He Arose: VFX Breakdown

The idea sounded simple enough: Let’s do a short video of the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus with only six scenes. It will be kind of like The Mannequin Challenge but far more serious. Nobody will be moving, and there won’t be any lines of dialogue. Easey peasey lemon squeezy! Right?! Not so fast, my friend. I’m going to take a few minutes to break down the process of one scene and also talk about a few of the other bits of production that were necessary to complete all of the visual effects for He Arose.


The scene with the most excitement—at least as far as VFX go—was the Golgotha shot. There were a few practical things for us to prep on the front end to even get the shot in the first place. We borrowed a 9’ cross with a base from a local church. Prop Master Lisa installed a seat, handles, and a footrest on the cross and built a nail for Jesus’ foot that was a lot like Steve Martin’s old arrow-through-the-head prop.

Caitlin mixed up a container of fake blood for Jesus and “dirt” spray she could use to make the extras and costumes look like they belonged in the environment.

You can see in the breakdown video that we had a bit of a green screen to help with post-production, but we ran into an unexpected issue. We moved through our earlier shots so quickly that when we got to the Golgotha scene, all of the extras who were hired for the first half of the day were able to stick around. That gave us 23 bodies in the shot! As exciting as that was for us, it also created more work in post.

Caleb, blocking extras during the Via Dolorosa scene.

Caleb, blocking extras during the Via Dolorosa scene.


When we got the shot back to the office, I took stock of the things in the shot that needed to be corrected:

  • Giant concrete wall in the background
  • Costumes blown around by the wind (the scene was supposed to be frozen in time)
  • Actor blinks (eyes also needed to be frozen in time)
  • Inevitable movement by the actors because it’s just hard to stay still
  • I needed a new background to replace the wall
  • Removing any dust or bugs that flew through the shot
  • Depth map for a stylized transition
  • Adding Depth of Field to the shot

The first order of business was to track the camera. I performed a tiny bit of stabilization on the shot and then ran the After Effects Camera Tracker which gave me a number of points represented in 3D space and a virtual camera move that matched the shot.

To remove the giant concrete wall, I only really needed to roto the top half of each extra, so I knew I didn’t have to concentrate on the whole person. The contrast between the extras and the wall, however, was not significant enough to use the Roto Brush. I ended up useing a combination of KeyLight, animated masks, and Mocha AE. For any of the more prominent characters like Mary, Mary, and John, I brought the shot into Mocha AE and did a track. Mocha did a pretty nice job! The shots were all 4k so it took a little while for each track, but I was pretty pleased with the ease of use. I discovered through trial and error that tracking a lot of things with one mask creates more work than it needs to be. Tracking each person in a group is more efficient than trying to track them all three with one mask.

Shooting the scene at Caiaphas' house.

Shooting the scene at Caiaphas' house.

There was also the concern of people that passed behind other people. Mocha AE is not really set up to do that kind of tracking, especially if someone would disappear altogether. For those tracks, I selected a few of the camera tracked points for an individual and created a solid in that 3D location. Because of the camera move, the solid roughly followed along with the person. Therefore, a mask created on the solid would, more or less, stick to the person. Of course, there was a certain amount of parallax to account for, but the mask tweaks were minor over the course of the shot.

I realized at some point that some of the extras didn’t have any noticeable rotation. So I found as much of their bodies over a few shots as I could get and used Photoshop to recreate the areas that were hidden. I used the AE Camera Tracker results to locate their positions in 3D space and dropped their 2D “cards” in place behind the rotoscoped foreground elements.

One of the most difficult things was accounting for the costumes that were blown around by the wind. This involved locating the costume’s position in 3D space, reconstructing a still of the costume from various angles, and making sure it was angled in such a way that it matched the parallax of the shot as the camera moved through the scene.

Setting up for the Golgotha scene.

Setting up for the Golgotha scene.

In the end, I just cut out the guard at the cross, Jesus’ feet, and the cross out of the shot and placed them as 2D cards in 3D space so I could cover up the flappy guard uniform and Jesus’ footrest. This separation also made it a little easier for me to tighten the focus of the scene to draw attention to the feet of Jesus when they enter the shot.

Once I removed the background from the Golgotha scene I needed to replace it with a suitable environment. Our Director of Production, Andy, created the city scene and hillside, and I placed some fog and birds in the space between the hill and the actors. There is also a little more dust in front of the Marys placed as 2D cards in 3D space.

