View Full Version : Need to levitate and spin an iPhone...

Ted Spencer
11-12-2012, 12:37 PM
I've got a short film I plan to shoot soon that will require an iPhone to do several unnatural things. In a medium to moderately close shot (no closer than 1.5' or so), it needs to:

1) Scoot sideways across a table and back
2) Levitate up off of table
3) Twirl a bit, playfully
4) Switch itself on and progressively draw a 'smiley face' on the screen
5) Switch off
6) Plunk back down on table as though 'levitation force' was cut off

There are a number of ways to do it that have occurred to me (I am not a VFX guy):

1) Pure practical
2) Green screen
3) Animating a 'virtual' 3D model

So my question is, what do you think might be the best way to accomplish this (including ways I haven't thought of), and what might be some good tools to do so with? I have an 8-core 2.8 Mac Pro, FCS7, and Creative Suite CS4. I'm not averse to acquiring more/better software for it, but am looking to keep the budget manageably low. It's a 100% out of pocket project.


Justin Kuhn
11-12-2012, 06:17 PM
I would advise you buy the Element 3D plugin ($150 for plugin only) for After Effects from www.videocopilot.net, and download their free iPhone 3d model.


Ted Spencer
11-13-2012, 08:15 AM
Looking into this, Justin. Thanks!

Ted Spencer
11-13-2012, 09:51 AM
Hmm...early research is indicating that shadows may be a problem. I will need to have a shadow under/behind the phone as it 'flies', and it appears that Element 3D can't do this, nor can AE, under the circumstances. Right?

11-13-2012, 07:40 PM
Right. Unfortunately, Element does render cast shadows, however, I'm sure you can find some workarounds to make your shot work. As you said, you could always key an iPhone and use a wire in order to get what your after. The only problem I see with that method is that you won't have absolute control—especially if you want the phone to float in a very specific way. You will most likely need to shoot everything several times. I think that putting together something in Maya or even Cinema 4D would be the best route. This alternative would offer complete control over the object (as far as the movement and timing are concerned) and then you can simply composite it all in AE.

The camera angle your describing doesn't seem too complicated so it's definitely doable. The question is whether you know someone or are willing to pay someone in order to provide the material you need. The artist will have to model, animate and render an iPhone in 3D, then motion track your scene in order to composite everything together. Again, the shot is relatively straight forward so it should be too difficult to get a nice result.


Ted Spencer
11-14-2012, 08:49 AM
Thanks bgodoy...all very helpful info.

Maya and Cinema 4D may be within reach for me (through purchase of a used computer that already has them installed), and it looks like decent iPhone 3D models are widely available. Given that I'm pretty good with computer apps already (but not much yet in this specific area), what sort of learning curve might I expect to find where accomplishing this one task is concerned? I don't mind 'shedding a for a bit if it could save me thousands in hired help, but I'm also a realist. If these things have particularly steep learning curves I might be better off to hire an expert. Hard for you (or anyone) to answer this of course, but thought I'd ask anyway.

11-14-2012, 10:07 AM
Although this will not answer your question at all, I wonder about going the (somewhat) in-camera route...

Shoot the table scene without the phone, called a "clean plate".

Shoot the phone doing its thing, matching the angle and orientation of the camera with the clean plate. Everything else in the shot is chroma key green. It would take some practice to get the movement to look fluid and not like a marionette, but I'd imagine it possible. Drop out the wires in After Effects (not a steep learning curve, just somewhat tedious).

The screen's video can be a practical clip running, or you could use Mocha for After Effects to corner pin the smiley face stuff for more control.

Combine the two shots and grade them to match up.

Many will say that all this is way more trouble that a CG'd phone, and they may be right. But even the best 3D models looks cartoon-y to me, up to and including most big-budget hollywood CG stuff. And I like model-making, so I'm biased.

I've never done a shot like this, only the individual tasks separately, so this is not advice as much as it is speculation. Perhaps someone will correct me if I'm way off.


Ted Spencer
11-14-2012, 12:41 PM
Thanks Craig.

