Quickshots: The small VFX detail in ‘Game of Thrones’ this season that says so much about the show

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Episode 4 (‘The Spoils of War’) of season 7 of Game of Thrones features one of the most exciting battles of the entire series so far. Known as the ‘Loot Train Attack’, the battle sees Jaime Lannister’s ground forces receiving the brunt of a fiery attack from Daenerys Targaryen, who is riding her dragon Drogon.

The sequence includes an impressive array of practical fire stunts, digital armies and set extensions, and of course a CG dragon. But it was one small touch added by the visual effects team that caught the attention of many viewers. This is the brief moment that Drogon’s wing, as the dragon makes a run above a stream towards the battle, neatly clips a tree on the river bank.

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It’s a small thing, but a hallmark of the attention to detail that is part of the visual effects in Game of Thrones, led by visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer and visual effects producer Steve Kullback. Here, Bauer explains to vfxblog how fellow visual effects supervisor Eric Carney, along with Iloura and Image Engine, made that very cool shot possible.

Joe Bauer: Well, Eric Carney was our supervisor on the ground in Spain where that was shot, because we were prepping all the big sequences to come and future episodes. He was our man executing all of our planning on the set.

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Shooting with a camera drone.

That coverage was done with a drone, and I know they had some technical issues when they got out there. We had quite a few tries to get the nice steady plates, and ultimately we did. And then really it was a matter of putting the dragon model into the scene. First of all, it involved 3D tracking the footage, and then putting the dragon model in and realising that the wings would bisect a tree. So the shot was really just out of necessity.

We had a LIDAR scan of the area, which is a digital model of the whole environment in the planning stage, but then the blocking sort of evolved in the shooting when they got there. The dragon ended up further up the stream that was feeding the little lake. Ultimately, we just had to deal with that tree.

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The continued approach as Daenerys nears the battle.

Iloura made a digital branch and Image Engine was responsible for the dragon. It goes by in very few frames, but it’s interesting that people noticed that. We thought we were being quite clever disturbing the water underneath the dragon. I guess either people accepted it, but that was a complete contrivance, too, because you’d have to break the sound barrier, I think, before the water would behave that way.

Anyway, we’re a bunch of geeks and fans too, and anything cool that we can imagine or think of cramming into any sequence, we tend to go for it.

Below, watch the featurette released by HBO that focuses on the Loot Train Attack.

Quickshots: It’s 40 years since ‘Close Encounters’, but you can see it on the big screen again

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Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the other big sci-film of 1977. In a year without Star Wars, the film’s effects practitioners would likely have won the visual effects Oscar (they were, of course, nominated).

That’s because Close Encounters managed to use miniatures, motion control, optical compositing and even cloud tanks to tell a sci-fi story in an incredibly grounded way, paving the future for the kinds of effects that became so integral in Hollywood storytelling.

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Cloud tank plates from Close Encounters – the cloud tank was literally a glass tank that, when liquid or ink was properly injected, would provide suitable swirling cloud-like imagery that would be composited into the final scenes.

If you haven’t seen Close Encounters at the cinema, Sony Pictures is releasing a 4K re-mastered version on September 1st to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary.

I’ve recently been able to cover the old-school effects in the film, twice. For Masters of FX, I talked to special photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull. And for a VFX Vault article in VFX Voice magazine from earlier this year, Scott Squires dived into his cloud tank innovations and other work on the film (his story about being given “$20 in petty cash and asked to experiment with liquids in a 20 gallon aquarium” is pretty cool).

It’s so great to see these classic effects films have a new life, especially on the big screen where they were designed to be seen.

Quickshots: Attack of the Megaptor

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ILM and VFX partner Hybride collaborated to produce a high-energy bus chase scene in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Here, Valerian and Laureline race to board a bus that is then attacked by a menacing Megaptor creature. ILM visual effects supervisor Philippe Rebours runs down the work involved.

On-set shoot: When they’re outside the bus we shot that on the set where it was a school bus that has been set-dressed and you see them jumping into it. Then we swap to three shots where it’s fully CG where he transforms into this armour bus, and then you see them driving away. At that point, we’re inside the bus. For that, we shot it completely blue screen.

The interesting aspect is, because a school bus is pretty small, they built another bus that was slightly bigger, but using the same seats and the same stage and they recreated the front with the wheel and all this kind of stuff, except that there was a little bit more space so the mercenaries who were helping Valerian and Laureline, they could stand up and shoot.

