Category Archives: ARTICLE – MAKING OF – MOVIES

Surviving San Andreas

Brad Peyton’s disaster flick San Andreas recounts the efforts of a rescue helicopter pilot, Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), who must rescue his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) after a series of major earthquakes and aftershocks rattle Los Angeles and San Francisco from a heretofore unknown fault line. Under visual effects supervisor Colin Strause and visual effects producer Randy Starr, a host of vendors staged widespread destruction and carnage and even a tsunami through several locations. fxguide finds out the ‘How To’ behind some of the film’s biggest effects.

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A Graphic Tale: The Visual Effects of Mad Max: Fury Road

When George Miller looked to return to the world of Mad Max with his new Fury Road, the director began a lengthy development period that saw several false starts but ultimately culminated in a six-month long shoot in the Namibian desert. Here, DOP John Seale would use multiple digital cameras to capture incredible practical stunts with more than 150 vehicles conceived by production designer Colin Gibson, then rigged, driven and crashed thanks to the efforts of key crew including special effects supervisors Andy Williams and Dan Oliver and supervising stunt co-ordinator Guy Norris.

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Innovation and immersion: Escape from Gringotts

For decades, guests at Universal Studios Theme Parks have enjoyed an array of immersive ride films. From Back to the Future: The Ride to Terminator 2: 3-D Battle Across Time to Transformers: The Ride, each experience seems to up the ante on the use of motion simulators, large-scale imagery, stereo, high frame rates, stereoscopic projection, photorealistic animation and visual effects. Now, with Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, that level of immersion has been increased yet again.

Since 2010, Universal’s design division, Universal Creative, had been developing designs for a new ride based on the Gringotts section of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Director Thierry Coup wanted the ride – which opened last July in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley themed area at Universal Orlando resort – to take guests deep among Gringotts’ underground vaults via a roller coaster cart synchronized to enormous 3D projection screens. Here they would witness Harry, Ron and Hermione battling a fire-breathing dragon and escaping the wrath of Voldemort and Bellatrix.

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The secrets behind SpongeBob’s live action scenes

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water has already raced to become the second highest box office performer for films released in 2015, behind only Fifty Shades of Grey (!!!). That stunning result speaks volumes about SpongeBob’s existing fan base, but also new converts who gravitated to the hybrid 2D/CGI film. Helping to realize director Paul Tibbitt’s vision for the film was Iloura, who combined 3D animated characters with live action backgrounds. We delve into the making of the CG characters and live action sequences with Iloura visual effects supervisor Glenn Melenhorst, with a special look behind the scenes of the Patrick Star ice-cream sequence.

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The practical and digital tech behind Chappie

When director Neill Blomkamp seemingly burst onto the scene in 2009 with District 9, he had already demonstrated his deftness at making raw sci-fi with several short films. Tetra Vaal (2004), for instance, introduced a law enforcement robot amongst the slums of Johannesburg. With Chappie, Blomkamp returns to the style and feel of Tetra Vaal, while feeding into the mix the complications presented by artificial intelligence.

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Shoot and stitch: making Jupiter Ascending’s Chicago chase

Much of the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending takes place on alien worlds with vistas and creatures brought to life with complicated CG builds. But one scene, in which Jupiter (Mila Kunis) and Caine (Channing Tatum in antigravity boots) are pursued up and around the city of Chicago by alien ‘shadow’ spacecraft, required a more practical approach to shooting. Not only did the Wachowskis want to film the real actors and stunt doubles as much as possible, they also wanted to acquire real – and flexible – background plates.

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Rodeo helps Birdman soar with invisible fx

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Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) playing a Hollywood actor past his prime – once famous for the superhero Birdman but now trying to kickstart his career as a Broadway producer and thespian. The film is presented in one seemingly long continuous take, thanks to the efforts of Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki, who also helps illuminate Riggan’s complex relationship with his alter ego during several hallucinatory events. Whilst certainly not a large scale visual effects film, Birdman features numerous seamless invisible shots, including the long takes and the odd events that happen around Riggan. Helping to bring those to the screen was Montreal studio Rodeo FX headed by President Sebastien Moreau. We find out how some of the key shots were achieved from visual effects supervisor Ara Khanikian.

