Before Pacific Data photos (PDI) to be bought through DreamWorks and became one of the house house of CG animation with Antz and also then Shrek, it to be affectionately recognized as ‘the morphing house.’ that reputation was firmly developed with the studio’s job-related on the music video clip for Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”, which celebrate its 25th anniversary today.

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In interviews with several vital artists involved in the famous confront transitions seen in the video, Cartoon Brew revisits exactly how PDI’s morphing tech concerned be, exactly how it was used on “Black or White”, and how it released an era that overuse of the visual effect.



‘That to be morphing’

Jamie Dixon (visual results supervisor, PDI): We acquired a contact from Propaganda Films and they said they were doing this Michael Jackson task directed by john Landis, and also in the they to be trying to show that every races are the same and also that people are essentially the same. And also they had this sequence wherein there to be going to it is in a bunch of deals with that room transitioning indigenous one come the other. We’d done that work before. That was morphing.


Tim Clawson (head of production, Propaganda Films): It was the an initial song off the brand-new album from Michael. The hired us to do all the music videos from the album. Actually, with Michael you might never say ‘music video,’ you had to to speak ‘short film.’

Jamie Dixon: among the inspirations to be a music video from the 1980s referred to as Cry through Godley and Creme. Below they basically had actually a bunch of deals with that readjusted but lock did that the hard way. They gained the cameras to heat up and also they preserved the features as inside wall up as best as possible but they to be still doing dissolves in between them.



Tim Clawson: we talked to Lol Creme around how lock did that – they had actually no money therefore they no really use visual effects. The said, ‘Well, if you line up the eyes, climate you understand the encounters will every fit on peak of every other. And you just need to make some an extremely subtle adjustments.’

From vehicle commercials and Terminator 2 to Michael Jackson

Carl Rosendahl (founder, PDI): We had actually opened PDI’s L.A. Office in 1990 to do function film work, but were tho primarily producing commercials and also some broadcast graphics. Our score from the mid-’80s on was to construct the studio to be able to produce our own totally animated function films. We observed morphing as a good tool to aid with film and commercial effects, and had constructed a tool that allowed us to carry out it quicker and much better than anyone rather at the time. By the time “Black or White” come along we had already done fairly a couple of commercials v it, and also we believed that the video would present it turn off beautifully.

Thad Beier (R&D manager, PDI): The summer prior to we got the occupational for “Black or White,” we had actually to do some warping for a Plymouth Voyager minivan commercial and we had actually to style a tool to do it. For this reason Jamie Dixon and also I were sitting roughly one weekend and it was like, ‘Well, let’s see what we can do.’ So we tried most likely twenty different things. We were do the efforts to shift from one automobile to another to display the new version that the car.



Jamie Dixon: This commercial gained out there and everybody love it. It was a fresh brand-new thing the nobody had ever seen before. So now we were on the map in terms of doing morphing, and also the only other place that to be doing anything through that at the moment was ILM, which had done the in Willow first.

Shawn Neely (technical director, PDI): us were just ‘morphing’ still images at that allude but the advancement was that one person could basically execute the job that formerly it would take an animator and also shader and lighter, and also a bunch of technological directors to work on – a totality 3D team.

Thad Beier: To do that Plymouth work-related we ended up drawing a heat on this image and also a line on that image that corresponded to the feature you wanted it to finish up spring like. And we did the for a entirety bunch of lines and came up through an algorithm so the we can warp one to the other to do all those currently correspond. And also it worked pretty well. Ns couldn’t quite believe it.

Jamie Dixon: just how did we come up through the name morphing? Well, someone did an post on the auto commercial and they asked, ‘What execute you guys speak to this?’ and we came up with the word morphing at the point. ILM dubbed their tool ‘morf’, but when the writer was asking about the automobile commercial post I said, ‘Well, m-o-r-p-h is just how I would certainly spell it.’

