When only the *right* kind of microphone will do

This ‘Mindhunter’ promo needed something very, very specific. Territory Studio delivered.

If you’ve watched David Fincher’s Mindhunter series about the development of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit from the late 1970’s through to 1980s, then you’ll already know there’s a certain kind of meticulousness to the Netflix show in each episode.

Well, that same kind of detail was added even to this promo for season 2 of series that got shown on social media. And it all revolved around…a microphone.

Tasked with creating a mic in between agents Ford and Tench in a police interrogation cell was Territory Studio, which also handled a few other clean-ups in the push-in shot.

Here’s the story, step-by-step, of how Territory – led by VFX Supervisor Simon Carr and VFX Producer Robin D’Arcy – researched the prop itself (even taking a used version apart), modeled it in CG and finished the shot.

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1. Sourcing the prop

To craft a highly detailed virtual mic that could work throughout the shot, Territory scoured the internet to find the microphone and stand used in the series. They found a used version, very similar to the original prop on eBay. Once that arrived, they took the mic apart to understand the component parts in detail, paying special attention to surface textures, the wire mesh and internal structure. See the deconstructed mic in the slideshow, below.

2. Preparing for 3D

The studio decided not to use photogrammetry software, and instead went old school. They photographed the microphone extensively for texture reference. As the camera needed to travel incredibly close to the object, authentic detail was paramount. Artists took a number of macro images to understand the surface textures, for example, the way the logo and other details were applied and how micro-level damage affected the surface of microphone, stand and cradle.

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3. Modelling

The modelling was all achieved by hand and from close measurement using Maya. Territory says it was incredibly gratifying that their initial renders, which had been mocked up in context for the pitch, were actually mistaken for the original prop.

Once awarded the full CG comp, Territory was supplied with photographs of the actual prop and our first task was to match it exactly by swapping out the decals that differed.

Mic model.

The biggest challenge was to fully model the CG mesh for an extreme close up and ensure that they matched the light behaviour. When taking macro photography, Territory noted that the mesh was in two layers. Understanding that the upper mesh was made of a thicker wire gauge than the finer one below enabled the studio to achieve additional visual accuracy and depth as the camera passes through the front of the microphone. The final touch was to model the internal components of the mic, applying some creative license to achieve a balance between realism and visual interest in the close of the shot.

4. Texturing

Having original prop photos and a reference plate with a real microphone in place for the whole move, Territory had an ideal point of comparison for surface texture. Using Substance Painter, artists added dirt flecks and adjusted the micro damage to the surface of both microphone and stand models, with those textures applied with Redshift shaders to match the light response of different areas of the mic and stand.

5. Final comp

Having received the plate, Territory’s compositor used Nuke to replace the prop and comp both mic and stand. The challenge was to match to depth of field, to match to gesture as Tench pushes the mic and stand forward, and adjust for the mic’s relationship to other objects throughout the long slow dolly shot. They also needed to account for the change in camera tilt as the camera appears to shift its point of view as it tracks into the mic in the closing shot, and 3D Equaliser was the ideal tool for this.

The original plate.

To finish, camera tracks, wedges and floor markers were removed a concrete floor added, and the cell cage adjusted to bring greater symmetry and focus to the framing of the shot. Finally, Territory rebuilt the table top to remove defects and marks, which at 3K became distracting at the shallow depth of field of the close up. Rendered out at 3K using Arnold, the promo was delivered in a portrait format and subsequently used to promote Series 2 on social platforms.

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