Britney Spears’ video for her latest single Toxic casts the star in the role of a femme fatale out to wreak revenge on a cheating ex-boyfriend. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the video pitches Spears into several roles – first a trolley dolly, then a James Bond-esque spy with flaming red hair dressed in a skin-tight cat-suit, and a black-haired superhero in flowing cape who murders her ex with a toxic potion.

Post house KromA created the video’s animation and effects along with a CG stunt double of Spears. In just three weeks, the studio produced effects elements for nearly every scene in the video, including creating virtual Paris and London street scenes, and a 3D security tunnel environment where Spears performs back-flips to dodge laser beams.

Stunt model

The photo-real 3D replica of Spears was used for the video’s stunt scenes, such as the Paris scene where she races through the streets on a motorcycle piloted by model Tyson Beckford. At the end of the sequence, when the bike becomes airborne and twists in the air before depositing Spears on a bridge, 3D replacements were used for Spears, Beckford, and the motorcycle.

“That entire shot, including the bridge, is 3D,” explained KromA visual-effects supervisor and lead compositor Bert Yukich. “At the end of the shot, when she lands on the bridge, we did a transition from the CG model back to the real Britney.” To improve the realism, Yukich cut out Spears’ red hair from a live-action element and tracked it to the model. Animators also used textures taken from digital stills of Spears and Beckford to accurately reproduce their facial features.

The 3D model was also used in the London scenes where the singer, after scaling the wall of a skyscraper, flips in the air and lands on the balcony of an apartment. The challenge of this shot was to reproduce the translucent cape worn by Spears.

The 3D sets of Paris and London were modelled based on drawings provided by a concept artist. Both scenes include recognizable landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, but were given a futuristic cast through the use of colourful neon signage and other accents. Yukich attended the live-action shoot at a Los Angeles stage to gather HDR lighting data for use in integrating Spears and other actors into the artificial environments. HDR data was also gathered on Los Angeles’ streets at night and then used to apply realistic urban lighting to the 3D street scenes.

Time was the biggest challenge for the effects team, especially in regards to the creation of the video’s tunnel sequence, which was another 3D set. Five days before the video was due for delivery, the sequence was re-cut, which meant the animators had to redo much of their work in integrating Spears into the artificial environment.

The tunnel sequence climaxes with Spears bursting through a glass wall, slow-motion glass fragments exploding in all directions. The shattering glass effect was produced as a 3D particle effect. “When the sequence was re-cut, we had to rebuild the tunnel, add the laser beams and composite Britney,” recalled Yukich. “We gave that to the animators, who were creating the glass, so that they could get the correct refractions.”

The studio was also charged with producing minor effects elements for scenes that were largely shot practically. For a shot in the airplane sequence, for example, KromA’s artists created a 3D rubber mask that Spears tears off a man’s face. The live-action included before and after shots of two actors.

“The two actors had different body types, the first guy was short and stout, the second guy was taller and thinner,” recalled Yukich. “I did a head replacement, putting the second guy’s head on the first one’s torso. It was a little bit of a trick because they were standing differently, and the collar of the second man was blocking his neck. I had to add a new neck and adjust his pony tail so that it falls over the collar. Once that was done, I handed it on to our 3D team who took the last frame of the before guy and mapped his face onto a model of a rubber mask. We could then bend and distort it to match Britney’s hand gestures.

“We essentially worked around the clock for three weeks,” says Yukich. “I think we went through $1,000 in energy drinks.”