Dig­ging Into World Build­ing

Animation Magazine - - Visual Effects -

Nat­u­ral­is­tic and con­vinc­ing en­vi­ron­ments form the can­vass for the sub­jec­tive sto­ry­telling of

By Tom McLean.

Dystopian sci-fi al­ways brings out the spec­tac­u­lar in movies, but a more sub­tle and sub­jec­tive ap­proach was re­quired of the visual ef­fects for The Hunger Games: Mock­ing­jay — Part 1.

The first half of the adap­ta­tion of the cli­mac­tic tome in Suzanne Collins’ best-sell­ing youn­gadult novel epic takes the tale of Kat­niss Everdeen, played again by Os­car-win­ner Jen­nifer Lawrence, in a new di­rec­tion. Hav­ing sur­vived the Quar­ter Quell and es­cap­ing the clutches of the Capi­tol in The Hunger Games: Catch­ing Fire, Kat­niss awakes in the long-thought-de­stroyed Dis­trict 13 to face the news that her home in Dis­trict 12 has been de­stroyed and that she is ex­pected to play a lead­ing role in the com­ing revo­lu­tion.

Visual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Charles Gib­son, whose pre­vi­ous work in­cludes the Pi­rates of the Caribbean se­ries, says the 950 ef­fects shots in Mock­ing­jay — Part 1 re­quired a dif­fer­ent ap­proach given the way di­rec­tor Fran­cis Lawrence wanted to tell the story.

“The films are played through the point of view of our main character, Kat­niss, and Fran­cis wants a very real, ac­ces­si­ble, nat­u­ral­is­tic ap­proach to ev­ery­thing,” says Gib­son. “So for us in visual ef­fects, it was find­ing a way to in­tro­duce more of a sci­ence-fic­tion el­e­ment in a real con­text.”

Re­al­ism was im­por­tant, with the ac­tion in Mock­ing­jay — Part 1 veer­ing far from the fu­tur­is­tic fa­cade of the Capi­tol and the Hunger Games in the pre­vi­ous films. “The world of the games was al­ways sort of this thing off to the side, where the rules were not re­ally that clearly known and you could do any­thing you wanted,” he says. “Here, it is the real world, so all the ef­fects had to be ex­ten­sions of our real world and played as nat­u­ral­is­ti­cally as ev­ery­thing else.”

En­vi­ron­ment work formed the bulk of the ef­fects work for Mock­ing­jay — Part 1, which is a very dif­fer­ent type of film than next year’s con­clu­sion.

“The films are almost com­pletely dis­tinct,” says Gib­son. “The first film is more of a sci­ence-fic­tion film and more of a po­lit­i­cal film, and the sec­ond film is more of a war film. It has more ac­tion in it and more scope and more that plays out­side, above ground.”

Go­ing Un­der­ground

The ma­jor set piece for Mock­ing­jay — Part 1, is Dis­trict 13, which has taken its revo­lu­tion un­der­ground to es­cape de­struc­tion at the hands of the Capi­tol. Most of the vast com­plex is dig­i­tal, with only a hand­ful of small sets built for shoot­ing. “There is a cen­tral shaft called The Col­lec­tive, filed with peo­ple, and you get a sense at least of the height, of the scale of it,” says Gib­son. “Later on, as we see other as­pects, we re­al­ize there’s a kind of mil­i­tary com­po­nent as well. The hov­er­craft hang­ers and where they keep their weaponry — all that’s un­der­ground as well, and those are com­pletely dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ments.”

A good ex­am­ple of the chal­lenges such en­vi­ron­ments present is a scene in which Kat­niss trav­els via hov­er­craft to see for her­self the rem­nants of Dis­trict 12. “Fran­cis wanted to be with her all the time on board the hov­er­craft and as she walks out into the dis­trict after she lands,” says Gib­son. A hov­er­craft set was built and its flight

and land­ing sim­u­lated us­ing a mo­tion-con­trolled crane. The shot fol­lows Kat­niss as she walks from the en­vi­ron­ment inside the hov­er­craft and into the ex­te­rior en­vi­ron­ment of Dis­trict 12. “It’s one shot, and much of the movie is like that,” says Gib­son.

While the shots sound sim­ple, they’re any­thing but. “With the kinds of lenses and the at­mos­phere that Fran­cis wanted — the qual­ity of light — all of that re­quires a lot of tech­nol­ogy to repli­cate,” he says. But pulling it off “just makes it feel com­pletely real and nat­u­ral.”

As such, there were few op­por­tu­ni­ties for straight on an­i­ma­tion in Mock­ing­jay — Part 1, though next year’s con­clu­sion will make up for it. “The sec­ond film has creature work in it, and I can’t talk too much about it but, but if you’ve read the book, it’s pretty clear,” Gib­son says. “It’s a pretty ma­jor se­quence and it’s full-on 3D creature work and it’s pretty ex­cit­ing.”

The pro­duc­tion had to deal with the death of ac­tor Philip Seymour Hoff­man, who plays re­bel­lion leader Plutarch Heav­ens­bee. Gib­son says Hoff­man com­pleted prior to his death most of his work for the first film, re­quir­ing no ef­fects work to com­plete. “For the sec­ond film, they just were able to rewrite his ma­jor scenes and solve the rest of it ed­i­to­ri­ally,” he says.

The bulk of the work was han­dled by Dou­ble Neg­a­tive in London and MPC in Van­cou­ver. Su-

“With the kinds of lenses and the at­mos­phere that (di­rec­tor) Fran­cis (Lawrence) wanted — the qual­ity of light — all of that

re­quires a lot of tech­nol­ogy to repli­cate.”

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