sea Witch and Winifred Sanderson bewitch the singers of Voctave, taking them back and forth between a watery, hell-soaked lair and an eerie, darkened forest. Soloist Rachel Potter wrestles with Ursula’s conquest for power and Winifred’s efforts to immortalize herself, but she finds herself too mesmerized by the power of a shell necklace and an enchanted spell book. With the power of ancient incantations, Rachel steals the voice of Soprano Tiffany Coburn, but ultimately releases it, along with the other contents of her shell necklace, and releases Voctave from its hypnotic state. Rachel’s spell book explodes open, releasing a vortex of music scores before finally sucking in Voctave, its members’ voices and all of the swirling magic, for good.”
Tricks of the Trade
I knew this piece was going to be VFX heavy, but I also knew that creating a solid, practical setup with reactive and volumetric lighting would be essential to really sell it. We used black crushed velour pipe and drape (12’) to hide the rehearsal room’s walls and to give us our dark backdrop. In the spirit of collaboration, a dear friend of mine connected me to DJ Jacob Towe to solve our lighting issues. He provided uplighting for the backdrop to give it some texture and he shined various animations onto the singers’ faces with video projectors – who knew? We flooded the room with theatrical haze as well to give us some volume and atmosphere. With that, we had our set and a canvas for Everett Sullivan and Bryan Thomas to photograph. OH, and major thanks to both of them for also fanning Rachel Potter with particle boards to create a wind effect, as the fan I had brought died!
The Magic of Particle Systems
All of the VFX happened in Adobe After Effects with many third party plugins. (Trapcode Particular and Mir; Psunami; VideoCopilot Optical Flares, Shockwave, Color Vibrance and Saber; Color Suite Looks; stock elements from Digital Juice and VideoHive). The most labor intensive process for post was the particle systems. Almost every single shot has custom particle trails, and that required frame-by-frame (and after awhile, every other 5 or 10 frames, LOL) animation and a lot of trial and error with Trapcode Particular to get the look I wanted. I think there are around 100 cuts in the final piece… SO. Many. Particles. It always amazes me how different the final product looks from what comes out of camera. Of course, I’m always stunned by how gorgeous the raw footage is, but then I’m once again stunned by how far it goes after a visit in post production land. Check out some of the before and after comparisons!
Difficulties of the Green Screen
“Beauty and the Beast” was also a bit of a technical challenge. Between myself and every colleague I have in the event planning world, we must have contacted every ballroom and hotel in the Orlando area trying to find anything remotely close to the ballroom from the film. (Many, many thanks to all my peeps over at Bold Events, PRI Productions and Marriot for all of those calls!). In the end, we decided to chroma key the entire thing.
Trying to fit 11 singers and a soloist on a 12’x18’ green screen wasn’t easy either, but we squeezed in! We used a 3D model of a gorgeous ballroom as our background, rendered with Element 3D. (I actually faked some of the ambient occlusion in the wide shots by drawing custom black shapes, heavily feathering them and reducing their opacity – because I just did NOT have time to tweak the 3D, LOL!!) Also, the bokeh of the “lit candles”? That’s actually a freeze frame of the slow sparks elements in the Video Copilot Action Essentials 2 bundle, blurred with Frischluft’s Out of Focus effect.
The footage keyed very well. Bryan lit the screen with two 4Bank Kino Flos, rigged vertically, and lit the talent with one 4Bank Kino Flo, rigged horizontally. That’s really all it took! Check out the hair detail here – super, super clean key. I only use Keylight for my chroma key work – if it works, hey, don’t fix it. I also found a quick way to create the background light wrap around each singer using only built in After Effects plugins. It’s basically just a couple instances of the Set Matte and Channel Blur effects. We finished it off with a warm, extra diffused color grade from Looks.
How Voctave Continues to Influence My Life
I think these projects with Voctave rescued my spirit this year. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Claymaker was born out of a “career existential crisis”, with me feeling in complete limbo, if not despair, as an artist, and the work that I did with Voctave saved me from being consumed by that stasis. It was refreshing to work with these passionate artists, all of whom share the love for music and Disney that I’ve always had, but perhaps more importantly, it was a joy to work with such genuine and gracious people. The love and laughter that these incredible people have brought me in 2017, along with their heavenly sound, is something I will treasure for a lifetime, and I cannot wait to see how far they’ll go (excuse the Moana reference. But while I’m at it, listen to their cover of that song too because it’s fabulous.)
I think the expression on my face in this picture says it all – that’s the magic of voices.