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Journey to The Hundred-Foot Journey

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You might not consider Lasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey a visual effects film, and in a sense that is true, but some innovative effects techniques ranging from Klaus Cam helicopter plates to carefully selected shooting locations and reflective table-tops helped tell the story of two restauranteur families. We talk to visual effects supervisor Brendan Taylor about the film.

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How previs helped make The Maze Runner

Wes Ball’s The Maze Runner features complex maze environments and even more complex creatures – all requiring meticulous planning to bring to the screen. Previs and postvis would help the filmmakers prepare for the live action shoot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and then aid Method Studios and other VFX shops in creating intricate visual effects shots involving the moving maze and the mechanical Grievers. We talk to John Griffith, who was previs director at 20th Century Fox on the show, and Jourdan Biziou, The Third Floor’s previs supervisor, about the film.

Griffith worked early on with Ball and his visual effects team on exploring ideas for the Glade and the Grievers, using a game engine approach. “It was the perfect film to put Crytek’s Cinebox software through its paces,” says Griffith. “I had been developing it for almost four years prior, having developed it on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. By then the pipeline had become a very smooth process. It has sped up the process of creating previs and added a whole other level of quality and realism to the work we produce.”

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Digital Domain’s live action date with Destiny

The launch of Activision and Bungie’s incredible new game Destiny was accompanied by a live action trailer dubbed ‘Become Legend’, a spot directed by Joseph Kosinski for agency 72andSunny. The commercial made heavy use of real locations, practical costumes and effects from Legacy Effects and VFX by Digital Domain to show Fireteam taking on alien invaders at various game locations around the solar system. The game itself has stunning imagery, rarely seen before at this level in a game. Destiny takes full advantage of the new console hardware and so provided a high bar for the look of the live action commercial. We talk to DD visual effects supervisor Eric Barba about the work involved in bringing the look of the stunning world of Destiny to a live action TVC.

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THE MAZE RUNNER

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Wes Ball is incredibly knowledgeable for a ‘first-time’ feature director. Being a CG artist and animator himself, he knows what can be done and strives for the results he wants using real-world industry knowledge. The Maze Runner is a story brimming with visual opportunities for Ball to stretch the pixels.

Sue Rowe was brought onboard as VFX Supervisor for The Maze Runner at the very beginning of production, after leaving Cinesite about two years ago. Her history spans thorough some great work on The Golden Compass, John Carter, Troy and X-Men 3. Part of her job was to pull in some of the other key leads for the work at that stage being considered for Method as the sole vendor for The Maze Runner. There was another company that Method outsourced a number of cleanup shots but Method created the 530-odd shots that were in the movie.

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The VFX of Guardians of the Galaxy

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Strong characters, immersive environments and a ripping 80s soundtrack – that’s Marvel’s latest film Guardians of the Galaxy in a nutshell. With two main characters that would be realized entirely in CG, and with vast space and earth-like environments to create, the visual effects crew were once again crucial to completing the film. Overall visual effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti, associate visual effects supervisor Olivier Dumont and visual effects producer Susan Pickett guided the ship. They lead a vast army of VFX artists from 13 companies including MPC, Framestore, Luma Pictures, Method Studios, Imageworks and an in-house unit, plus previs/postvis teams from Proof and The Third Floor. fxguide takes a look at just some of the major sequences.

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Guardians of the Galaxy – Framestore

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“Much of the movie’s scene-stealing is left to Rocket, a CGI character impressively crafted by the Guardians’ crack VFX team and voiced with panache by Cooper.” – The Hollywood Reporter

Rocketing to a record-breaking opening weekend success and being labelled as one of the best Marvel films yet, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy wrenches the comic book world into deep space with the universe’s most unlikely bunch of heroes.