It certainly took a while to rotoscope each person, but having everyone individually cut out of the scene made it much easier for me to create the depth map for the stylized transition at the end of the scene. I needed only to duplicate the After Effects composition and fill each of the characters with a shade of gray. That allowed me to use the Gradient Wipe effect to transition the darkness in the scene from the storm in the background all the way through to the cross.

We're fortunate to be located a few hours away from "Capernaum Village," an authentic-looking recreation of what a first-century, Mediterranean village would look like.

We're fortunate to be located a few hours away from "Capernaum Village," an authentic-looking recreation of what a first-century, Mediterranean village would look like.


Many of the other scenes happened at night so we needed to simulate light from torches. Propmaster Lisa created torches for us that each had a socket for a light bulb and a cord that ran down through each of the guards’ costumes. All of the lens flares were real, and through a bit of camera tracking and manual tracking, we were able to place frozen-in-time flames on the torches to help sell the effect of the shot happening at one moment in time.

Wires, gear, and blinks were removed with some masking and tracking. Atmospherics were added with Trapcode Form and Trapcode Particular. Then a color grade was added to each shot.

When all was said and done, the production wasn’t as simple as “six shots with no dialogue or action,” but we are pleased with the results and the hard work that everyone on our team put forth to complete the project. May this mini movie be a blessing to you and your church, and a reminder of the hope we have through the great sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Contributed by Trent Armstrong, our resident motion graphics and visual effects guru. Follow him on Twitter.

Our Favourite Canadian

It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our favourite Canadian. Steve Vanderheide, one of our longest-tenured current employees, has been Igniter's primary filmmaker for more than 5 years. He has filmed, edited, produced, directed, and/or written over 40 Igniter Originals, including several of our all-time favourites. 

While we will undoubtedly miss Steve's talents, we'll miss our friend even more. He's a good-humoured, humble, thoughtful guy who thinks carefully and feels deeply. And with his incredible work ethic, we have no doubts that he'll find success in his new endeavor in the freelance world.

To mark his departure, we asked him to write about some of the mini movies on which he looks back the most fondly.  

Hello everyone!

I’ve been asked to answer a few questions about my favorite three Igniter Videos that I’ve worked on. I would like to highlight three videos that each have a special place in my heart, all for very different reasons. So … here we go.

Sounds of The Cross

Why was it one of your favorites?

Sounds of The Cross (SOTC) was really an honor to work on. An honor, and a challenge. Our intent in this mini movie was to really bring the moments before and after Christ’s death to life, through sound. I will try to be brief here, because we have created a behind-the-scenes blog post already.

Where to begin? SOTC is one of my favorite mini-movies because we got to go straight to the story of what Christ did for us. While I love analogy, this video is different and special because we got to do our best to show exactly what the event may have looked like. It was also a daunting challenge, because we knew we couldn’t recreate something like The Passion of The Christ, or even come close. It’s a favorite because we got to shoot on location, and bond as a team. 

It’s a favorite because of the camera tricks we got to pull off. It’s a favorite because of the heavy focus on sound design, and working with Phil to figure out how to make realistic sound effects, as well as “painful grunts.” It’s a favorite because we somehow met the coolest and most passionate person I’ve ever met—a Messianic Jewish Rabbi—who agreed to do all of our Aramaic voices (not to mention doing all the translation for us). The guy was screaming out, “Why have you forsaken me?!” in his living room, inside our make-shift sound booth. 

The whole mini-movie simply felt like a passion project (pun intended) that just came together. It’s hard to describe, but when you have something you are working on that just …. builds itself, I guess … you feel like the instrument or machine putting it together, but you aren’t forcing it. That’s when it is most satisfying, and I would also say, when you can see God’s work in the project.

Steve on location for Sounds Of The Cross.

Steve on location for Sounds Of The Cross.

What do you think made the mini movie impactful?

I think, or at least I hope, that SOTC helps the audience connect the actual events of Christ suffering for us. I dare not compare it or put it on any level near The Passion of The Christ, but while I think that Passion is a beautifully crafted gut punch, SOTC is meant for reflection. I believe that seeing only a small part of the action, but hearing all of it, helps the audience paint their own picture in their mind, and possibly even reflect on the sinfulness in their own lives, that put Jesus up on that cross.

What was different, difficult, or unique about the shoot?

Again, I would encourage people to read the Behind-The-Scenes of this video, because I almost want to sit here and write about it again. It was such a blast working on some of these shots. At the risk of sounding irreverent, given the content of the mini movie, we laughed a lot producing it. Having to mix fake blood, make it run down the cross, and having trouble with that shot because, well, how do you predict or coach a drop of blood to flow down a piece of wood the way you want it to? 

