Wander WellVFX short combining live action, 3D environments, custom plugins

Featuring characters and ships from across multiple centuries, Wander Well is a celebration of exploration realised as a self-portrait project that could be filmed in isolation during the 2020 lockdown.

Camera: Rachel Bruhn
Effects: John Einselen
Music: Wanderer by The Spacies, licensed from Audiio.com
Textures: licensed from Texture Haven, Video Copilot Pro Shaders, and Greyscale Gorilla Everyday Material Collection.
3D Models: some environmental elements from Scatter 4, SketchFab models by Sara Carena, Opus Poly, Massive-Graphisme, Museovirasto Museiverket Finnish Heritage Agency, Helijah, and Manilov.ap licensed under Creative Commons Attribution and Non Commercial (see the fully annotated list of credits on Vimeo), ISS provided by NASA.

Production Management

By editing the final audio track up front and cutting together the storyboards, the entire duration of the production was guided by a constantly updating edit. This provided contextual progress updates and a helpful reference point for refining some of the visual storytelling, especially as the last few live action shots were filmed in early 2021.

To manage the constantly shifting time of day, virtual lenses, and task completion, a spreadsheet was created for tracking each shot in the film. This was the perfect global overview of the project and proved invaluable for keeping a very sporadic nights-and-weekends production on track. Splitting the shots into three categories of transportation — water, air, and space — helped further organise efforts, along with strict serialisation for per-shot file management.

Live Action

Costuming and accessories were pulled from existing collections or created from scratch, with the exception of the NASA jacket which was sourced online. The first two segments of the film (water and air) were filmed over two afternoons in Indiana, where an open field provided an out-of-focus dirt backdrop, later augmented with digital shadows, and the wide shots could be replaced entirely. The third segment (space) was filmed in various interior locations, including a large TV used as an interactive lighting source.

Visual Effects

The primary goal of the project was to expand my experience in Blender and explore some new-to-me toolsets such as World Creator and EbSynth. Most shots went through a similar set of stages:

  • Shot selection and editing
  • Cleanup
  • Rotoscoping
  • 3D environment and lighting
  • 3D animation
  • 3D rendering
  • 2D compositing
  • 2D effects
  • Grading

Some 3D effects systems in Blender were built entirely using Geometry Nodes, while others used fluid simulation or particle systems. Depending on the content, three different render engines were used: Radeon ProRender, Cycles, and Eevee, all of which were combined during the compositing phase in After Effects.

Custom Filters

A number of custom filters were created and refined during the production of Wander Well, including Optician, Airbrush, and the 3D Tools collection used for relighting the live action footage in one of the final shots. These have not been released to the public yet, but are under development by SymbolFX LLC.

Initial Release

The return of Mograph Mondays after nearly two years of shutdown was celebrated with the first public showing of this short film, used as the opening titles of the event.

The recorded presentation with production overview, shot breakdowns, and open Q&A can be viewed here on YouTube.