Thad Beier: ~ above Willow they had used one algorithm that was much harder come do. Rather than just have a instance where the artist color etc the things he or she desires to exchange mail to, they placed up meshes end the whole screen, and also people had actually to drag the meshes to correspond. That was infinitely harder and less precise. The nice thing around drawing individual lines is that you draw a couple of lines and you look at the morph, and you say, ‘Okay the present don’t line up,’ so you attract a line end the eyes and also then they line up, and you simply keep top top going and also keep adding points or lines until you get every little thing to move the method you want.

Jamie Dixon: before we started working top top the “Black or White” video, wednesday actually likewise bid ~ above James Cameron’s Terminator 2. Boss Film had actually been approached through Jim’s company to bid top top the changes of the liquid metal character, the T-1000. And also we to be there act this other project and they said, ‘Hey, execute you guys know anything about this sort of thing? We believed we could try and number out how to execute that – this feature-based morphing – and also the result was an virtually parallel advancement with ILM in figuring out a way to perform morphing. .

Tackling the ‘simple’ scene

Jamie Dixon: as soon as we were asked to do “Black or White”, we did some challenge tests. Ns remember us took a snapshot of Carl Rosendahl, and also he had actually a son who was 4 or five years old and also we take it a picture of the too and we morphed Carl’s kid right into Carl. It was sort of a revelation. Girlfriend literally can see this kid growing up best in front of your eyes. It had actually a weirdly strong emotional effect on you when you would check out that.

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A storyboard because that the morphing sequence.

Tim Clawson: The crucial to the final result was just how it to be shot, which was a lot about lining up the eyes together perfectly together possible. We had this type of glass in former of the camera whereby we can put the eyes and also make sure the eyes were constantly in the same ar of every solitary person in the frame.

Jamie Dixon: We had actually a setup that was sort of clinical. The camera was yes, really close to them v a straightforward gray backdrop behind them. The idea was we would shoot a dozen human being dancing come this song, and also we designed what we thought was a straightforward dance move where they would bob your head twice and then they looked to the left and then earlier to camera and also then to the left again and sing along. As a computer graphics human being we’re always very interested in precision and repeatability and to united state that seemed prefer the simplest thing in the world, but it was following to difficult to gain these men to have the ability to do that right.

I had a good time working with John Landis top top this, and after a while that said, ‘Why nothing you direct the world to perform those moves?,’ since we couldn’t quite obtain it right. And also I remember I particularly went up and I was standing through nineteen-year-old Tyra Banks, and I said, ‘Okay, as soon as you perform this move, as soon as you come earlier and you do this nod, you have to be lower.’ and also she said, ‘How low have the right to I go?’ and also of food the whole set was, like, ‘Woooo’.

Tim Clawson: While us were filming we can see the the morphing sequence was going to fit the track so well. Not only the valuation of the track itself – she black, you’re white, you black, she white, but also the article of the song. So just all those things came with each other to yes, really make that a really special piece. Visual effects are ideal right when everything comes together, and where the idea of what you trying to execute transcends the final shots. The visual results are simply simply the execution and not the idea themselves.

Jamie Dixon: later on while us were functioning on the sequence, I had actually to go to a meeting with John Landis when they were still shooting and I rode my motorcycle out to have this conference at a strength plant. And also when he observed my bike he said, ‘Hey, you should be in this.’ There to be a firm called Stunts Unlimited and they verified me where I have to ride. And also I do it into the last video. And also my payment for that was I gained a Stunts unlimited hat, which i was really proud of.

Black or White’s morphing tech

Jamie Dixon: The editor placed together an edit of the whole piece using dissolves, and the idea to be to get the dissolves together close as possible, in other words, to acquire the world moving your head at roughly the exact same time and nodding your head.

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An excerpt from Beier and Neely’s SIGGRAPH ’92 paper, ‘Feature-Based image Metamorphosis’.

Thad Beier: I had moved end to Silicon graphics by the time PDI was working on “Black or White.” yet they provided the software we had developed. Because that every challenge that was revolutionized from one to the next, they broke the picture up right into the face, the hair, and also everything rather was broken up to various layers, morphed separately and also then composited ago together. Most civilization who to be doing morphing just morphed one picture into the other. By break it up into different layers favor that you can get a lot much more control.

