A Perfect Circle in Hell

The second single from A Perfect Circle’s album “eMOTIVe” is featured in the new movie “Constantine” directed by music video director Francis Lawrence (Britney Spears, Aerosmith). It opens February 18 and stars Keanu Reeves as the title character John Constantine based on DC Comics/Vertigo’s “Hell blazer.” Directing duo and visual effects wizards the Brothers Strause, Greg and Colin, created the special effects for the movie as well as directing the music video for “Passive.” They recently signed with the Santa Monica-based Production Company, Tight. A Perfect Circle’s Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Danny Lohner penned the song.

See the Passive music video

Interview with directors Brothers Strause

MVW: What about the pre-production of the video, working with the band, writing the treatment and making the video work with the movie scenes?

Greg Strause: Our company has been working on the new movie Constantine for about a year and a half.

Colin Strause: Which is Francis Lawrence’s first film.

Greg: Before Francis took this movie he was pretty much at the top of the music video world. They started working on the music for the movie right before Christmas and that’s when Francis approached the band about using their song. As they were chatting, the band found out that we were doing effects on the movie so they came to us. Billy [Howerdel] told us they had the idea to shoot it in thermal, which ties it in thematically with the movie. We had worked on some sequences in the movie that involved Keanu [Reeves] that take place in hell. Some of those effects sequences tied into the band’s idea so it seemed like the perfect fit for us to do the video. Once we had our whole plan together with the movie footage that we wanted to use, we were told we couldn’t use that piece because MTV was going to use it so the whole plan changed.

Colin: It was rather chaotic…

Greg: The whole video was done in eleven days from award to shoot to completion.

MVW: I spoke to someone at Virgin about the video, asked when it would be out and he said it would be in a week. I said, “You are kidding me!”

Greg & Colin: (Laughing)

Colin: It was literally nuts. We only a day and a half to do the edit.

Greg: It was the fastest that we had ever turned a video around especially one that doesn’t have a ton of effects. There are a lot of things that made the effects in this one that might not be obvious. But once we had the rug pulled out from under our feet with what movie footage we could use we had to pick a different part of the movie that would somehow still tie in and in eleven days that’s no easy task. We had to reconceive the concept a little bit. There are some scenes in the movie with Keanu’s character drowning the Rachel Weisz character under water in a bathtub, allowing her to walk through hell and take a look at it.

Colin: We had to leave out the most violent parts because, especially in our first cut, you could really see him drowning her. It was pretty cool but we decided that it was probably going to be a little too evil…

Greg: We decided to recreate those scenes from the movie in a thermal view using body doubles so we could cut back and forth from it to the movie footage of Keanu and Rachel. We also recreated a sequence of Keanu running through hell trying to find Rachel, which allowed us to integrate the movie footage and have it make more sense than just cutting to the band’s performance and people asking, what does one have to do with the other?

MVW: Editing a music video with a movie is usually disjointed, but “Passive”
seems to work.

Colin: That was our one fear, because one of the first ideas for the video didn’t involve movie footage. It was just going to be performance then we were told it had to be both. Whenever you hear performance has to go in it, you think, “Oh God, not again. How do you combine band performance with a movie?” Shooting with thermal allowed us the dirty trick to use body doubles to do what we wanted. The people we cast didn’t have to look like Keanu and Rachel because people look so weird through thermal that you can get away with it.

Greg: One of the interesting things about shooting thermal is it’s actually black and white so the color grading makes it look hellish and hot and everything. That is a function of the way thermal works The thermal cameras can either output a color signal or a black and white signal, but the chip is a black and white only. The normal thermal that we’re used to seeing, like in Predator, has a real time color correction chip that takes the black and white image, then re-maps different parts of that signal to different colors. So whatever is in the white areas is reddish and white because it’s hot and whatever is towards black is bluish. It took us a while to figure that out because we weren’t sure what the differences were between infrared and thermal, but it’s literally just jargon because the thermal is just a color correction.

Colin: It’s all in black and white. And the camera looks like an old school 1980’s video camera but it’s military technology.

