How Artjail made the Rob Ford 'Epic Split' video


How to make a Rob Ford 'Epic Split'

By now you've witnessed the genius of 'The Epic Split' starring Jean Claude Van Damme but how would it look if we put someone else's head on his body? New York's leading boutique VFX studio decided to come up with an awesome alternative : The 'Rob Ford split'.

Steve Mottershead, Founder and Creative Director of Artjail shared with me his vision for the split and what he did with his team to create the hilarious, alternative version. In recent weeks Toronto's controversial Mayor has made headlines for his outbursts, and controversial interview remarks, but we never saw him do the 'Epic Split', until now. Based out of New York, Steve has worked with a variety of world renowned brands such as Toyota, Jaguar and IBM to create stunning visual effects. Steve's most recognizable visual art can be seen in Kanye West's 'Power' music video, and in many innovative commercials.

Find out how you can create your own 'Epic Split', and see how you can develop your own skills in VFX. Steve also shared with me some tips that will help you guys take your careers in visual art to the next level.

Rob Ford - Epic Split

Interview with Steve Mottershead

Iain: What made you decide to give Rob Ford the power of the 'split'?

Steve: At the studio we had all just watched the original Van Damme Epic Splits 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 be potentially quite easy to track someone else overtop of his image. Then rather quickly Rob Ford popped into my head. I thought it could be pretty funny to take two hugely popular viral icons of the moment and combine them.

As for the comedy, I wanted it to be a lesson in restraint and not have it come off too obvious, like having a crack pipe hanging out of his mouth or making him fall off and get run over. Sorry 25% of YouTube commenters. If you really listen to what JCVD says it is loosely fitting to what Rob Ford is going through right now, which I thought was both funny and weird.

Iain: What was involved in placing Rob Ford's head in the video?

Steve: I was literally getting ready to leave work for the day on Friday. But it popped in my head again and I thought why not try a quick test. So I jumped on one of our Autodesk Flame systems and did a shape track of the JCVD shot. Which basically analyzes the motion from a clip frame by frame allowing me to apply that motion to another layer. From there I used an image of Rob Ford to composite onto the JCVD shot. We rendered the test and all of us almost fell off our chairs laughing!

Then I started getting paranoid... What if someone beats me to the punch. It’s almost like the JCVD spot was asking for someone to track another face onto it. This is too good not to share with the internet as soon as possible!

So Ben Vaccaro, a Junior Flame Op, and I hunkered down for the long haul. The initial track was good but the face need 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 the Flame. Adding a warmer light motivated by the rising sun in the distance camera-left helped a lot. Beyond that I used the Pixel Spread tool and a standard light wrap around the edges for further integration and some color correction of course as well as 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 the 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.

I would have loved to give 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. You can always keep going, when you have a perfectionist mentality. But not unlike the spot the sun was starting to rise on the horizon outside our Chinatown NYC studio. I had taken a 20 minute cat nap during a render test. Other than that I was up all night. I believe Ben powered through!

Iain: Can you tell us what kind of software or tools you used to make the transition seamless?

Steve: We used Autodesk Flame 2014 and Autodesk Flare 2014.

Iain: Your video has gained over 1 million views since it was uploaded. Would you consider doing other 'Epic Split' parodies in the future?

Steve: Yeah we have some other ideas up our sleeves.

Iain: In your opinion, what makes a good animation?

Steve: We generally try to take a hybrid approach to our VFX work. It’s rare that we would work on a project that is solely CG. It’s really how we get our projects into a seamless photo real realm. We work in an industry that is best respected when you can’t tell what is real and what is fake. It’s an invisible art really.


Iain: You guys have done some pretty incredible work, but when it comes to creating a visual concept, where do you start?

Steve: It really depends on the project. A lot of the time we get the creative handed to us by the ad agency and sometimes we jump in early and help create a campaign from start to finish. Occasionally when we are pitching on projects we will create a mood film. This is one step that not only helps us figure out the vibe and tone we want to bring to the project but also easily convey that to the client. We also do style frames and full Pre Visualizations time to time as well.


Iain: What would be your advice to people looking to make a career in video art?

Steve: Usually my advice to people looking to get into a creative career, is to make a list of the top companies you’d want to work for then approach them for an internship even offer to work for free if they aren’t interested. Then once you get into a place; bust your ass. know your place, flat out impress them. Make them love you and it will most likely end up in them wanting to hire you full-time.

The other thing is to do your research. Get out there watch movies, go to art galleries, learn about new techniques. Do things that challenge your creative bones.


Check out Artjail for more information.

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