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Behind the Scenes on Rob Ford's Most Epic of Splits

Post Production
New York, USA
Artjail's Steve Mottershead on the reactive spoof that proved to be almost as viral as its Cannes Lions Grand Prix winning original

Is there anything Rob Ford cannot do? He (kind of) ran a city while on crack, his Jamaican accent is impeccable, and he can perform epic splits between trucks. Ok, we lie about the last one. And maybe the second one. And maybe the first one. But definitely the last one. Alas, at least we can pretend, thanks one of the most exquisite spoofs of the last year. 'Van Ford' was put together and released within 48 hours of the original's release - so early that some people were seeing it first, according to the spoof's creator and owner of New York VFX house Steve Mottershead. In reaction to the Volvo film's Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix gong, LBB's Addison Capper caught up with Steve to find out what spurred the spoof. 

LBB> When did it first strike you that you wanted to spoof Epic Split? What were you thinking at the time? 

SM> At the studio we had all just watched the original Van Damme 'Epic Split' video on YouTube. We were standing around the kitchen at lunch and it just popped into my head. I was thinking that in the original, JCVD doesn’t move too much and that it would potentially be quite easy to track someone else over the top of his image. Then rather quickly Rob Ford popped into my head, since he was all over the news at the time. I thought it could be pretty funny to take two hugely popular viral icons of the moment and combine them.

LBB> How long exactly did it take you turn the project around? 

SM> From start to finish it took about 12 hours. I think the original had been out for under 48 hours at that point, and I thought that by spoofing it so quickly would definitely help our buzz. The funniest part was the people that saw our spoof before the original. They must have really been like 'what the fuck?'.

LBB> Why Rob Ford? Were there any other contenders for the spoof or as he a clear winner?

SM> Rob Ford was the first and only contender. He was just so viral and I'm also originally from Toronto so I was definitely paying more attention to his antics north of the border.

LBB> What was it about the original that made it so spoofable?

SM> I guess I kinda touched on it. But as a VFX artist by trade it really just came to me quickly when I thought how easy it would be to swap out his head. Also the original was already garnering crazy views and media coverage, so spoof was just inevitable. In fact other spoofs were starting to show up on YouTube that night, which gave me even more incentive to get it done quick and out there. Believe it or not I was getting quite paranoid that someone else in a dark studio at 4am on a Friday might be brewing up the same spoof! This was too good not to share with the internet as soon as possible!

LBB> Did you think the original Epic Split would do so well when you first saw it? 

SM> Yeah I thought right away it would do well. I mean, it's complete fucking genius!

LBB> Can you talk us through some of the techniques you used to make it happen? How tricky was Rob to work with?

SM> All the work was completed with Autodesk Flame. Once we gathered the elements, a still image of Rob Ford, the original Epic Split clip etc., myself and one of our junior Flame Operators hunkered down for the long haul. The initial track was good but the face needed to be integrated better. We purchased a stock CG head online and used it to project lighting onto Rob Ford’s image. Luckily his original still was lit pretty flat and worked rather well to digitally relight him using Flame. Adding a warmer light motivated by the rising sun in the distance camera to the left helped a lot. Beyond that I used the Pixel Spread tool and a standard light wrap around the edges for further integration, some colour correction, and a bit of shadow work under his chin. It was really starting to take shape.

Next was adding a bit of movement. I used a tool in Flame called ‘Extended Bicubic’ which allows you to cast a grid across an image and keyframe a warp from whatever point you want. We used it to make him blink and give his mouth a bit of movement.

LBB> What were the parts that proved trickiest? 

SM> I would have loved to have given his hair a bit of movement and make him even fatter. We did make him a bit fatter but it would have been great to take it further.  But, not unlike the spot, the sun was starting to rise on the horizon outside our New York City Chinatown studio. I had taken a 20 minute cat nap during a render test. Other than that I was up all night.

The other nerve-racking thing was wondering if the agency or production company was going to make us take it down... But all that stress went away when I got a personal email from Andreas Nilsson praising our spoof, and saying it cracked him up!

Check out Artjail's montage reel below.