Jamie Dixon: in ~ a an easy level the nothing more than a dissolve. What you’re including to the dissolve is that you’re keeping the features of the picture aligned together they turn from one come another. For this reason in various other words if ns was morphing indigenous one eye to one more eye, if I keep those eye lined up as one goes to the other it looks come you favor one’s turning into the various other rather than one’s dissolve off and the rather dissolving on.

Shawn Neely: I occurred some rotoscoping devices that would permit us to pull soft-edged mattes. For this reason we’d different the person’s hair and also matte the out independently from the challenge or the rest of the body. We’d finish up with different parts of the person that we can warp and morph those independently and also then lug them back together. There was additionally interesting stuff us did about an altering the timing of the distortion part of the morph, or the dissolve part of the morph. So the didn’t happen all uniformly. That really offered it more of an imaginative kick.

Thad Beier: you could adjust the time for how the line moves native one image to the other, so if you know you desire the nose to move faster or slower than the rest of the confront you could adjust that timing. You could also readjust the timing the the area about that nose liquified from one photo to the other.

The form themselves

Barbara Meier (animator, PDI): I worked on the first seven transitions. Among those were some difficult hair styles. The second morph, from the thin black color woman come the redhead, was very complicated with regard to hair. The wavy red hair appears in literally three frames favor it is falling under from being tied back. We tried a lot of of different looks because that this, but most of castle looked like the hair to be fading in favor in a traditional dissolve. Having it loss down made that look prefer the hair was physically falling the end of a pulled-back style. In the turning back case, the guys with dreads transitions to the Indian woman. In this case, we had actually to get his swinging dreads to shift to her pulled ago hair. We supplied his rapid head rotate as motivation to suck the dreads in close come the face. The dreads likewise swung throughout the face which helped distract indigenous the change between his facial hair and her absence of it.

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Image progressions indigenous the morphing sequence.

Jamie Dixon: we had arisen a entirety vocabulary of how to deal with this – how to talk around each among the pieces. So one of the guys, we called him ‘Steve’, ns don’t understand if his surname was actually Steve. There was one man we named him ‘Glenn,’ and also then ns remember an additional guy we referred to as ‘Dancer.’ So we were like, ‘Hey, how’s Dancer to Steve going?’

Tim Clawson: What you realize is the the distance in between most people’s eyes is pretty lot the same distance. And so it was kind of an ocular, an ocular trick rather than a visual effect in some ways. Since you can literally dough people’s heads appropriate on peak of every other and also they fit really well. So then it was simply all about what to be going on v the hair and any other pieces the you could clean up.

Jamie Dixon: If you think about a generic face, most world have two eyes, a nose, and also a mouth. Those are relatively easy features to store lined up as you shift from one come the other. The difficulty that us found every one of a sudden, and we hadn’t really been anticipating this, is we had actually one man with a mustache, we had actually a guy with a goatee, we had somebody with long hair, someone with quick hair, all of those type of things.

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An excerpt that frames indigenous Beier and Neely’s SIGGRAPH ’92 paper, ‘Feature-Based photo Metamorphisis’.

Barbara Meier: due to the fact that the software program was composed in-house by Thad Beier and Shawn Neely, us were able come ask for brand-new features and literally obtain them within a matter of hrs or days. In order to make the finest transitions, us asked those men for a lot of brand-new things! As far as software program goes, the procedure was all 2D, functioning with video sequences, for this reason not daunting to learn. Yet with any kind of tool, it took a while to number out just how much it might be pushed, as well as its limitations.

Jamie Dixon: There to be a most transitions that occurred in the sequence the were basically custom designed. So with the male with the goatee, because that instance, we uncovered that if we wiped the on as it was, that was a much more satisfactory shift than just having a type of weird dissolve where it would come the end of nowhere. Our guiding principle was – ns mean, this is in reality something that type of uses to all of visual results – but one of the guiding ethics is the we wanted to make it look choose it to be happening in the photo as protest to on the picture. So us didn’t want to do it look favor there to be a bunch the pictures transforming from one come another. We want to make it look like we were acquisition a snapshot of something that was transforming native one come the other.

