Celebrating Coachella 2022

Los-Angeles-based Warm & Fuzzy explains the VFX and 3D animations they created during the festival for the surreal, animated recap film.
By Helena Swahn

Cofounder of animation and VFX studio Warm & Fuzzy, John Bashyam has worked with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival since 2014, and the relationship encapsulates everything he loves most: music, fun, great clients, and exciting visual challenges.

The studio’s CG animation work on the official after-movie for Coachella 2022, “For Your Precious Love,” is true to that spirit. Combining over 40 visual effects shots with live-action video, his team of artists and designers used Redshift, Maya, Cinema 4D, Houdini, and After Effects to create a series of surreal and magical moments dedicated to this year’s event.

We asked Bashyam to tell us more about the studio and how this project came together.

Please tell us a bit about Warm & Fuzzy.
Bashyam: My business partner, Andrew Jerez, and I started the company in 2016 after leaving our jobs in feature film VFX. We had worked together as artists at the same company and decided we wanted to start our own operation.

Since we’re artists first and not businesspeople, we bring a unique perspective to our working culture and client relationships. I think our strong suit is fully CGI product work, and we primarily focus on 2D and 3D animation and VFX for brands.

We are steadily growing. We’ve got about 12 full-time staff, and at any given time an additional 10+ freelancers working on projects. Before the pandemic, we were full-time out of our offices in L.A. and Boulder, Colorado, but now we practice a hybrid remote/in-person workflow and have expanded the team to include people from all over the world.

How has your work for Coachella evolved over the years?
Bashyam: It definitely gets more ambitious each time. I have been doing VFX work for Coachella since 2014, starting with their Desert Parallax after-movie. A few years after that, I met my friend and frequent collaborator, Ari Fararooy, who was brought on to direct some short-form social content pieces.

Since then, we’ve been working primarily on quick social media pieces for Coachella, one-upping the visual effects every year and evolving the techniques. A few years ago, we introduced CGI to the mix, which had never really been done in such a short time frame. We did it on two social posts that became some of the most-viewed videos they’ve ever shared.

Ari was brought on this year to direct the full recap film and wanted to bring that same surreal CG animation to it. His goal was to show the festival coming to life as if all the commissioned art pieces and stages could assemble themselves with no human intervention.

Can you unpack the project for us?
The brief was to make the festival come to life in a “surreal and magical” way. As if the festival art pieces, stages, and everything construct themselves before the patrons arrive and continue to do magical things during the show.

There were more than 40 VFX shots in the whole video and 23 had CG animation. We did a portion of the asset prep and CG animation in the months before the festival, which involved about 12 people.

We used Maya with Redshift as our main platform. Cinema 4D was primarily used for some keyframe animation, the tents expanding, foliage simulation work, palm trees sprouting out of the ground and the flowers blooming on the dog’s art pieces. The Forester plugin came in handy for that type of stuff.

We exported everything as Redshift Proxies and rendered them in Maya with Redshift. The RS Proxies really came in handy and made it easy to transfer between programs with ease.

Simulations were done in Houdini, and we used Photoshop for textures and After Effects for compositing. Red Giant Universe was great for blurs, grain, and chromatic aberration. 3D tracking was done with Syntheyes, and Deadline was used for render farm management.

Once we got to the festival, the onsite team was four VFX artists, including me, in a little office backstage with the director, DP, AC, and coordinator. Three of us were dedicated to the CGI shots and one was solely focused on the “enlargement” effects.
The team filmed, edited, and animated the entire project live onsite in just 10 days, and our small team completed all the VFX shots.

Sounds intense! How did you produce so many VFX shots in a short time? 
There were a number of things that made that insanity possible. We spent two months before the festival creating CG models in Cinema 4D and Maya. We modeled around 25 objects, including every art installation at the festival and various props, stages, tents, the Ferris wheel, palm trees, and flowers.

Any solid pieces that made up the foundation of the festival needed to be animated and brought to life with VFX. So by the time we got on site, we had everything ready to go and could relatively easily pop things into new shots as they were being filmed. 

Redshift was great throughout. The speed combined with realism made it essential.
We also used it for look dev, concepting, previews, volumetrics, textures, lighting, and more.

Also, our remote workflow allowed us to connect to our workstations at our L.A. office and utilize our full render farm. This made rendering much faster and allowed same-day turnaround for shots that would normally take days to render.

It also helped that the Coachella team trusted us and let us run with it. And onsite in Indio, the whole production team sat together so the feedback loop was short and efficient. There was instant communication between the director, our VFX team, the DP, AC, and coordinator. Ari was also editing and giving us approved plates for VFX very quickly.

Any effects that ended up cooler than expected? 
I think the “wow!” factor came in for us once we started seeing some of the art pieces animated and rendered with Redshift with the nice lighting and everything. We weren’t sure how the Microscape art piece (below) was going to come out, but it ended up looking really cool once rendered.

There was another one where we animated one of the flying blocks whizzing past this girl and her hair does a flip with the wind. That was totally unintentional, and the timing just so happened to line up exactly with how the wind was blowing, so it really sold that effect. Sometimes things just work out like that.

What did you enjoy most about making the Coachella film and what’s next?
It was fun playing off the various looks of each art piece and making the animation unique to the art. As for what’s next, at any given time we’ve got about 5-10 projects in the pipeline, ranging from 3D animation to commercial VFX.

We always look forward to making fun work and pushing the boundaries of technology. For more on the making of “For Your Precious Love”, check out Warm & Fuzzy’s website.

Helena Swahn is a writer in London, UK