Framestore created one of those heroes in the form of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and animated both him and his arboreal companion Groot (Vin Diesel) in the middle act of the movie that spans more than 40 minutes and 633 final shots. We also created the cavernous expanse of Knowhere – a giant mined out skull that’s home to a whole city – the most complicated environment we’ve ever built.

Our work was overseen by VFX Supervisors Jonathan Fawkner and Kyle McCulloch, with the latter on set at Shepperton and Longcross studios in the UK.

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Legend or truth: the VFX of Hercules

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Brett Ratner’s Hercules tells the myth – and the truths – behind the demigod son of Zeus. Visual effects supervisor John Bruno had to walk the line between the man and the myth in both helping to craft the film’s gritty battle action and bringing to life the Hercules’ legendary Twelve Labors in which he encounters a series of fantastical beasts. Despite these daunting effects tasks, Bruno still saw a need to de-emphasize the effects and maintain realism. “The most fantastical effects were Hercules’ Labors,” says Bruno, “but we still wanted to base those on reality. Although the creatures became quite large we still wanted to set them up in an environment that was quite real.”

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Back to the Future

"Back to the Future," Einstein Jump

This is the first of several follow-up posts to our "Back To The Future" podcast on The VFX Show.  Here's an objective breakdown of "Back to the Future"'s first big effects sequence, the first time slice of the movie that sends Einstein the dog forwards in time.

  Real photographic background plate of Delorean, with glows and time slice animation created by the animation department at Industrial Light & Magic. The fire and sparks (and their reflections) were created on the set with special effects rigs attached to the Delorean. A large strobe light on location provided bright interactive light. Full frame flashing was also achieved in the optical composite. Hey, look in the upper left corner of the screen. Say hi to the crew! Panning left with Delorean. The car is actually on the set, with animation and effects added optically. The pan reveals bluescreen-photographed Marty and Doc. The actors were tracked and matted into the shot. Pan abruptly stops, explosions and flares optically composited to represent time slice effect. First visible frame of explosion element. The main explosion element has a faked reflection in the wet ground, achieved in the optical composite. Explosion element runs backwards, giving the impression of an implosion. On-location, live-action ignition of fire trails appear, and are skip printed to appear to ignite much faster than reality would allow, approximating the feeling of 88mph. Marty's foreground foot is rotoscoped to allow the fire trail to appear behind his leg. The last frame of the shot. In-camera effect, featuring on-set fire trails, using stunt performers. This shot was skip printed in post production to give the ignition the feeling of greater velocity, giving the impression of the Delorean continuing its 88mph journey in a parallel dimension of time. As a result, the fire's motion is somewhat strobey. Notice the relative exposure difference between this shot and the shots preceeding and following it. In this shot, the cinematographer exposed the film to feature the fire (or was underexposed in the colortiming or visual effects process), which reveals the internal structure of the fire. In the shots before and after, the actors and environment were the target exposure values; consequently, in those shots, the fire is blown out and overexposed, leaving only hot white fire shapes. The first frame of the iconic Einstein time slice effect, featuring actors Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox. The actors were shot against a bluescreen, standing on a mirror. The mirror gave the effects artists pristine reflections of the actors; the reflections were matted to separate them from the actors, and treated in the composite to appear as wet, pavement reflections by adding displacement and tweaking the brightness. Michael J. Fox's screen right foot was placed behind fire licks via frame-by-frame rotoscoping. Areas of fire were articulated to bury Fox's foot within the fire. Like the previous two shots, the background plate was skip printed to give the fire trails more energy and speed. "What did I tell you?!?" "Eighty eight miles per hour!!" This shot is entirely in-camera. The fire trails are a practical effect, just like all of the previous shots. In the sequence, the trails have been fully formed, and are no longer being generated; as a result, there was no need to skip print the trails for this shot.

In a future post, I hope to dissect the shots more thoroughly from a subjective point of view, and expand upon ideas Mark, Mike and I discussed on the podcast.