Barbara Meier: Our key weapon was to differ the timing across facial and hair features. The eye might transition first, for this reason you have actually all human A other than for human B’s eyes because that 1-2 seconds. Because everyone was human – no a given in the morphing human being with every the transitions from person to pet as in a panther turning into MJ, or animals to dare in a slew of TV ads – we can rely on similar features: eyes, nose, mouth. Hair and skin color transitions were an ext challenging. In some transitions, the intermediary skin color was no a shade naturally discovered in humans and also was therefore unappealing. Us didn’t desire to introduce unnatural or not attractive ‘in-between’ people, for this reason if us came across something prefer that, we just made the shift very quick.

Jamie Dixon: no everyone made the cut. Ns think we more than likely shot about twice as numerous as we finished up using. And also then us had remained in touch through Propaganda and they told united state that your tracking was showing that literally five hundred million human being were going to tune in and also watch the premiere that this. I’m telling you, having fifty percent a billion human being watching some piece of art that you’re doing is a tremendous motivator to obtain it right.

Released come the world

Jamie Dixon: anyone who operated on it gained together and also we watched the premiere and of food it to be super exciting. It was so highly anticipated the they play the video, and then as quickly as it was done they played it again. And also then we had a party through Propaganda and all the world who to be in the video. Which was funny due to the fact that we were simply so intimately familiar with these people, and I mental walking right into that thing and it’s like, ‘Oh mine god Glenn, exactly how are friend doing? oh Dancer, hey, exactly how are girlfriend doing, man?’ and they looked in ~ me and they’re like, ‘Who the fuck space you?’ We had spent 3 months inspecting and curating the very detailed features of your faces.

Barbara Meier: Although we knew MJ was a megastar, i really had no idea the influence the video clip would make. Several of the prompt reaction come the last four minute of the original video clip overshadowed the rest of the extravagant piece. But I’m most amazed at just how the morphing succession is the part of the video that civilization remember most. It wasn’t a new technique, however this to be the many widely shown and also forward usage of it. I think the idea of developing a 3rd person in between two existing persons intrigued a lot of people and also the physicality the this new person got to a new bar.

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John Landis through Michael Jackson during shooting.

Tim Clawson: We used to have a joke wherein we would certainly say the dirty little an enig of music videos is if you have a great song and also you placed mediocre photos up versus it human being think you made a great video. Yet with Michael we constantly had a good song, and fortunately he operated with optimal film makers and also directors, and with a great song come a the majority of really exciting ideas.

Carl Rosendahl: i remember that we assumed that the music video would be the pinnacle of making use of morphing together an effect and also the method would climate recede to being just another tool. Us were yes, really wrong about that. The attention the video clip got to be enormous, as all Michael Jackson videos were at the time, and it created an extreme interest in using the effect in all sorts of new ways. For the year after the we became known as the morphing house because we go so lot of it. That was great from the standpoint the it was very profitable work for us, however it additionally detracted from ours primary emphasis of structure all the various other tools and also skill set we required to do completely animated features. Us had also just started our Character computer animation group in so late 1990, and we to be working tough to press that part of our business.

PDI: the morphing house

Jamie Dixon: We ended up getting connected in a whole bunch of Michael Jackson projects. Us did a pair of Pepsi commercials v him that Joe Pytka directed. And we go some sort of basic morphing in few of those, and also some CGI, just a bunch of other things. And also then through Propaganda we finished up doing a number of music videos as well including Jam and also Remember the Time.

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Carl Rosendahl: The video clip garnered a lot of attention for anyone involved, and no doubt provided us added credibility in the film and commercial industries. We worked on an ext MJ videos after ~ that and also did other tasks for man Landis. We were already doing many commercial work, however that developed a big demand because that morphing effects which i think slowed us down in other areas. We were maybe to use those earnings to press in other development though.