3D World

Hid­ing THE seams

Ian Failes takes a look at a new wave of in­cred­i­ble in­vis­i­ble ef­fects be­ing used across film and tele­vi­sion

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Ian Failes takes an in-depth look at more in­cred­i­ble in­vis­i­ble VFX in recent films and tele­vi­sion shows, in­clud­ing Big Lit­tle Lies and Adrift

“We used Only 300 real PEO­PLE, SEATED in THE first ROW. THE rest Of THE CROWD Be­hind Them Were CG” Pavel Bezborodov, vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor, CGF

Afew is­sues ago, 3D World ex­am­ined sev­eral recent projects where in­vis­i­ble vis­ual ef­fects were re­lied on in unique ways. Far from be­ing ‘sim­ple’ ef­fects, in­vis­i­ble VFX in­volve sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion to de­tail in or­der to hide the fact that they are ef­fects at all, which is cer­tainly the case in the new projects be­ing show­cased here.

They in­clude water sim­u­la­tion work on the lost-at-sea adventure Adrift, seam­less green-screen com­posit­ing in Big Lit­tle Lies, fab­ri­cated bas­ket­ball sta­di­ums and crowds in Three Sec­onds, a du­pli­cated Burt Reynolds for The Last Movie Star and a raft of in­vis­i­ble ef­fects in Si­cario: Day of the Soldado.

Rock­ing The boat

Bal­tasar Kor­mákur’s Adrift, a true story of two lovers who suf­fer a ma­jor catas­tro­phe on board a yacht in the open sea, re­quired both stormy ocean shots and other out-at­sea com­pos­ites. Pro­duc­tion VFX su­per­vi­sor Dadi Ei­nars­son tapped Milk VFX as one of the stu­dios to han­dle vis­ual ef­fects for the film. Some of Milk’s shots are likely to go by com­pletely un­no­ticed by the au­di­ence, while oth­ers that re­late to the larger storm sequences and its af­ter­math were highly com­pli­cated, lengthy-frame chal­lenges for the stu­dio.

“The most com­plex VFX sequences both tech­ni­cally and cre­atively were the storm shots,” out­lines Milk vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Sara Ben­nett, “which in­cluded a ter­ri­fy­ing be­spoke 100foot wave that hits the yacht and ‘pitch­poles’ or cap­sizes the boat, end­ing with the char­ac­ter Richard un­der­wa­ter dis­ap­pear­ing into the depths of the ocean. Lead­ing up to this com­plex ‘fi­nale’ shot, we cre­ated 40 CG storm shots, which were a mix of live-ac­tion and full CG as they pass through the de­vel­op­ing cy­clone.

“We ap­proached the pitch­pole se­quence in stages, start­ing with the open sea. We used a pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated ocean lay­out as a base, cre­ated by our an­i­ma­tion team. This in­cluded 21 in­di­vid­ual hero waves that were placed by hand and then sim­u­lated to sync with the key mo­ments in the shot to sell the in­tense drama of this piv­otal mo­ment in the film.”

Milk an­i­mated the main wave by hand, but also used Side Ef­fects Soft­ware’s Hou­dini for ocean shots. The pitch­pole se­quence in­volved piec­ing to­gether sev­eral dif­fer­ent live-ac­tion el­e­ments and adding in CG ones. In recent times, too, the stu­dio has moved to ren­der­ing in the cloud, via both Ama­zon and Google so­lu­tions. “The project would not have been pos­si­ble to ren­der with­out the cloud – 140 shots of which 70 were stormy ocean,” says Ben­nett. “Dur­ing pro­cess­ing we peaked at around 130,000 cores so we needed to be able to scale up as re­quired.”

big EF­FECTS lies

If you watched the first sea­son of Big Lit­tle Lies, the HBO tele­vi­sion se­ries about three trou­bled moth­ers in Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia, you might not have no­ticed any kind of vis­ual ef­fects at all. Which is ex­actly what VFX su­per­vi­sor Marc Côté from Fake Dig­i­tal En­ter­tain­ment hopes. He over­saw a mul­ti­tude of seam­less work on the show, much of which was to flesh out lo­ca­tions that needed to ap­pear as if they were along the coast. Sev­eral dra­matic mo­ments, in­clud­ing a car crash and a dream-se­quence cliff fall, also fell within the in­vis­i­ble ef­fects ap­proach.

Côté sug­gests there were two kinds of VFX work done for the show. The first he calls ‘ad­vanced cut­ting’, “where you’re cre­at­ing el­e­ments that give you the right emo­tion, the right tim­ing. These are things like split-screens, time warp­ing and clean-up. More sto­ry­based ef­fects work.”

