Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions

Creating ‘Planet Her:’ how Doja Cat brought an alien world to life with real-time CG

August 23, 2021
Welcome to Planet Her: a futuristic world filled with aliens, flying Ubers, and holographic video games. This isn’t a set for the latest Marvel film. It’s a universe built entirely for an album: Doja Cat’s appropriately titled Planet Her.
 
If creating a whole Blade Runner-esque world for an album seems like overkill, you don’t know Doja Cat. From her viral breakout Moo! to the sci-fi nods in Kiss Me More, Doja Cat has always taken her visuals seriously, turning her passion for geek culture into personalized works of art.

Fortunately, her team knew exactly how to bring her latest single to life. But as her visions for her “Need To Know” music video got bigger and more fantastical, it became clear that practical tools wouldn’t cut it, moving everyone into the world of real-time CG and the limitless possibilities therein.

An Unreal Engine music video

For directors Miles & AJ of SixTwentySix Productions, using Unreal Engine on “Need To Know” had been part of the pitch from the start. “Working with Doja Cat was special,” says Managing Director Jake Krask. “We are huge fans of her music and had wanted to do a video with her for a long time.” 
 
The only challenge? The project’s tight timeline. The whole film was scheduled to be shot in just a day, and there was an entire planet to create. Featuring Doja Cat as a blue alien, the music video takes us on a glamorous night out complete with sci-fi cocktails, partying extraterrestrials, and futuristic luxe apartments. The prosthetics alone required 20 artists.
Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions
“Luckily, Doja Cat and her team provided an amazing rough concept for a night out on the town with her and her alien squad. We took that and ran with it,” says Miles Cable, who co-directed the video together with AJ Favicchio.
 
Leveraging the color palettes and inspiration from Doja Cat’s team, Cable and Favicchio decided to build a pitch video directly in Unreal Engine 4.26.
 
“It was a blast to use Unreal Engine, and the results looked amazing,” Cable explains. An avid gamer, he was already familiar with Unreal Engine and had completed multiple XR projects before “Need To Know.”
 
“I went into Unreal Engine and built out a quick version of how I saw Planet Her,” he continues. “It was a rough example, but completely informed what you now see in the intro—we fly down and through Planet Her, eventually landing on the space suite, where we wanted to cut to our first shot.”
 
The pitch was a complete success. Before long, the team knew they would use Unreal Engine throughout all the CG scenes on the project.

In collaboration with the record label, production team, and sister company Pixel Post, the “Need To Know” crew had to merge these completely computer-generated Unreal Engine sequences with practical scenes shot on a capture stage using an Arri Mini LF and Hawk Anamorphic lenses.

Creating a planet

First, the team had to build every set—both practical and CG—from scratch. “We had a ton of fun building all of the sets,” reveals Favicchio. “Crafting the style and design was so fun. We didn’t want to lean too much into pure cyberpunk or retro-futurist. Our goal was to thread that needle.”
Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions
For practical scenes, which included Doja Cat’s 70s-inspired apartment and the bar, an incredible art team led by John Richoux and production designer Jonathan Chu was on board to help. The Unreal Engine CG sequences, however, were a different story.
 
Working with 3D artist, Daichi Sakane, Cable had just 10 days to complete the build and lighting, and then capture all eight CG shots of the film.

The results were impressive: the final sequences built, lit, animated, and shot directly in Unreal Engine included a flying Uber traveling through a futuristic city filled with brutalist architecture, as well as a dance floor at the club Doja Cat and her friends go to.
Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions
All the cutscenes were also shot in Unreal Engine, allowing the team to add a sense of scale and authenticity to Planet Her. And an Unreal Engine sci-fi cityscape even replaced the blue screens behind the practical soundstage windows of Doja Cat’s luxe apartment.
 
“We had a great back and forth. I went into Unreal Engine and did the rough layout of the environments, and animated the camera moves,” Cable adds. “Daichi then went in and brought in tons of life via lighting and detailed textures.”
Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions
Being able to kitbash made a huge difference in getting quality work delivered in record time. “My focus is on the creation of the world and the filming—less about the modeling itself,” Cable continues.
 
“We depended on Megascans for some of our more high-res details, especially noticeable in the alleyway scenes when the Uber flies through the city. We showcase road textures, trash, puddles, and more. With Megascans, we had this incredible tool that would help to do this for free.”
Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions

The launch of a new era

Impressively, by the end of the shoot, every single scene Cable and Favicchio had captured on the day made it into the final cut. With more than forty-five million views and counting on YouTube, it’s safe to say “Need To Know” has since become a resounding success.
Image courtesy of SixTwentySix Productions
For everyone at SixTwentySix Productions, it marks the start of a whole new era: one where real-time production techniques and Unreal Engine will be used as tools on future projects, giving them a way to achieve final pixels in record time.
 
“This video has just backed my already existing feelings towards Unreal Engine as a whole,” concludes Cable. “Not only did it help create cool sci-fi scenes, Unreal Engine also let me render out tons of versions of my shots to test in the cut. I’d be able to check whether I was happy with certain camera moves, rather than spending days rendering one shot to then not even like it.”
 
“Unreal Engine is definitely a game changer,” agrees Partner and Executive Producer, Austin Barbera. “With it, we’re now able to create in a way that is quicker and more cost-effective than when using standard VFX software. We think this will improve how videos will look, and create some really exciting changes in the production world over the next few years!”

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