Post Magazine

November 2012

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 21 of 51

Visual Effects S By DANIEL RESTUCCIO This film features 400 mostly invisible VFX shots. Into฀the฀cloud฀for฀Flight AN FRANCISCO — Paramount Pic- tures' Flight, which is already garnering some Oscar buzz, is a story about a hero who also proves to be human. This Robert Zemeckis-directed film con- tains over 400 visual effects shots that will largely go unnoticed — they were also gener- ated with a cost-effective workflow using cloud rendering instead of relying on an in- house renderfarm. Every shot was produced under the watch- ful eye of VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie at San Francisco's Atomic Fiction (www.atomicfic-, the visual effects house he founded two years ago with Ryan Tudhope. Baillie's resume goes back to when he was 18 years old working on previsualizations for George Lucas on Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. He then went to ImageMovers Digi- tal in 2009 and worked with Zemeckis and Flight producer Steve Starkey on A Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms. The director heard Baillie and Tudhope were starting up this new visual effects studio, "He had liked working with us before and said, 'I'd love you guys to do the picture.'" Atomic Fiction began work on Flight in August 2011 with script breakdowns, budget- ing and location scouting. Principal photogra- phy started in Atlanta in October 2011 and went through to mid-December. The movie, says Baillie, is essentially about "hero" pilot Whip Whitaker's (Denzel Wash- ington) fight to vindicate himself, and how it affects everyone around him. Zemeckis, explains Baillie, was very clear that the visual effects could not take the viewer out of the film. "[He emphasized,] they are there to support the story, not to steal the show," explains Baillie. "He had a general visual direction where he wanted things to go, which was sort of gritty and realistic but not distracting. That was a really big guiding prin- ciple for us on this show. Director of photog- raphy Don Burgess really helped us support that, and our art director Chris Stoski pushed to hit that at every point." PREVIS, POST-VIS The production originally planned for Atomic Fiction's Kevin Baillie was the film's VFX supervisor . 20 roughly 130 VFX shots, however, after Zem- eckis "had done his editorial process and came up with a lot of really amazing ideas, it ended up being closer to 400 shots." The production was helped along not just with previsualization, but post-visualization as well. "A previs shot," describes Baillie, "is really Post฀•฀November฀2012฀ the beginning of defining a shot. Creatively, the sky is the limit. You don't have any cameras that you're locked into yet. You generally haven't shot any footage yet, so you're really making up shots from scratch. Post-vis, on the other hand, is when you've already shot a particular scene and you're trying to figure out how to work a significant computer-generated element into that shot." Some of the previs for the crash scene was done by LA's Third Floor and in- house at Atomic. "A great example of a scene that benefit- ted from post-vis," says Baillie, "is the now- famous shot from the trailer, where the plane comes flying overhead, upside down." When they were on location in Atlanta, shooting that background plate at an apart- ment complex, camera operator Robert like little fingerprints and smudges on the windows and glints of light. "Just the things that can dirty up the frames so that at the end of the day, the audience has no idea that it was a visual effects shot," he explains. Another transparent effect happens dur- ing the crash scene toward the beginning of the film where the airplane has to roll and fly upside down in order to stay in the air. Mike Lanteri (Jurassic Park) the physical spe- cial effects supervisor on Flight, had the chal- lenge of taking a McDonnell Douglas 88 airplane fuselage and rolling it upside down filled with people. It turned out that, practically, special effects was only able roll half of the fuselage at a time, so it had to be shot as two separate elements. In one element the camera is inside the fuse- Post-vis played a key role in pulling off this scene. Presley didn't know the exact sky position or how fast the plane was going to be moving. He made his best guess to execute a camera move as if he was trying to follow a plane. Atomic Fiction, in the post-vis phase, took that camera move, put a computer-generated airplane into it and then "started work... with Zemeckis saying things like, 'That's too high, too low, it looks like it's moving too slow, let's speed it up. ' We would actually start adjusting the camera footage in post to match this plane." INVISIBLE EFFECTS So the director's goal with the visual effects in Flight was to make most of them invisible. "The audience doesn't notice them," states Baillie. "To them it was just like it was filmed in-camera." For example, the airplane cockpit was shot against a greenscreen. Everything seen through the windows was composited from multiple elements: helicopter sky shots, digital clouds, matte paintings, plus subtle touches lage for the foreground and for the second element they had to back up the camera 40 feet and shoot through the open end of the plane for the distant part of the fuselage roll- ing around. Atomic Fiction then married the two elements together. Bucking the trend of jobbing out visual effects to multiple vendors, Atomic completed all of the shots for the film. "It made a lot of sense for us to handle all of the work on Flight because we'd really developed great shorthand and a level of trust with Zemeckis," reports Baillie. RENDERING "We have a very scalable infrastructure at Atomic Fiction because of how we're set up to use the cloud. We were able to do 400 shots in around four months with a team of about 35 people," explains Baillie. "The fantas- tic folks at The Paint Collective and Bot VFX acted as an extended part of our team, help- ing with roto/paint and camera matchmoves

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Post Magazine - November 2012