World Nativity Project
As part of an annual nativity exhibit featuring art from all over the world, Bridge Community Church needed a multi-lingual video to be used as an introduction to the Christmas story. Few options were available for public showings, so I volunteered to direct a new short film for the church.
Inspired by cultural artwork, music, and clothing from all over the world, the concept revolved around conveying the story and meaning of Christ's birth through a multi-ethnic cast and visually stylised approach. Created entirely by members and friends of Bridge Community Church in Troy, Michigan, volunteers included costume designers and sewers, woodworkers, musicians, photographers, actors, and native speakers of multiple language.
After writing the script using only verses that could be easily translated into many languages using existing resources, I mapped out each shot in previs, with green screen shots and lighting diagrams comped up in Lightwave and Poser, and a temp audio track for timing. This was used on set as both a shot guide and an actor reference.
For more detail on the production process including costume design, prop creation, and behind the scenes information, check out the blog post on iaian7.com from 2011.
During filming I set up lighting, directed the actors, and ran the camera system. Overseeing both the live action and the visual effects later meant that I could ensure each shot was planned out and prepped for final editing.
The real challenge of a green screen production, beyond the task of getting clean keys and ensuring physical interactions are grounded, is creating the rest of the world from scratch. Modelling was completed in Lightwave using procedural surfaces and photographic textures to build out the town of Bethlehem, Herod's palace (loosely based on historic records), the wisemen's observatory (more stylised), and the stone ruins around the shepherds encampment.
Vegetation was created using TreeSketch, ngPlant, and Vue Studio assets. A few scenes were rendered using Vue Studio, but the majority were handled in Lightwave, with final matte painting done in Photoshop to combine the CG renders and photographic sources. Procedural effects, atmospheric lighting, and particle systems were then added in After Effects along with all of the final green screen footage compositing, colour correction, and grading.
I helped record the music (composing and performing some of the tracks myself), along with many of the languages. Audio mastering was completed in Reaper, with the entire production built to be as modular as possible. This allowed for each scene to expand and contract based on the duration of the spoken languages, with variations of up to a minute in length. Each line of dialogue was carefully serialised using verse references so that it could be tracked through the entire process, from script reading to final editing in Final Cut and Premiere. All of the motion graphics were templated in After Effects, again allowing for easy adaptation to each language during production.
The resulting short films have been posted on WorldNativityProject.com, YouTube, and Vimeo, and are free to download, share, and show wherever they might be needed. They are currently available in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Tamil, Hindi, and Vietnamese.