The social (VFX) lives of Hollywood

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

One of the toughest things about covering visual effects can be getting great VFX imagery to display with a story. There’s often a lengthy approvals process, and sometimes film and TV distributors just want to keep certain things under wraps. That can make it hard to produce interesting stories; in visual effects, behind the scenes images and videos tell so much of the process.

But lately, I’ve started noticing that many actors, directors and filmmakers have been posting a bunch of fun on-set and often VFX-related pics and clips to their social media accounts. We’re talking actors on greenscreens, in mocap suits, being scanned, or otherwise interacting with the teams behind the visual effects shots they’ve been working on.

What I love about these postings, too, is occasionally they’ll hint at the VFX work to come, often months down the track. It’s fun to compare the original posting with what made it into the movie. So, come with me as I explore some behind the scenes frivolity on several upcoming and recently released films and shows.

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Continue reading The social (VFX) lives of Hollywood

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

Getting back on the Trojan Horse

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The first time I went to Trojan Horse was a Unicorn, we built sandcastles. The second time, there was bubble soccer. Who knows what’s in store for my third time?

I’ll find out on 18 September, when the fifth edition of this highly unique event – known as THU – gets underway in the resort town of Troia, Portugal.

There’s only one big problem with THU. Continue reading Getting back on the Trojan Horse

Breaking down Princess Ahmanet’s 5 stages in ‘The Mummy’

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One of the key visual effects components of Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy was the Mummy herself – Princess Ahmanet – seen in 5 various stages as she re-generates from her entombed and emaciated state into a more human-esque appearance.

Some shots of the creature were fully digital creations completed by ILM, others were meticulous CG augmentations of actress Sofia Boutella done by MPC, and some were Boutella in make-up and prosthetics.

In the first of two stories about the creature work, overall visual effects supervisor Erik Nash tells vfxblog about the five stages. In a follow-up piece, we talk to Nash’s fellow MPC visual effects supervisor Greg Butler to dive in on the specifics of augmenting Boutella.

Continue reading Breaking down Princess Ahmanet’s 5 stages in ‘The Mummy’

Anatomy of a scene: fleeing the undead in ‘The Mummy’

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In one incredible action scene in Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy, Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis’ characters take control of an ambulance while being pursued by several undead and Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella).

The high-octane chase sees Nick Morton (Cruise) and Jenny Halsey (Wallis) out-run their attackers, but then dramatically crash the ambulance, before being confronted by Ahmanet. Staging the sequence involved a mix of practical stunts, the last-minute addition of motion capture, computer generated undead, and a bunch of other effects work, as vfxblog finds out from production and MPC visual effects supervisor Erik Nash, and fellow MPC visual effects supervisor Greg Butler. Continue reading Anatomy of a scene: fleeing the undead in ‘The Mummy’

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

Why I think you should attend the VIEW Conference

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This is Russell Earl discussing Captain America: Civil War at VIEW in 2016.

Take it from me, if you want to get a handle on some of the best visual effects, animation, games and VR content being produced right now, come to Turin, Italy in October for the VIEW Conference.

Some big, big projects will be the subject of discussion, including War for the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Rogue One, The Little Prince, Cars 3, LEGO Batman, The Emoji and Smurfs: The Lost Village. Continue reading Why I think you should attend the VIEW Conference

Up close with the practical creatures of ‘Alien: Covenant’

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Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant made heavy use of practical makeup effects, prosthetics and creatures during the filming process. Two creature shops, Creatures Inc. Ltd and Odd Studio combined to make those effects possible, led by creature design supervisor Conor O’Sullivan and creature effects supervisor Adam Johansen.

In this visual behind the scenes look at the practical effects work in the film, Johansen, one of the founders of Odd Studio, breaks down some of the major creature effects, including for the Neomorphs, the Xenormorph, the face huggers and body bursters, various dummies, and the alien lifeforms in David’s lab. Continue reading Up close with the practical creatures of ‘Alien: Covenant’

A home-grown VFX event

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Lately I’ve been super lucky to visit some visual effects and animation events around the world. But one of the first events I ever went to – before I even worked in VFX – was the Australian Effects and Animation Festival.

It’s still going, and it’s run by Digital Media World magazine, although now it has the slightly different name of the Animation Effects Awards Festival (AEAF). The event is over two days on 15 and 16 August at the Chauvel Cinema in Sydney – a very cool place to hold an event like this, I might add.

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The speakers already announced are pretty incredible, and the two days conclude with an awards ceremony. So if you’re in Sydney on those days, I’d highly recommend attending.