Greg: Those little cameras are $50,000 each. You can’t export them from the U.S. because they are considered military hardware. The other interesting thing was that we didn’t use any lights at all. We used space heaters to warm stuff up and then took them out of the scene and that’s how we did the “lighting.”

Colin: You have to heat things to see them. It was pitch black and freezing while we were shooting the whole video.

Greg: We had little work lights and that was about it.

MVW: Did you work with a DP who had shot thermal before?

Greg: Because of the short schedule, we hired a DP named Helge Gerull. It’s still photography if you think about it. It’s just not conventional photography. You are not dealing with different color temperatures or different intensities of light because these cameras don’t respond to any kind of light at all.

One of the interesting things we discovered is that it cannot see through glass. If you stand behind a sheet of glass, it’s as solid as if it was made out of concrete because it reads the temperature of physical material and can’t see images. Did you see that old John Carpenter movie “They Live”?

MVW: Yes… it’s been a while.

Greg: There is a scene where everything looks normal until they put on special sunglasses then everything is kind of white and there are signs everywhere saying, “Eat and obey.” That’s what it’s like through thermal. I have a camouflage jacket that looks all white through thermal because there is absolutely no temperature. But when someone starts sweating or cold water gets on it, you can see it. There were some scenes where we were playing around with Maynard where he had this stuff dripping off his face that was just cold water… (Colin: It looked like black ink)… There’s another shot where he smashes his hands into a bowl of warm water and it looks like lava because it’s pure white. Reflections look strange, too. Maynard’s normal glasses looked like sunglasses in the video because the lenses go opaque. In another shot, you can actually see warm fingerprints left on the microphone.

It added to our production design. There was one bit where they were wiping up the floor and when we looked at it through the thermal camera we could see everyone’s handprints and footprints.

Colin: You can see things through the thermal that you can’t see with the naked eye.

Greg: The cool thing was that the set with the girl in the bathtub looked really cool and seemed to match the movie footage, but it was quite possibly the ugliest and most retarded set we’ve ever done. It was worse than a high school play because you couldn’t even see any texture or detail. We just threw a tub on the ground in a rundown building with a cardboard floor that we had just thrown down because we didn’t want the girl skidding across on concrete and maybe cutting herself. But you can’t tell how cheesy it all was. Using this equipment changes the whole way you approach the job because everything you’ve learned about photography and set building goes straight into the garbage.

Colin: It all goes out the window when you are dealing with thermal.

MVW: How did you work with the color of the thermal footage in post?

Greg: We used the inferno to color grade the whole job. We picked a palette that we thought felt very hell-like. It wasn’t exactly like the movie footage, but it was in that world. We had to do sky replacements to some of the footage to give them more of a hellish sky and we added heat distortion on top but all the fire and everything we did in camera. The hellish feel of the band performance was done mostly in camera. But we had flame-throwers and propane tanks and stuff like that. It was a combination of doing as much in camera as we could and then adding things like heat distortion and stuff in post.

Colin: Because of how crazy that night was, we had Maynard come over to our home office space in Santa Monica to get a couple of extra close-ups of his mouth. We shot in our garage using the heat from our computers.

Greg: Part of the band’s MO is that they don’t want to be recognizable so Maynard wanted to be completely obscured. He doesn’t want to be a poster boy where when he goes to dinner in Hollywood people will say, “Look, it’s Maynard.” If you saw him on any given day you probably wouldn’t recognize him because in A Perfect Circle he wears a wig and those glasses. One of the instructions for us was to make sure they weren’t recognizable. They want this to be obscure and different. Thermal lent itself perfectly to that.

Credits:

Label: Virgin
VP Video Production: Randy Skinner

Production Company: tight
Directors: The Brothers Strause
Executive Producer: Jonathon Ker
Line Producer: Steve Stone
DP: Helge Gerull
Thermal Camera Operator: Jim Santana

VFX Company: Hy*drau”Lx
Visual FX Producer: Neil Van Harte
Visual FX Supervisor: Erick Brennan

Editorial House: Filmcore
Editor: David Checel


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