Total Recall

For this Total Recall look I used Cinema 4D with Greyscale Gorilla’s City Kit and Texture Kit Pro, and After Effects with plug-ins from GenArts, Boris FX and Francois Tarlier. I also relied heavily on Digital Juice Motion Designer’s Toolkit, which saved me a bunch of time not having to build and animate user interface elements (UI) from scratch.

If you’ve watched Total Recall (2012) you would have seen the amazing futuristic city where the film is set. Greyscale Gorilla’s City Kit for Cinema 4D was the obvious choice for creating a quick but amazingly realistic city model used as the basis for this look.

TotalRecall_01I chose the night time city which only took minutes to set up, then positioned a wide angle lens camera directly above the city looking down. The wide angle gives the buildings a dynamic, splayed look.


The text was modelled using paths from Adobe Illustrator with the Cinema 4D Extrude Nurbs object, and textured using materials from Greyscale Gorilla’s Texture Kit Pro. Texture Kit Pro includes a terrific set of metal textures, three of which I applied to the front face, rounding and sides of the text. For the slightly scuffed look I used the Mossy Grime Overlay texture. The overlay textures include alpha channels and are positioned at the far right of the material tags in Cinema 4D, overlaying all of the other textures.


The camera’s Y Position was keyframed to pull back from the City floor, revealing the Total Recall text as it moved. The F Curve indicates a short ease at the start, followed by a fast pullback, then gentle, extended ease.


The city and text were rendered in a single pass in order to get the reflections of the buildings in the sides of the letters. An image buffer for the text was required in order to stack the UI elements behind it in After Effects (see below).


Digital Juice Motion Designer’s Toolkit 2 and 3 include large libraries of high-tech graphic elements perfect for sci-fi films such as Total Recall, which includes a number of scenes with futuristic interfaces. I felt that the city combined with a high-tech user interface would really match the look and feel of the film.

All of the UI elements I chose were greyscale and were colorised using the Sapphire Tint effect.


The first element comped with the background. I tend to add elements that are spread out and cover more of the frame first before adding smaller, more localised elements.


These elements are from Digital Juice Motion Designer’s Toolkit 3. Notice the large circular mask to prevent the area around the text appearing too cluttered. The lights (and camera) was imported with the After Effects Composition (.aec) file from Cinema 4D, so all of the interface elements are being illuminated by the same lights used to illuminate the city and text.


While Motion Designer’s Toolkit 2 and 3 include complete interfaces, rather than simply plonking one interface on top, I created my own custom interface using individual elements. This gave me more control over the look and also ensured a more unique final result.

TotalRecall_09 TotalRecall_10

These circular elements look great and effectively frame the title, guiding the viewer’s attention to the centre of the frame.


At this stage all of the elements were in front of the text but this was addressed later.

TotalRecall_12 TotalRecall_13

I liked this hexagonal strip element but didn’t want it right across the text, so masked it to be only visible at the sides. It’s these kind of considerations that make a look busy and interesting but not cluttered and difficult to read.


These were the final tech elements, which echo the perspective of the camera and serve to lock the interface somewhat with the buildings. There were plenty of other elements I prepared but didn’t use for fear of over-doing the look.


All of the interface elements combined look pretty good by themselves, especially on black.


The final interface comped over the main graphic looks interesting but unfinished.


A Cinema 4D image buffer matte was used to comp the text in front of the interface. The text layer was also given a subtle cyan color grade using the Curves effect.


Having the text comped on top of the interface looks cleaner and adds depth. All of the interface elements are 3D layers in After Effects and were positioned in z-space with the help of Cinema 4D External Compositing Tags.

As mentioned above, the imported .aec file included the Cinema 4D camera and all of it’s keyframes, which allowed the interface elements to sit seamlessly in the 3D scene.


The final stages included a simple color grade, using an Adjustment Layer with the Vibrance effect to desaturate and the Curves effect for an overall cyan/green look.


An Adjustment Layer with Boris Continuum Complete Film Glow for a soft, overall glow, which adds depth and interest.


Another Adjustment Layer with Sapphire Scanlines, used sparingly for that popular interface look. It also helps unify all of the individual elements into one cohesive look.


And an Adjustment Layer with  ft-Lens Distortion by Francois Tarlier. My workmate Grischa showed me this effect, which is handy for adding a touch of chromatic abberation and giving that aged, less-than-perfect look. This script is available at aescripts.


I also keyframed the distortion setting for this effect at start of the animation to add a sense of paranoia and that something “wasn’t quite right”.


The full frame supers consisted of a number of elements not used in the title animation plus a subtle liquid effect in the centre of the frame courtesy of Digital Juice Compositor’s Toolkit 3. The liquid is only subtle but balances nicely with the geometric UI elements.

  1. Woody

    Just perfect! Tuto or edit project to see in details? 🙂 Happy new year!

    • John Dickinson

      Hi Woody,
      No plans for a video tutorial or shared file for this one.
      Best, John.

  2. NeilR

    Nice tutorial John, nice feel. Liked the uses of the GSG city kit.

    • John Dickinson

      Thanks, glad you liked it.

  3. richard grant

    nice job!

    • John Dickinson

      Thank Richard it was fun.

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