Côté adds, “The sec­ond was more clas­sic vis­ual ef­fects with green­screen to bring the ac­tors into dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions and to en­hance the lo­ca­tions they shot at. One was the lo­ca­tion of the Blue Blues, the place where all the char­ac­ters go and talk to­gether, which was a ma­rina cafe but it was ac­tu­ally shot on green­screen. And there’s also the house that’s right on the ocean, but it was not shot there.

“There’s even an­other kind of ed­i­to­rial ef­fects type of shot where, be­cause of the pro­duc­tion sched­ule, the ac­tors can’t all be there at the same time or place, so we will shoot them separately and just put them to­gether in the same shots. It solved sched­ule is­sues and prob­lems where we could end up pay­ing a lot of money to make it hap­pen.”

CRAFTING CROWDS

Sport­ing films now heav­ily rely on in­vis­i­ble ef­fects to tell their sto­ries. That’s be­cause it’s ex­pen­sive – and lo­gis­ti­cally dif­fi­cult – to fill sta­di­ums with cheer­ing spec­ta­tors.

Achiev­ing this via dig­i­tal al­lows film­mak­ers to not only widen the scope of the story, but also con­trol what is hap­pen­ing in the crowd it­self. Vis­ual ef­fects stu­dio CGF car­ried out vir­tual sta­dium and crowd aug­men­ta­tion for the film Three Sec­onds (also called Go­ing Ver­ti­cal), about the stun­ning USA ver­sus USSR bas­ket­ball match-up at the 1972 Mu­nich Olympics.

The Olympic sta­dium and oth­ers seen in the film were re-cre­ated by CGF in CG, down to the finest de­tails. “We were look­ing for real pro­to­types for each of these gym halls,” says CGF vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Pavel Bezborodov. “All of the gyms have a vast number of small dif­fer­ent parts: wiring, switches, and in­te­rior fin­ish­ing. In or­der to make ev­ery­thing trueto-fact and easy for the artists to work on tex­tures, there were thou­sands of el­e­ments like locks, la­bels, switches, door han­dles, wooden pan­els and other nu­mer­ous de­tails.”

The game-play scenes in the film were gen­er­ally filmed

in a pavil­ion sur­rounded by blue­screen. CGF then in­serted its CG sta­dium pieces where nec­es­sary. For crowds, a 3D ap­proach was con­sid­ered but it was re­alised early that this would re­quire the cre­ation of more than 20,000 vir­tual peo­ple. In­stead, a ‘sprite’ so­lu­tion was used where crowd mem­bers were shot separately with a six-cam­era setup that then al­lowed them to be placed on ‘cards’ and po­si­tioned ran­domly in the sta­di­ums.

“We used only 300 real peo­ple,” notes Bezborodov. “They were the au­di­ence who were seated in the first row, and the rest of the crowd that stand be­hind them were CG crowd. We changed their cloth­ing and we made them act with dif­fer­ent be­hav­iours.”

Meet­ing your younger Self

Some­times, in­vis­i­ble ef­fects are aimed at just be­ing a whole lot of fun, such as in the film The Last Movie Star. Here, Burt Reynolds plays an age­ing movie star in the throws of re­al­is­ing that he is no longer the at­trac­tion he once was. The film called for scenes of Reynolds ap­pear­ing in some of his pre­vi­ous key movies, in­clud­ing Smokey and the Ban­dit and De­liv­er­ance. The in­vis­i­ble ef­fects work was han­dled by Trick Dig­i­tal, which typ­i­cally took green-screen footage of the ac­tor and com­pos­ited it into the orig­i­nal films.

“The big­gest chal­lenge,” out­lines Trick vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Adam Clark, “was that these orig­i­nal films were not shot with the in­ten­tion of hav­ing the ac­tors re­moved from them, and the process to cleanly re­move Sally Field and Jon Voight from these shots re­quired the re­moval and re­place­ment of more in the frame than you might ex­pect.”

The stu­dio utilised Black­magic De­sign’s Fu­sion Stu­dio for the com­posit­ing – a lot of this was sim­ply grunt work to make the shots feel seam­less. “From a tech­ni­cal stand­point, the big­gest im­pact was on track­ing,” says Clark. “We had sep­a­rate node branches that blurred, de-grained and re-coloured the im­age upon which we would then track and then use that track­ing data else­where. We opted to re­tain the orig­i­nal grain and match, ver­sus re­mov­ing the grain across the shot and then re-grain­ing the en­tirety.”

en­hanc­ing a bor­der STORY

Si­cario: Day of the Soldado is the se­quel to the 2015 film, Si­cario, and tra­verses lo­ca­tions on the bor­der be­tween the United States and Mex­ico. The in­vis­i­ble ef­fects work, crafted by Rodeo FX, ranged from adding in mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in var­i­ous scenes to al­ter­ing land­scapes and even en­hanc­ing

make-up wounds. “From day one,” says Rodeo vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Alexan­dre Lafor­tune, “we knew our man­date was to pro­duce in­vis­i­ble ef­fects that would en­hance the story told in Day of the Soldado. To keep our work as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble, we had to do a lot of re­search, es­pe­cially for muz­zle flashes and guns. The di­rec­tor had some­thing spe­cific in mind for these shots and we did ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary to match his vi­sion.”

