A New Twist on the Show Reel – The Operators ‘Grey Days’

The Operators is a London-based creative post production shop specializing in innovative, creative techniques bridging the gap between print and digital media.

The Operators’ creative team were talking recently about ways to promote and showcase their work in a way that set them apart from the traditional show reel approach. Ben Le Tourneau, Director of Motion, came up with an idea.


Instead of doing what everyone else was doing – compiling a montage of client samples – he wanted to make a short film that captured the essence of their unique creative style while showcasing their client work. The extraordinary result – Grey Days.

Grey Days is a ‘morning in the life’ story about a man just trying to get to work. It chronicles the annoying hassles we’ve all faced – from his car not starting, crashing his bike into a passerby on the sidewalk, discovering he has no cash for a cab ride after he’s already hailed it.


And all along his journey, he’s peppered with advertisements and promos wherever he looks; from his cell phone and iPad, to the billboards, magazines and newspapers that all come to life with moving imagery.


As you watch Grey Days, you realize the creative sophistication required to bring such imagery to life – and the challenges of some very complex VFX.


“What started off as a little idea – which was to create somewhat of a gorilla film around the streets of London – soon evolved into quite an epic project. We brought on board photographer/director Stuart McClymont to help us evolve this idea into a reality. And that’s how it all started!


Because if its increasing complexity, Grey Days ended up having to be very well organized. There were a ton of locations we wanted to film on the main character’s journey, and as this was a strictly self promotion piece, our budget was uber tight. We were adamant that we wanted to shoot this with a documentary feel so there was very little effort in prepping the locations for post production help.


“We tried a few different camera solutions, however we finally decided on the Canon 5D as it could deliver a high quality HD image, while still being lightweight and mobile enough to strap to the actors head.  We used Final Cut Pro 7 for the edit; Color for the grading; mocha Pro for Planar Tracking, roto, inserting, warping and removal and stabilizing; Adobe After Effects for all the VFX compositing; Adobe Photoshop for retouching and prepping the artwork and PFHoe for 3Dtracking.  All up it cost us three staff months to create the piece,” explains Ben Le Tourneau.

There were many different areas in some shots actually tracked. Sometimes some shots had four or five different tracking areas – all-in-all, around 70 areas/shots.

“This project could have never been achievable without mocha pro. Since we could prep each area within a shot, tracking such loose camera work, was an amazing challenge. We encountered everything possible that should have caused the tracker to fail, but it made it through the more challenging shots. Also the latest Shape export and tracking export works beautifully, which made the workflow between mocha pro and After Effects seamless,” explains Le Tourneau.


The Operator crew didn’t just use mocha for the tracker, though there were a ton of shots that needed to be stabilised,  rotoscoped and cleaned up – all of which was tackled a lot quicker in mocha Pro. “Even the ability to render out some of the insertions was a true gem; take for example ‘ether’,” says Ben. “Also, where we found serious lens distortion, the lens collaboration tool really helped bed the artwork in beautifully without having to manually animate/warp the artwork each time.”

Most shots would have failed using conventional tracking techniques, however tracking the newspapers and magazines were very challenging. “But what we found was, as long as you track from the right frame and animate and nurse the spline/tracking areas, a close and create a natural effect is achieved. ‘Adjust track’ was also very helpful,” he explains.

With purse strings pulling ever tighter, and the ever expanding delivery platform opportunities like web, D,O,O,H iPads, The Operator crew wanted to show that high-end VFX work can be done without the hero suite costs. “Our ability to do VFX within a reasonable budget is something I feel really strongly about,” says Ben. “As desktops keep getting stronger, more opportunities are now materialising that used to be totally unobtainable.”

The Operators VFX house is finding that in the commercial field, photography is evolving from a static print-based medium to incorporate motion and become animated stills. It is with the convergence of these disciplines that they are focusing on the ability to facilitate still-to-motion campaigns, or ‘Image Motion.’  “For every still brief we work on, we can employ static and moving components to create a complimentary motion campaign for digital billboards, viral advertising and ISO. This Image Motion product pushes the boundaries of the digital medium and broadens the scope of the photographic/static output.”


Watch Grey Days on motion.tv


A Film by:
The Operators

Directed by:
Stuart McClymont

Bill Turpin

Tom Lowe

Music by:
Madness ‘Grey Days’

Adam Morris, Sally Deane, Kai Bastard, Ben Le Tourneau, Scott Freeman, James O’Neill, Joey Grange

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