Wonder Woman (ENG)
In his introduction to Rainfall Films’ new Wonder Woman short on YouTube, Director Sam Balcomb says that he thinks “quite a number” of viewers will agree that “Wonder Woman is a character just as vital and crucial to our understanding of humanity as any other superhero…if not more so.” Judging by the fact that the film got over 4 million views in the first four days, making it the top featured video on YouTube’s home page and triggering an avalanche of exuberant media coverage, he’s probably onto something.
Wonder Woman is by far the most popular short film that Los Angeles, Calif.-based Rainfall Films has produced internally since the launch of the company in 2008. Relying on CINEMA 4D for all of the environments and After Effects for compositing, they worked on the film for most of 2013, fitting it in between paying jobs. Rileah Vanderbilt (Frozen, Team Unicorn) stars, battling bad guys in a modern-day city, as well as minotaurs in Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s island homeland – also known as Paradise Island.
Why Wonder Woman
Rainfall tries to do some kind of short film on their own every year, says Balcomb, the production/post company’s director, writer and producer. But they’re also commissioned for projects such as their first short, a trailer for The Legend of Zelda, which was created for IGN.
“We’re all huge gamers and comic book fans, and our original vision for the company was to be a production studio generating content online or for videos or feature films, so these projects help show that we love to tell stories and we can create our own stuff,” Balcomb explains (watch their new show reel here).
Because they didn’t have time to work on a project of their own in 2012, Rainfall decided to go all out and do something “really cool and fun that would push us as far as we could possibly go,” Balcomb recalls. The hope was to make a short that would be good enough for their show reel. Balcomb proposed that they do something based on Wonder Woman, and the team eagerly agreed.
“My wife is a huge Wonder Woman fan, so we have comic books all over the house and she has an encyclopedic knowledge of the character,” he explains. “We were talking and I realized that Wonder Woman’s background is infused with a lot of Greek mythology and that got me thinking about how we haven’t seen any of that in live action before.”
Storyboarding began immediately, with CINEMA 4D being used to create the 3D animatic and everyone wanting the story to be told through action in a way that would be interesting to long-time fans.
Knowing that they were working with a small team and a limited budget, Rainfall Films opted to shoot much of the footage of Wonder Woman (Diana Prince when she’s in her world) and other Amazonians fighting an advancing army of minotaurs on greenscreen. Prior to the shoot, Balcomb and the other artists modeled the mountains and buildings on the island of Themyscira from scratch in CINEMA 4D (watch a VFX breakdown here).
Modeling the buildings was the most fun and most challenging part of the project, Balcomb says, because the background models were highly detailed and took a long time to render using global illumination. Modeling those elements first allowed Rainfall to use CINEMA 4D’s camera to find the most interesting angles ahead of time. Some shots were rendered before the shoot so they could be used as a reference for lighting and placement of the actors.
An Anonymous City In Flames
The next big hurdle was figuring out how to shoot the city scenes. It would have cost too much money to shut down a whole city block to shoot an action scene. So they opted to go the green screen route again – this time on a sound stage in Burbank. “We watched the edit and it was nothing but green, but when we showed people the rough cut with music, people really responded well to that and wanted to see it over and over again,” Balcomb recalls. “That was great, but we couldn’t help thinking, ‘Oh God, we hope it’s as good once the visuals are in place.’”
To create a believable city, Balcomb headed into downtown Los Angeles at 5 a.m. one Sunday, set up his camera and tripod on a street with the “least LA look to it,” and shot hundreds and hundreds of stills. After altering some of the buildings and adding others using CINEMA 4D, he created a rough geometry of the buildings and camera-mapped the stills he took onto that geometry in order to get real parallax when the camera moved.
Balcomb, along with digital artists Jason Schaefer and Nick Viola, composited the film in After Effects and the job took much longer than expected because many of the shots included tricky elements like a lot of hair and motion blur. “We had to fine-tune each shot because each one of them was so completely different – we couldn’t just copy and paste,” Balcomb recalls. Wonder Woman’s costume, which was designed by Heather Greene (Tron: Legacy), was also problematic in post because it was made of so much metal and it was hard to get the grain out and paint out wires.
Wonder Woman’s Revival
Balcomb says everyone at Rainfall has been overwhelmed by the positive response to the film and the exposure it received in Hollywood. Shortly after Rainfall’s video was posted, Warner Bros. released a statement saying how important it is to give Wonder Woman the big-screen respect she deserves and that fans are hoping for. And not long after that, they announced that Wonder Woman would be in the upcoming Batman movie.
For his part, Balcomb just hopes that anyone who brings Wonder Woman to the big screen pays attention to what people love about her character and they don’t dumb her down. “Our company just had the best year yet, thanks to this project,” he says. “Anytime we get to work on something awesome like Wonder Woman, it makes me so thankful to have this job. I'm really proud of what we've done so far, but it's safe to say the best is yet to come.”
By Meleah Maynard, a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.