The 'Three Unwise Monkeys' Case Study

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We were approached by viral marketing specialists Red Pill to help create their vision for the 2013 World Hepatitis Day Campaign. The underlying message was 'don't ruin a good story' - unfortunately something that the viral infection so frequently does to so many people’s lives. They wanted a video that would appeal to the masses and get viewers to think about and confront the truth behind Hepatitis.

It's certainly no easy task to take a morbid topic such as Hepatitis, and keep it light hearted enough for people to like and share amongst friends. Red Pill did a great job of collaborating ideas and research to come up with such an exciting, challenging and effective concept. Being given the strapline 'Don't ruin a good story', they decided to find three of the most famous movie scenes of all time and incorporate the World Hepatitis Alliance's brand mascot for 2013; the three unwise monkeys. 

The monkeys are a take on the traditional 'three wise monkeys' proverb; which represents the principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". In context, the WHA monkeys suggest it unwise not to talk about, listen to or look at the facts surrounding hepatitis.

The next task was to decide on the classic movie scenes in which we were to ruin the well-known storyline. Each monkey would have their lead role to destroy; either from not seeing, not hearing, or not speaking. After much deliberation, the final decisions were the shootout from 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' in which Clint is replaced with the 'see no evil' monkey and would therefore be fatally shot! For the second film, they wanted to replace Indiana Jones in the boulder scene with the 'hear no evil' monkey, who wouldn't hear the boulder coming and would therefore be squashed! Third and finally, the ‘speak no evil’ monkey would star in the blue pill/red pill scene from 'The Matrix', in which he would instead take the blue pill on which he chokes to death! 

Having read through the brief, we immediately realised there would be some technicalities involved with removing whole actors from the film footage and replacing them with much smaller monkey characters. We felt confident in our abilities to deliver, especially considering the campaign was for a charitable cause!

The first task was to go through each movie scene on a shot by shot basis in great detail, allowing us to work out what could and couldn't be done, and the most suitable method for each technical challenge presented. Because of the limited budget, we wouldn't be able to model, texture, rig and animate full cgi monkeys, so the decision was made to use puppets. This was the first time we had ever had to green screen a puppet, which turned out to be a fantastic learning experience for us. The type of puppet we used was not controlled by strings above, instead the puppets required 2 puppeteers which would surround the puppet and sync the leg, arm and head animation via solid green rods.

Despite the puppeteer’s fantastic job of animating the cuddly critters, they did create slight difficulties for the film crew and lighting technician. We were aware that there was no easy solution to the shadows they would cast, so we decided to rent a real time keying monitor as used for TV weather forecasts. This allowed us to instantly see any problem areas plus add a back plate to the monitor, verifying that the camera angle, perspective and lighting would match the original film footage.

The 4k RED camera helped us capture as much colour information as possible, ensuring the best possible chroma key. There were a couple of shots which proved problematic with the green rods and puppeteers crossing the line of sight to the lens, so we overcame this through the traditional process of rotoscoping.

Once we had a clean key of our favourite takes, we began to comp each shot together. The majority of shots would require some clever Photoshop work to create a matte painting which covered over the original actors' area. The majority of these were created prior to the shoot, allowing us to use them as an empty back plate. However, now that we had the monkeys in place, we could see any obvious areas that required touching up. Once happy with the matte painting, we would need to track the camera to make sure that it moved seamlessly in every scene.

Each shot possessed its own unique technical challenge, such as the boulder scene from Indiana Jones. In the original, Harrison Ford actually runs towards the camera filling the whole screen, and our matte painting would need not to cover the boulder. It soon became apparent that we would need to recreate the whole scene and camera in 3d - allowing us to add in our own 3d boulder.

 

Other challenging technicalities included the shootout scene, which involved real pyrotechnics and a number of stuffed monkeys until we caught the desired look. Squashing monkey-Indy involved the use of a green covered ball. In the matrix scene, taking the pill from a hand and placing it inside the mouth and reflections on glasses that should represent 2 separate camera angles in their own right were steps to overcome. The final stages of colour grading actually involved down res-ing the footage to match the original movie quality.

In all, it was one of the most rewarding, varied and eye opening projects we have taken on, mainly due to the fact that we were delivering feature film effects on blockbuster movies with a comparatively modest budget! We were certainly pleased with the end results, and appreciated reading all the complimentary YouTube posts. Having had over 1 million views on YouTube, all those involved with the making of three unwise monkeys can certainly feel that the hard work paid off, and FA Digital Productions can rest easy knowing it has helped to build awareness of Hepatitis around the world. Check out the end result below!