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Burning Midnight — Case Study


Burning Midnight started as a poem, a literary contribution to the Cyberpunk genre—but it became much more. The words inspired a group of us to band together to accompany the text with motion. The goal was to craft the piece entirely in CG, an exercise that we hoped would improve our skill sets in the realm of photo-reality. Though our first attempts garnered us an “A” for effort, we achieved less than satisfactory results. The 3D characters just didn’t evoke the emotional response to match the poetic verse. So we quickly switched gears, called in favors, and threw together a scrappy, green screen shoot to capture our main characters in live-action. With the footage in hand, we re-edited the piece using a mixture of 3D scenes and roughly-keyed footage until we had our final visual narrative. After a lengthy compositing phase, we eventually achieved a deliverable that we felt was worthy to submit to film festivals. Though the making of Burning Midnight (executed outside of our day jobs) was a long and tiresome process, we are ultimately proud of what we’ve accomplished. It has only given us the desire to make another film, and another, and another…

The goal was to craft the piece entirely in CG, an exercise that we hoped would improve our skill sets in the realm of photo-reality.

The Story

Although this is a science fiction setting, Burning Midnight at its core is a love story. Set in the distant future, our film is about a brilliant but lonely man who creates an artificial intelligence and designs it with one purpose; to love him. Shortly after the Ai comes online, the man dies tragically in a motorcycle accident, abandoning his intelligent and immortal creation in his apartment. She is left to endlessly question what it means to exist when the subject of her only purpose is abruptly taken from her. Built to love, she now wonders what it is she is supposed to love with her creator dead. During the crash sequence, the man dissolves into metaphorical particles and then reappears through the projector in the apartment symbolizing that he exists now only as a figment of her memory where they live together in an eternal digital paradise. This story went through many iterations and the script continuously changed all throughout the production process. One example is originally the man just died and we see his broken body left on the wet pavement, but we felt it was unclear as to why he would re-appear at the end after dying, so we revised the script to include a transitional death scene where he dissolves into particles. At one point we even toyed with the idea of having the Ai be the one who causes his death by overriding the controls of his motorcycle in order to digitally capture his soul within her software so that she can be with him and love him forever.

Artificial Intelligence

One of the key characters in our film is an Ai hologram portrayed by actress Abigail Bittle, who is projected into the apartment by a wall-mounted projection device. At the end of the film, there’s a shot that takes us inside of the projector and exposes the inner mechanisms. We needed a good way to portray this and went through many iterations of what that would look like. This ended up being one of the most time consuming and difficult shots of the whole film. Initially we explored having a physical mechanical face inside of the machine to make it clear that this projector is an intelligent being, then we explored more abstract ‘holographic data UI’ directions and holographic faces until finally we settled on a futuristic looking lens after deciding that we don’t actually need a representation of a face inside the machine to make it clear our Ai is projected from this device.

Signs & Holograms

No cyberpunk city is complete without a few shots of a megacity packed with glowing neon signs and holograms in many different languages. Some of the signs we used were from kitbash kits, however that wasn’t enough to fill up an entire city. That meant we had to spend a great deal of time designing, animating and placing hundreds of signs into our city shots to make it feel alive. Many of these signs were created and animated as fully 3D elements, some were created as 2D animated sequences that were then tracked into our shots in post. We wanted to capture the feeling of a Neo Tokyo city far in the future that is a melting pot of all cultures, but mostly influenced by its Japanese and English speaking citizens. We have signs in Arabic all the way to Xhosa and many in between. Google translate was very helpful in the creation of this. Below are just a few of the many signs we designed.

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