Just check out some of these speakers:

  • Sheldon Stopsack, Visual Effects Supervisor at MPC on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  • Rob Coleman, Head of Animation at Animal Logic
  • Jeff Capogreco, Visual Effects Supervisor at ILM
  • Lindsay Adams, Visual Effects Supervisor at Iloura
  • Ian Kirby and Luke Bicevskis from The Sequence Group
  • A representative from Weta Digital will also be one of the speakers

There’s more information at the AEAF website: http://aeaf.tv. I’ll be there too, so please come say hi. 

Luma Pictures had to look at some pretty horrible ear canal reference for their ‘Alien: Covenant’ effects

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For Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott’s newest deep dive into his Alien universe, Luma Pictures was called upon to create visual effects for several sequences. The studio researched and realized the tiny spores that inhabit some of the characters, including via ear canals – just getting that right required some pretty grotesque reference. Luma also delivered some other-wordly lamps inside the lab of the synthetic David. They rounded out the work with set extensions and graphics. And they killed James Franco.

Luma visual effects supervisor Brendan Seals, based in the studio’s Melbourne office, runs down the work for vfxblog in this interview (he collaborated with LA-based Luma associate visual effects supervisor Jared Simeth).  I also had the pleasure of recently sitting down with Seals, animation supervisor Raphael Pimentel and CG supervisor Andrew Zink at a screening of the film and a Q&A in Melbourne recently.

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The Alien: Covenant Luma Q&A. From left: Andrew Zink, Brendan Seals, Raphael Pimentel and the author. Photo by Hugo Sands.

Continue reading Luma Pictures had to look at some pretty horrible ear canal reference for their ‘Alien: Covenant’ effects

Let’s talk about those crazy ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ warp shots

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A stand-out moment in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 occurs when Yondu, Kraglin, Rocket and Baby Groot jump through several space portals causing their faces to warp and distend in almost grotesque ways.

Trixter pulled off the scenes by re-creating photoreal digital doubles of Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) while also deforming 3D models of Rocket and Groot, to hilarious effect. Trixter visual effects supervisor Alessandro Cioffi breaks down the work in this series of images.

Continue reading Let’s talk about those crazy ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ warp shots

Ice, cars, fire and a submarine: just another day on ‘The Fate of the Furious’

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When the first trailers for F. Gary Gray’s The Fate of the Furious surfaced, they showcased a stunt sequence involving a submarine and vehicles driving along a frozen lake that seemed outlandish even for what has become a franchise that seems to up the ante with every new film.

Mixing real photography, practical effects and complicated visual effects work, the submarine chase is an absolute thrill-ride. vfxblog heard from Digital Domain visual effects supervisor Jay Barton and CG supervisor Scott Edelstein on how it was achieved. Continue reading Ice, cars, fire and a submarine: just another day on ‘The Fate of the Furious’

The book I wish was around when I got into VFX

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‘Visual effects’ is so many things. It’s art and it’s science, and it covers an incredible range of disciplines, including illustration, photography, lighting, modeling, animation, rendering, compositing, coding…in fact, the list goes on and on.

I think it can be hard as a new filmmaker or film enthusiast to just get your head around VFX (frankly, as someone who came into visual effects journalism not as an artist originally, I am always playing catch-up on what others in the industry might consider basic concepts).

eranWhich is why I was excited to hear about the release of The Filmmaker’s Guide to Visual Effects, a Focal Press book by visual effects supervisor and instructor Eran Dinur. Dinur works at Brainstorm Digital on major projects like The Wolf of Wall Street, Boardwalk Empire and The Lost City of Z. He was also at ILM Singapore where he contributed to Iron Man, Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Eran knows his stuff, and he also teaches it. His courses at fxphd were some of the most well-loved (trust me, I was there and saw the incredible feedback). Now he’s distilled a lot of this VFX knowledge into a book designed to be a clear guide for filmmakers about where and how visual effects can fit into their productions.

To give you a taste of what’s in the book, Eran has kindly let me publish an excerpt from a chapter about shooting on set, and specifically shooting with green screens. The rest of the book includes discussion about all the important disciplines in VFX, and as I read each chapter I was silently wishing the book had been written when I got started!

So, check out the excerpt below for The Filmmaker’s Guide to Visual Effects (that link takes you to the book’s Amazon page). Continue reading The book I wish was around when I got into VFX

The household characters of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – a conversation with Framestore

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Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is a major, major hit. The film has won over audiences by staying true to the classic Disney tale but also bringing something new to the world.

