The Making of the Ultimate Fake UFO Video (Where Absolutely Everything Is Fake)
Last month, filmmaker Aristomenis “Meni” Tsirbas revealed to Wired that an elaborate UFO prank video he had created was far more than what it seemed: Not only was the UFO fake, but so was everything else in the video, from the vivid blue sky to the car the “cameraman” was supposedly driving. In a new “making of” video titled “UFO Over Santa Clarita VFX Breakdown,” the director of the computer-generated UFO clip shows how he and his crew of students from the Gnomon School of Visual Effects crafted the amazingly photorealistic visuals where they dropped their obviously bogus alien craft.
The shrewd mix of low-fi surroundings and sci-fi spaceships in the “UFO Over Santa Clarita” video fooled many viewers, who assumed it was a simple case of a hoaxer plopping a Hollywood-style mothership into totally earthly surroundings. From the supposed camera operator’s darkened car interior to the beautiful Southern California landscape, the original video perfectly mimics the look of a typical moment captured on a smartphone.
“The video is 100 percent CGI through and through,” Tsirbas told Wired. “The electric towers [seen alongside the road] are 3-D geometry and the sky is a 3-D dome that has a texture map on it that’s a combination of painting, volumetric clouds and photogrammetry.”
Everything is made clear in the new behind-the-scenes video, which stops and starts the action and indicates how layers of beautiful digital painting, elaborate CG models and other visual effects come together to fool the eye. The original video, which you can watch below, was viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube after Wired revealed the director’s secret and showed off wireframes and CG models used in the 39-second clip.
For Tsirbas, a longtime champion of photorealistic CGI, the prank proved his point: That computer-generated imagery can look totally real if used wisely. Reaction to the revelation has been “very positive overall and at times oddly controversial,” Tsirbas said, with most people expressing surprise that the everyday elements are completely fake.
But some people missed the point entirely.
“Some comments express what I can only describe as schadenfreude from people making sure ‘believers’ were fully aware that the video is in fact a hoax,” said Tsirbas, who has done visual effects and animation work on movies including Titanic and Hellboy. “But the most unusual comments come from a growing chorus of people who insist that the announcement of the hoax is actually part of an elaborate government plan to cover up the fact that the video is real. I even received a mildly threatening personal e-mail from one of these people.”
Still, watching other media outlets report on “UFO Over Santa Clarita” has been fascinating to Tsirbas, who’s working on projects at Blur Studio and writing a script for a feature film he hopes to direct.
“There’s been a bit of a ‘broken telephone’ element to the story being picked up by other news sources since Wired first broke the story,” he said. “Some of the later news items gloss over the very reason why the video was made (i.e. that everything is fake) and instead simply announce that a UFO video is a revealed to be a hoax by its maker.”