Rodeo’s list of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles crafted for the film was ex­ten­sive, and in­cluded a drone Preda­tor, Black Hawk and Sea­hawk he­li­copters, Humvees, Ospreys, as well as Mex­i­can po­lice ve­hi­cles and other cars. But these were all made sim­ply as dress­ing for air­port or army base shots. That kind of ‘in the back­ground’ work is the ul­ti­mate in in­vis­i­ble ef­fects.

An­other kind of in­vis­i­ble ef­fects ‘sta­ple’ in the film are shots that go by with­out many re­al­is­ing that any kind of in­ter­ven­tion was in­volved at all. One of these is a car pile-up that in­volves a small ex­plo­sion. Rodeo as­sem­bled three sep­a­rate plates into one for the fi­nal scene. “We ex­tracted the char­ac­ters and the ac­tion, fol­low­ing the tim­ing we were given,” ex­plains Lafor­tune. “To en­sure the con­ti­nu­ity, we added smoke and shad­ows on the walls of the build­ings with com­posit­ing. We also did matte paint­ing to show the al­ter­ation of the ground, and broke the rear win­dow of the car. This is a clever mix of as­sem­bling de­tails!”

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 ??  ?? The plate filmed for a mil­i­tary air­port scene in Si­cario: Day of the Soldado. Rodeo FX added CG air­craft to the shot
The plate filmed for a mil­i­tary air­port scene in Si­cario: Day of the Soldado. Rodeo FX added CG air­craft to the shot
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 ??  ?? Top: a shot from adrift, fea­tur­ing vis­ual ef­fects by Milk VFX, which han­dled sev­eral in­vis­i­ble at-sea shots and the ma­jor ‘pitch­pole’ scene
Top: a shot from adrift, fea­tur­ing vis­ual ef­fects by Milk VFX, which han­dled sev­eral in­vis­i­ble at-sea shots and the ma­jor ‘pitch­pole’ scene
 ??  ?? Mid­dle: The large wave that cap­sizes the yacht in adrift was hand-an­i­mated by Milk VFX artists
Mid­dle: The large wave that cap­sizes the yacht in adrift was hand-an­i­mated by Milk VFX artists
 ??  ?? bot­tom: Milk also de­liv­ered sev­eral weather and sea en­hance­ment shots
bot­tom: Milk also de­liv­ered sev­eral weather and sea en­hance­ment shots
 ??  ?? Fake Dig­i­tal en­ter­tain­ment com­pos­ited ni­cole kid­man into a ma­rina cafe set­ting, built up from sev­eral lay­ers
Fake Dig­i­tal en­ter­tain­ment com­pos­ited ni­cole kid­man into a ma­rina cafe set­ting, built up from sev­eral lay­ers
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 ??  ?? be­low: a dream se­quence in­volv­ing Reese with­er­spoon’s char­ac­ter saw her fall­ing off a cliff along­side sev­eral pup­pets
be­low: a dream se­quence in­volv­ing Reese with­er­spoon’s char­ac­ter saw her fall­ing off a cliff along­side sev­eral pup­pets
 ??  ?? Top right: a split-screen frame show­ing the green­screen plate and fi­nal com­pos­ited shot for Three Sec­onds, with VFX by CGF
Top right: a split-screen frame show­ing the green­screen plate and fi­nal com­pos­ited shot for Three Sec­onds, with VFX by CGF
 ??  ?? above: The CG sta­dium build by CGF
above: The CG sta­dium build by CGF
 ??  ?? Right: Fi­nal ren­dered sta­dium and shot op­po­site page: a street scene in Si­cario: Day of the Soldado in­cluded some mem­bers of the crew and also needed sub­tle en­hance­ments. The fi­nal com­pos­ited shot fea­tured added smoke and ve­hi­cle re­moval work
Right: Fi­nal ren­dered sta­dium and shot op­po­site page: a street scene in Si­cario: Day of the Soldado in­cluded some mem­bers of the crew and also needed sub­tle en­hance­ments. The fi­nal com­pos­ited shot fea­tured added smoke and ve­hi­cle re­moval work
 ??  ?? Top left: Much of the bas­ket­ball ac­tion for Three Sec­onds was filmed against green­screen
Top left: Much of the bas­ket­ball ac­tion for Three Sec­onds was filmed against green­screen
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