Helping to make the ‘live action’ film possible was, of course, an incredible amount of visual effects work, including the household characters. These were CG creations brought to life by Framestore, overseen by visual effects supervisor Kyle McCulloch. I had the pleasure of exploring how the characters were made with Framestore’s animation supervisor Dale Newton and CG supervisor Neil Weatherley. This lengthy discussion is aimed at giving a glimpse into just how much work went into the characters. Continue reading The household characters of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – a conversation with Framestore

Director interview: Rupert Sanders on ‘Ghost in the Shell’

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For the premiere issue of the Visual Effects Society’s new print magazine, VFX Voice, I set out to cover the effects of Ghost in the Shell. I was lucky enough to speak to visual effects supervisors Guillaume Rocheron and John Dykstra, and a whole bunch of artists from Weta Workshop. I was also able to interview director Rupert Sanders about his approach to the practical and digital effects in the film.

Now that VFX Voice is out – see the cover article here – I thought I’d feature the full-length interview with Sanders here on vfxblog, which covers a lot of the director’s thoughts that couldn’t make it into the magazine for space considerations. Hope you enjoy. Continue reading Director interview: Rupert Sanders on ‘Ghost in the Shell’

FMX 2017’s programme – a wealth of riches

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It’s hard to write a post that will do the programme for FMX 2017 justice. There are just so many great speakers and sessions planned. If you’re able to head to Stuttgart on May 2-5, I’d say, do not hesitate.

This is one of the CG/VFX/Animation/production conferences where you can actually spend all four days in wall-to-wall sessions, or spend just as much time catching up with colleagues and friends.

If I had to list some highlights, they’d be something like this:

Valerian – ILM and Weta Digital have a sneak peek presentation.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 – Animal Logic and Weta Digital also showcasing their work.

Rogue One – John Knoll’s going to be there!

Animation director’s panel – Kelly Asbury, Peter Lord and more.

Pixar and Disney – pretty much anything they’re doing, from Piper to Moana

Scanline’s Stephan Trojansky on water sims – the studio’s Flowline tools are some of the best

Anything real-time – Epic’s there, as is Unity, and there’s a special automotive thread

Digital humans forum – this is always awesome, and what you get is a lot of frank discussion and research being presented

OK, there’s so much more – check out the programme here: http://www.fmx.de/program2017/overview. And I’ll be there at FMX, so please come up and say hi.

A bunch of world-class VFX and design artists are about to hit Melbourne and Sydney

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I’ve got to travel around to a few conferences and events recently and what I’ve found is, there’s nothing quite like hearing and learning directly from artists in visual effects and design – in person.

In Australia, it can sometimes be tricky to have that exposure to the best artists in the field. However, there’s an event coming up – in both Melbourne and then in Sydney – aiming to change that.

It’s called Gnomon Live, and it’s a full weekend event of live demos, masterclasses and panel discussions with a whole bunch of world-class artists speaking on a range of VFX and design topics. People like Neville Page, Tran Ma, Miguel Ortega, Brian Recktenwald and Josh Herman. Plus the big studios – Animal Logic, Luma Pictures, Iloura, Firemonkeys, and more, will be there.

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Alex Nice.

Another of the presenters whose attending is art director Alex Nice from Magnopus, an exciting studio which is crossing the line between visual effects and new forms of immersive entertainment. Nice has previously worked on films like Sin City, The Hunger Games and Hugo, and these days he’s exploring new art direction techniques in AR and VR.

I asked Nice about a few of his thoughts on the current state of VFX/VR/AR and about what he’ll be showcasing at Gnomon Live. Continue reading A bunch of world-class VFX and design artists are about to hit Melbourne and Sydney

Forging the fiery face of Ghost Rider for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

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Last year, the Marvel character Ghost Rider burst onto the small screen in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for seven episodes of the series. The fiery effects required to bring Ghost Rider (played by Gabriel Luna) to life were orchestrated by FuseFX. In this special vfxblog breakdown, FuseFX visual effects supervisor Kevin Lingenfelser dives into how the character’s fire effects and transformations were achieved. Continue reading Forging the fiery face of Ghost Rider for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

‘Tale of Three Brothers’ director Ben Hibon on his next creative adventures at Luma Pictures

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Director Ben Hibon’s works are pieces of animation that tend to stick in your mind for months or years. From his breakthrough short Codehunters to the masterful Harry Potter ‘Tale of Three Brothers’ sequence, Hibon has brought a definitive style to the animation he’s directed.

Now he has joined Luma Pictures as their head creative director, at a time when the studio that most people know as a visual effects shop is also branching out into animation, its own features and other content.

I recently got the chance to sit down with Hibon to discuss his journey in animated content, and about the plan at Luma. Continue reading ‘Tale of Three Brothers’ director Ben Hibon on his next creative adventures at Luma Pictures