 

So, we are on this blue screen and with this open-cut bus. The actors would shoot pretending that the creature is arriving and little by little we would remove some elements as if the creature is punching through the roof. So, we’d remove a portion of the roof that we replace with CG, and then we remove some of the seats because the creature was going to throw them away. By the end of the sequence, the full interior is CG interior.

Crafting the creature: From the artwork we saw that there was a sort of shell on it that looked very much like a crab, but he had other areas that move freely and he has these spikes as well. What we did is, for on the look itself we took photos of elements and we say, ‘Okay, the shell looks very much like crab. Use the foot of the crab as reference,’ but we had turtles for the skin in between.

 

Animating a Megaptor: We had a professor, Dr. Stuart Sumida, who is a biology professor at the California State University, who came and he gave a talk on how animals move and why, based on their skeletons. We looked at the Megaptor skeleton physiology and then the way he has to – his front legs are really strong, really heavy, and the back legs are a bit smaller, let’s say. That told us that we wanted to go towards hyena moves because they generate power from their front limbs, but the posture was very much like a bull dog, so it’s a mix of those two for the movement.

Quickshots: ‘Valerian’s’ multi-world oner

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Weta Digital’s Valerian visual effects supervisor Martin Hill discusses that insane ‘oner’ of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) dashing through multiple worlds.

Martin Hill: What’s happening in that sequence is, Valerian’s trying to get from one place to another as quickly as possible – that being a straight line. He’s just travelling in a straight line as fast as he humanly can with his exoskeleton power suit, or armour.

Essentially, anything that we could get in camera we would. There was a particular sense of movement that Luc wanted through the shots where the gravity was a bit different, he had his power suit on and so he wanted a particular gait we knew we couldn’t really get.

We did shoot Dane bounding against a blue screen for that shot. We shot him running towards the wall, and then we decided, on the day, at what point we would take over and go digital for performance reasons only. Then, halfway through the sequence, there’s a big orbit around his head where it’s back on Dane and then we’re just filling in the rest of the uniform and his body.

One of the big challenges was, we needed to create all these different worlds and they all needed to be distinct and they all needed to be their own things. What was very important was making sure that they all looked like they were still part of the same cinematic universe. That really boiled down to working with the art department, working with the set designers, costume designers and Luc and making sure that we didn’t have the same themes running through all the environments. The same is true for the characters. A lot of it comes down to colour pallet and composition.

Quickshots: How one of the coolest shots in ‘Baby Driver’ was pulled off

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Last night in Sydney I got to watch Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver for a second time, and see a post-film Q&A hosted by director George Miller. The Q&A was fantastic, diving into Wright’s directing choices, musical influences and juicy details about how some of the big driving stunts and shots in the film were captured.

Miller is certainly one of Wright’s idols, but the Mad Max helmer was also clearly taken by Wright’s film. In fact, Miller’s very first question was a very specific one about how a shot towards the end of the film of Baby (Ansel Elgort) and (Debora) Lily James coming to a screeching halt in a car park, in a car they have just stolen, was done. It’s a ‘oner’ in which the car is being driven super-fast, comes to a screeching halt, and the camera pushes in on the pair as Debora then says, in realisation, “Not a chauffeur…”

Continue reading Quickshots: How one of the coolest shots in ‘Baby Driver’ was pulled off

Quickshots: How that incredible animated mural in ‘Wonder Woman’ was made

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Perhaps taking inspiration from The Tale of the Three Brothers animation in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Wonder Woman has its own animated sequence. This is seen early in the film when the history of the Amazon women warriors, and their relationship to Zeus, the leader of the gods and Ares, the god of war, is told by Queen Hippolyta to a young Diana.

Looking for a way to depict the history in a Renaissance style, director Patty Jenkins came across a stereoscopic 3D reconstruction of a famous 1878 painting by Jan Matejko called ‘Battle of Grunwald’ (see below). That reconstruction was carried out by Polish studio Platige Image and allowed viewers to see – in 3D – certain aspects of the painting’s characters and action. The director, related overall visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer to vfxblog for this first in a new series called ‘Quickshots’, thought something similar could be done in Wonder Woman. Continue reading Quickshots: How that incredible animated mural in ‘Wonder Woman’ was made