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Eric Jordan on using Nodes 3 for ROAM: Rider of Another MortalEric Jordan has used Yanobox Nodes on many fantastic projects in the past. We previously covered Eric’s work on The People's Republic of Desire and StratoZen. More recently created the graphics, animations and visual effects for ROAM: Rider of Another Mortal. We caught up with Eric to discuss what went into creating the motion graphics and how Nodes 3 made this project possible in After Effects.
What was the goal of the project?
The goal of ROAM was to create a short-form proof-of-concept pilot for an entirely new type of science fiction universe. It's a cyberpunk future where the wealthy can inhabit the bodies of the young using advanced technology.
The vision belongs to the Los Angeles based film director David Jung. The overall aim was to bring together passionate artists and build a taste of this universe on a thin budget with hopes that it could be expanded in the future into a full fledged series, via a streaming platform such as Netflix. The director enlisted some of the most talented people in the industry who would all be willing to put together something really new and interesting that we could be proud of, and hopefully build it into something bigger in the future. You don't often see this sort of passionate experimentation these days, so I was totally on board when the director approached me to handle all of the motion graphics for the film.
How did you get this cool project?
Director David Jung and Producer Cain Angelle approached me out of the blue one day with this film project they were working on called ROAM: Rider of Another Mortal. They'd developed a ton of concept art, and lot of moving parts for the film - but they knew that motion graphics (UI design and animation) would be a key element in helping to tell the overall story. The way the story is designed, the motion design is almost its own character in this film - much of what occurs is told through the lens of what's happening on screens, inside masks, on data-walls, etc. David and Cain were aware of the futuristic work that I've been focused on for several years, and decided to reach out to me and find out if I could assist to help them pull it off.
They had wrapped up most of the live action shooting in Los Angeles when they approached me and shared a lot of the look and feel with me. They had shot some great fight scene footage with a crew in the tunnels underneath City Hall in downtown LA. It was amazing how they were able to pull it off, much of it was shot with green screen and tracking markers. It was ready for me to bring in the UI display elements that form the main characters system that turn his body into a weapon. There were approximately 300+ VFX shots that needed to be developed - which included a lot of the shots involving ROAM technology that needed to be fleshed out.
On our first phone conversation, David and I were completely on the same page. He was really open to listening to my ideas about how the mechanics of the ROAM universe could operate at a metaphysical level, and how we could use this to ground a lot of the science fiction in the real world and tie it together. We had a ton of great conversations over several weeks and months about the astral plane, consciousness, astral projection, and even gnostic themes about the different levels of reality at a spiritual level. There was a ton of creative chemistry between us and we were definitely on a similar wavelength. He really just let me run with it and extend beyond just the motion graphics into concept design and a lot of the world-building for the ROAM universe.
How much time did you have?
Everyone was busy working on core projects at the time, so we tried to work on ROAM as strategically as possible between everyone's schedules. We used Frame.io for all of the visual effects shots - this allowed us all to collaborate in real time between Los Angeles and New Zealand. Frame.io is great pipeline tool for sharing, collaborating, and getting approvals. We had a huge number of VFX artists putting in time to assist getting through all of the shots. We spent a few weeks going through my initial creative and concept design.
I submitted style frames to David & Cain for the look and feel of the watch UI systems, the internal mask projectile unit, the look and feel of the astral plane, and even the way the technology searches the etheric realm for available bodies to inhabit. After all the creative had been fleshed out over several weeks, I think we spent about 2 years in post-production, trying to work around other client deadlines and projects to get it all to come together. After Effects was used to develop the main title sequence, which uses Nodes extensively for many of the frames as well.
What tools were used in the workflow?
Most of the 3D animation and concept design was all constructed in Cinema 4D, while much of the UI design work I developed for the hardware devices was all designed and animated right in After Effects. The film features an array of display screens that required interfaces to be custom designed - laptops, surveillance systems, electronic explosives, watches, etc. Most of these interfaces were designed using Yanobox Nodes to add details such as cycling numerical data, bits of code, power-level calculations, etc. The main character's watch unit allows him to combine different elements to give himself powers during combat, and we needed to build out the look of the technology for many shots in the film.
After designing the core UI screens in Illustrator, I would port them into After Effects. I then populated many of the modular elements with content designed with the Nodes plugin, which allowed me to easily create blocks and matrices of data using animated nodes, lines, and text. There were an array of screens that required grid systems, cycling numerical data, circular reticule elements - all of which were primarily designed using Nodes, as it is the best tool available in After Effects for laying out and controlling arrays of nodes.
What shots did you use Nodes for in the project?
Nodes was used extensively in most of the UI screens that appear on the power watch, the weapon scanner, the laptop displays, holographic walls, and other tech devices. Many of these shots consist of large amounts of information processing, and Nodes helped me to configure animated matrices quickly and control their parameter precisely for what I needed to communicate depending on the shot. The technology hardware used in the ROAM universe is owned by a mega corporation that uses technology to commodify the human body, and I wanted the interfaces to feel cold and calculating - essentially number crunching reality as though the fabric of reality is made up of machinery.
Nodes helped me to quickly achieve this effect, and to control the animation of the elements down to the precise frame when certain actions were triggered by an actor in the frame, such as punching a button on the watch, or initiating a command on a laptop. Nodes was used to quickly and efficiently animate all the data, so that I could quickly render out the shot and put it into the VFX pipeline for the compositors to grab off Frame.io.
We also had many sequences where ROAM hardware is used to transfer someone's consciousness to another body via an injection into the pupil. Nodes was used in these scenes to build 3D spherical representations of the eye using OBJ files and then animated in 3D space, sometimes even tracked to actual pupil movement.
Many UI shots used 3D objects reduced down to wire-frame objects by running them through the OBJ input of Nodes. Just about every power mode on the character’s watch utilizes some 3D icon that was processed through Nodes as a wire-frame.
I also used Nodes to add creative elements to the opening main title sequence. I wanted to combine gnostic and cyberpunk themes together for the titles, and then ultimately have the entire sequence feel like it was being processed and run through some form of abstract machinery that inhabits the film; as though reality were breaking down in some way and the lines between what is real and what is digital is being heavily blurred. I utilized Nodes to add numerical and textual matrix grids to the glitching screens to make everything feel a bit mechanical.
Much of the early exploration and design work on the etheric realm, including the design of an astral tunnel and 'bandwave' nanotechnology that was deployed into the ocular nerve, was designed using OBJ models in combination with Nodes to give a very low-resolution feel to the etheric plane - as if ROAM's nanotech was probing the depths of the lower spheres of reality and pinging back with low-resolution reconstructions of the basic forms it was encountering. I find that I can often get some very organic looking structures by using the noise and random oscillators in Nodes to add variance to the node structure.
Overall, Nodes contributed to about 80% of the work that I developed for the film, and played a huge role in helping me achieve what I needed for each major shot. The versatility and ways that Nodes can be used to drive a wide array of different effects continues to be why I used it as a core part of my workflow for just about every major project.
About Eric Jordan
Eric is an independent creative consultant that works on a large array of projects including film, broadcast television, websites, smart phones, VR, electronic billboards, vehicles, print, and video games. He has worked on high level projects for companies such as Adobe, Boeing, Nintendo, Nissan, Activision, Warner Brothers, Motorola, Electronic Arts, and more.