I did a test shot green-screen, very much as you described, strictly in FCP7. The results weren't great, and there were many small issues, but I think it could probably work if enough time and expertise were put into it, particularly when using AE (presumably), which I'm not yet very familiar with. But I thought I'd ask here for other points of view, so I did. Regarding 3D models, if the screenshots are any indication I think there are some remarkably convincing iPhones out there. I suspect smaller, geometrically simple items like that may work better due to scaling down of details. Being able to just manipulate one 'virtually' and composite it in would seem like a very elegant solution if the workflow and tools required aren't too daunting...

Still welcoming any thoughts on the subject...

11-14-2012, 12:50 PM
...what sort of learning curve might I expect to find where accomplishing this one task is concerned? I don't mind 'shedding a for a bit if it could save me thousands in hired help, but I'm also a realist. If these things have particularly steep learning curves I might be better off to hire an expert. Hard for you (or anyone) to answer this of course, but thought I'd ask anyway.

The learning curve will of course vary depending on the individual, but if I had to choose, I would say Cinema 4D is easier to learn. Most say C4D is a tad more "user friendly". The lay-out is a little less "cluttered", therefore, many artists seem to have less trouble picking it up.

On the hand, Maya is a much more elaborate piece of software. For the most part, Maya is used on higher-end productions. If you are seriously planning to invest your time and money into learning a 3D package, this is a "safer" program to learn. It will be able to handle many more scenarios down the road, as your needs become more complex.

The main difference between the two is that C4D is tailored more for motion graphics (3D text and titles) and Maya is more for character animation and visual effects. Both programs cover both areas, though each software is targeted towards slightly different markets.

If you have any sort of deadline, I would probably hire a professional—given that both apps, no matter which one you decide on takes at least several months to learn (and that's if your intently committed). This is all based on my own experience but if you do your research, I'm sure you will be able to judge for yourself.

If your concerned about budget and time (which most of us are), I would post job here on the forum—since it seems to be the most practical solution. As Pickthorne pointed out, you could always shoot the phone on a wire, key it, and composite everything together. Either way, both options provide their own pros and cons but there's definitely plenty of ways you can go about acquiring just the shot you need.

Here's a video on how a shot like this would come together with CGI:



Ted Spencer
11-14-2012, 03:01 PM
Excellent. Thanks bgodoy. The clip is very cute, and happens to include an iPhone of all things! I'm going to do some poking around in AE next. I think I will put out feelers on the jobs forum here as you suggested. i know others have done so successfully.

Please keep the opinions coming : )

11-14-2012, 03:17 PM
I'm going to do some poking around in AE next.

I highly recommend lynda.com (http://www.lynda.com) for exploring programs. They have intro tutorials for all the applications mentioned in this thread, and all videos come with project files and are dirt cheap (~$40 a month, all you can learn).


Ted Spencer
11-14-2012, 03:34 PM
Yes, I've heard of her : ) I'll give it a look


11-14-2012, 03:36 PM
Digital Tutors (http://www.digitaltutors.com/) have great tutorials too. These two sites are probably the best options in terms of online content.

Ted Spencer
11-16-2012, 10:07 AM
I found a nice set of free 'beginner' AE tutorials on videocopilot.net:


Pretty extensive looking. Going through them now...

11-16-2012, 10:13 AM
On the Videocopilot site is a tutorial (a van in a garage) that teaches you how to get shadows under your iPhone with their 3D plug-in in AE pretty easily.


Ted Spencer
11-16-2012, 10:44 AM
Thanks Frank! I'll look into that : )

11-25-2012, 08:10 AM
I think this will help you:



Ted Spencer
11-27-2012, 07:49 AM
Thanks jwemmer, those were right on the money! Now I'm trying to figure out exactly what tools were used to create the final composite. Looks like there was some motion tracking, and obviously object and wire removal. Presumably AE was involved. Any guesses as to others?

This certainly seems to point to a solution that could work for my iPhone effect...

bill totolo
11-27-2012, 09:23 AM
Old School, in camera levitation:

11-27-2012, 10:56 AM
Those guys have a lot of behind the scenes videos posted. It's all after effects. They usually just have a clean plate shot and then roto/mask out the person or lines holding the object. They use some green screen effects, but they show how they do everything. Check out their tutorials.

Ted Spencer
11-27-2012, 06:48 PM
Will do. Thanks!