Setting up the camera, awkwardly aimed right at Phil’s stomach, as we wrapped him in burial cloth. Dressing up Trent and having him run around, casting shadows on a stone wall lit by my truck, in a pitch-black field, while horses ran around us in the dark. Buying three small crucifixes and setting up a forced-perspective shot, to look like Golgotha. Sweating profusely in a closet, holding a heavy box of items over our heads while grunting to record real sounds of anguish (it was exhausting!). The entire process of making this mini movie makes me smile.


Why was it one of your favorites?

I love Christmas. And I love that Rob Thomas always wants to tell the story of Christmas in a new and refreshing way. Rob told me this concept and I really liked it, because it brought the whole entire cosmic, massive truth about grace down to one small beginning: a heartbeat. I love the background song, that a friend of a friend, Ronak Kallianpur, put together years before, that fit so well. I love the script that tells the history of the Jewish people, and of their pain, doubt and frustration. Heartbeat was produced in a transitionary time for Igniter, and edited out of Rob’s play room at his house, because we were between office spaces. Working on this mini movie reminds me of that time, which I remember fondly.

Rob, Steve, Flip, and Phil on the shoot of Heartbeat.

Rob, Steve, Flip, and Phil on the shoot of Heartbeat.

What do you think made the mini-movie impactful?

I think Heartbeat helps make Christmas real for people. It is so easy to crash into the Christmas season, hear Christmas songs, feel warm-and-fuzzy’s … even go to Christmas pageants and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. But, for me, it’s difficult to move Christ’s birth from the “lovely story” category, to the “visceral on-this-earth” category. I personally am not a father, but I can imagine the feelings of excitement, fear, anticipation and wonder, upon hearing the first vital signs of your child. This moment is REAL. He is ALIVE. My hope would be that the same feelings come when thinking about Jesus while watching this mini movie.

What was different, difficult, or unique about the shoot?

The answer to this question is what made me pick Heartbeat as one of my favorites. 

Shooting in a hospital. For the most part, it is a given that this is just something that you can’t do without special permission, as well as taking lots of time working your way up the chain to get approval. For Heartbeat, I reluctantly starting calling around, knowing that this would be a difficult find. We brainstormed other locations that we could make look like a hospital. We looked into a few private clinics. We tried getting in contact with real estate agents that may be selling vacant hospitals. We posted on Facebook. Nothing was really looking like we needed it to.

Finally, I decided to drive to the nearest hospital to where I was working (Rob’s house) and walk in and strike up a conversation. That day I was praying for a location. I walked into a hospital in Richardson, TX and started talking to a nice woman behind a kiosk. I told her what I was looking for—a long hallway with a room or wall at the end—that would be unobstructed, as well as hospital equipment that could resemble a sonogram machine. 

To my surprise, she told me that this hospital had very recently been shut down, and had their operations moved to their new location across the highway. Currently, there were many floors that were completely vacant. I got excited. She gave me a number to call. I called the number and left a message. A helpful lady called me back later that day, and said that it shouldn’t be a problem to shoot there. I was ecstatic. We scouted the location the next day, and met another friendly lady who was working all by herself on the vacant floor that they had assigned us to. 

She showed us around, and brought us to a closet that had one medical machine, with a monitor mounted on it. Perfect. A few days later, we showed up with our gear and began setting up our shoot. The liaison that I had spoken to on the phone was there, making sure all was well, and told me something really interesting. She said that the hospital had just recently lost their Public Relations/Communications Director, and that they were not filling the role for another two weeks. She told me that, had their been someone in that role, they almost certainly would not have let us shoot there. Our small, unplanned, two week window allowed us to film. Crazy.

Heartbeat was a reminder for me, an often-doubting soul, that God is good and likes to surprise us with a few small miracles now and then.

Taken For Granted

Why was it one of your favorites?

If I was to think quickly off the top of my head, I don’t think Taken For Granted (TFG) would have immediately popped up. There are so many more meaningful, difficult, and useful mini movies out there. But TFG was just so fun to make that I had to write about it.

What do you think made the mini-movie impactful?

I think TFG is good because it is a quick, funny, adventurous, and doesn’t get too serious, or demand too much of the viewer. I think it is relatable, how lucky we are to be blessed the way we are, but how often we forget that fact. Finally, I think Jason is such a likable guy, that he is simply fun to watch on screen.

Martin, in the sky, preparing to drop the washing machine.

Martin, in the sky, preparing to drop the washing machine.

What was different, difficult, or unique about the shoot?

Well, this was a bit of new territory for us, at least with this camera-trickery. We took a lot of notes from Zack King, the star of a long list of 6-second Vine videos, showcasing all kinds of ridiculous disappearing/reappearing magic tricks. Some of the shots to note in TFG are the coffee shot, the treadmill shot, and the final lawn shot. Each of these shots had their own fun challenges.

The coffee shot was tough because we had to make liquid fall onto Jason’s lap from essentially nowhere. What we did was film him lifting the cup up to his mouth, asking him to pause, and then removed the cup. We then poured cola into a glass, covered it with a piece of plastic, turned it upside-down, and held it about 3 feet above Jason’s lap. We then slid the plastic out quickly, causing the cola (that looked like coffee) to spill out. In post, we masked out the frames of the cola that were above where his cup had been.

The treadmill shot was notable because after we removed the treadmill from the first half of the scene, we had Jason practice running into the wall. Unfortunately, during a practice take, he went right through the drywall. As hilarious as it was, it created a continuity error, so we had to “rebuild” the wall from the previous shot of the treadmill, in post. When we finally shot a correct take, we had him jump off a cinder block to demonstrate him falling a bit from where the treadmill was.

The final scene was one of my favorites to put together. On the day that we filmed Jason, we had Jimmy, the golden-lab, Jimmy’s trainer, Brad, Phil and I on camera and sound, and Jake and John taking care of the mower in the background. When we were about to roll, Jake would fire up the mower, and gaff tape the accelerator handle. John was responsible for “catching” the mower, as well as making sure that it didn’t hit the car. Brad was holding his hand off screen, so that Jimmy would look at Jason. There was definitely a lot of timing to get right. But the most fun part was dropping the washing machine.

To create a convincing washing-machine-drop, while also keeping everyone (including animals) safe, we decided to use a green screen. Luckily, the back wall at RTCG is about 20 feet high, so we taped a large cloth green screen to it. We then rented a 37-foot boom lift, and had Lisa, Jeremy and Martin rig the washing machine to the bottom of it, employing a creative use of ropes and PVC pipe to create a “quick release.” We waited for the sun to be in the right place in the sky, in order to match the lighting in the lawn shot. We then brought all staff outside, with their phones recording on slow mo for fun, and dropped the thing. We were extremely happy with the way it landed on a slight angle, causing the whole machine to dent and flare out. After keying it in After Effects, we merged it with the shot of the lawn, added some clumps of dirt, and we were done. It was such a blast.

Well, I think I have rambled long enough, but there it is. My Igniter most memorable three.

Thanks for watching.

We'll miss you, Steve!

Introducing RightNow Media

We're extremely excited to have RightNow Media joining us on the site. If you're unfamiliar with the curriculums and resources they create for the church, you should go check them out. Then come back and watch Rob talk to Brian Mosley about what RightNow does, why they're a good fit on Igniter, and why Brian won't drink the coffee:

And here's a little taste of what you can now find in the Igniter library from RightNow:

2015 In Review

Design from Graceway Media.

Design from Graceway Media.

2015 was a huge year for Igniter.

We've had "huge" years before, but this one was huge in some markedly different ways. 

  1. We started the year off moving into our new office space. After spending the majority of 2014 planning and renovating, we finally said goodbye to the office tower we had been leasing for the 10 previous years.
  2. We spent most of the year recovering from some earth-shaking inner turmoil. Hop over to the RT blog to read more about that process.
  3. We continued the process that we started in 2014 of turning IgniterMedia.com into a mini movie distributor site. We added the mini movies of Dan Stevers, Hyper Pixels Media, and LifeWay Media to our library as well as a slew of new releases from our other partner-producers. In total, we added over 200 mini movies in 2015, including 9 new Igniter Originals that we're really excited about. Check out a recap of Igniter's 2015 releases here:

While we definitely wouldn't want to repeat it, 2015 did have plenty of high points that we'll remember with fondness. The lessons that we've learned this year have fundamentally changed who we are and how we operate. And that makes us extremely excited for 2016 and beyond.

A few things to look forward to in 2016:

  1. More new producers. Including one coming in January. Any idea who it will be?
  2. Our library should easily break the 1,000 mini movie ceiling this year. And a membership will get you access to ALL of them.
  3. Graceway Media's new site has finally launched, which means we can start implementing some ideas we've had on how to make IgniterMedia.com even more easy and useful for you.

Introducing LifeWay Media

If any of the producers on our site can claim "household name" status, it's LifeWay, yet they are the newest to the mini movie world. They currently only have 3 Christmas-themed mini movies in their catalog, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. And don't worry, the quantity will come, too, just give them time.

In the meantime, join us in welcoming them by watching this teaser and leaving a comment below!