Case Studies in Invisible Effects - Lone Survivor

IAN FAILES | FXGUIDE.COM | MARCH 27, 2014 | Original Article

How do you tell the true story of Navy SEALs fighting in Afghanistan? What’s involved in marrying the charm of miniatures and stop-motion into final shots? How do you make two Jake Gyllenhaal’s? And how can practical and digital effects carve out a woman’s jaw? The answers are in this article on the seamless visual effects by Image Engine, Look Effects, Rodeo FX and Screen Scene in Lone Survivor, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Enemy and Ripper Street.

Lone Survivor

Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor follows a group of Navy SEALs on an ill-fated mission in Afghanistan. Shot mostly in New Mexico, the film relied on visual effects to expand some mountainous environments, incorporate gunfire and show U.S. bases and flying vehicles – all within what is a mostly handheld and sometimes ‘run and gun’ shot film.

“A lot of the film is on location,” says Image Engine’s Jesper Kjolsrud, one of the visual effects supervisors on the show. “It’s kind of crude in a way – it’s not meant to be pretty. You know, shoot into the sun, you get a lot of contrast, a lot of flares, handheld. Those elements really just adds to making you feel part of being there.”

“And I have to say the DP was an absolute mountain goat,” adds Kjolsrud, “he would spot something, and carry a camera up the hill, the rest of the crew would run after him and they would find a shot from somewhere. I sit in front of a computer – it was hard to keep up with…”

Image Engine delivered several CG Apache and Chinook helicopters and a C-130 Hercules military transport vehicle for the film. While that took advantage of previous work the studio had undertaken for say Zero Dark Thirty, the Image Engine crew still looked for ways to match the film’s goal of trying to capture as much in camera as possible.

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Image Engine Nominated for 2 VES Awards

Image Engine artists have received two nominations for the Visual Effects Society’s 12th Annual VES Awards, the company is pleased to announce. The nominations recognize the company’s work on Elysium in the categories of ‘Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture’ and ‘Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture’.

“We are very proud that our work has been nominated for these prestigious awards. Image Engine was delighted to re-team with director Neill Blomkamp, and thankful for the opportunity to realize his unique vision. Congratulations to the nominees and to all the VFX crew for this recognition of their achievements,” said Peter Muyzers, Visual Effects Supervisor for the production.

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture

Elysium: Torus

Votch Levi

Joshua Ong

Barry Poon

Kent Matheson

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture


Jean Lapointe

Jordan Benwick

Robin Hackl

Janeen Elliott

The nominated environment is the Torus of Elysium, the luxury orbital space station from which the film takes its name. Image Engine’s in-house art department realized the concept design, which was inspired by drawings from legendary concept artist Syd Mead. The Torus was an entirely computer-generated environment, with digital geometry so complex it contained upwards of 3 trillion polygons and took over a year of postproduction to create. Whiskytree from San Rafael, CA, collaborated with Image Engine to populate the structure with photoreal computer generated terrain.

The compositors were challenged with seamlessly integrating the digital set extensions and space backdrops, as well as the computer generated droids, which were represented by stunt actors in gray suits on set, and replacing helicopters filmed on set with digital space vehicles.

Janeen Elliott, one of this year’s Image Engine nominees, collected a VES Award for 'Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture' in 2010 for Neill Blomkamp’s previous feature film District 9, for which Image Engine was also recognized with VES nominations for 'Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Feature Motion Picture' and 'Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture'.

The 12th Annual VES Awards is the prestigious yearly celebration that recognizes outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials and video games. The Ceremony will be held on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel.



A Hollywood Blockbuster Finished in Vancouver


Excerpt taken from Reel West Magazine. Download PDF here.

Read the full article here.


WHITE HOUSE DOWN: Martyn Culpitt & Mark Wendell

VINCENT FREI | ART OF VFX | SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 | Original Article

Martyn Culpitt started his career in visual effects with the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, then he worked on films such as VANTAGE POINT, INVICTUS and THE GREEN HORNET. He joined Image Engine in 2012.

Mark Wendell is in VFX for over 20 years. He worked on films like SHREK, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, SPEED RACER or PROMETHEUS.

What is your background?

Martyn Culpitt – Visual Effects Supervisor // I have been working in the Industry for over 20yrs. I initially started my career in film set construction at Marmalade Vision in Wellington, New Zealand in 1992. I soon realized I was more interested in the digital world so changed my job and worked my way through the editorial department of the company, becoming Senior Editor within the first few years. Following my interest in visual effects, I moved to the TV, film and visual effects industry as a 2D artist working on films such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, TROPIC THUNDER, TWILIGHT, ANGELS & DEMONS, INVICTUS, SALT and THE GREEN HORNET. I was asked to join Image Engine to work as the Compositing Supervisor for R.I.P.D. in 2012. I had always wanted to work on creature films and it was a great opportunity to expand my experience even further.

Since I started in the industry, I have always tried to push my work and keep learning every project, my goal was to one day become a Visual Effects Supervisor. When I was given the opportunity to work with Roland and the Team at Uncharted Territory as Visual Effects Supervisor on WHITE HOUSE DOWN I was thrilled.

Mark Wendell – CG Supervisor // I’ve been in the vfx and animation biz for over twenty years, wearing many hats, including CG supervision, lighting, compositing, pipeline, fx, tools development, layout, and I even have an ‘animation supervisor’ credit! That’s one of the things I like about CG supervision, frankly, is that it’s an excuse to do lots of different jobs throughout the pipeline. I started in this business back when there weren’t any schools for learning CG, and in fact I have a biology degree, so everything I know about CG was self-taught and learned on the job.

How was the collaboration with director Roland Emmerich?

Martyn Culpitt – Visual Effects Supervisor // Our collaboration with Roland was a very smooth process. Working through Marc and Volker we had direct feedback as soon as we needed it, so there was no wasting time. Roland always gave concise feedback and direction, but he would listen to us and appreciated our ideas, which helped us take the shots to the highest level we could together. It did honestly feel like a collaboration rather than Roland just giving notes.

What was his approach to the visual effects?

Martyn Culpitt – Visual Effects Supervisor // Roland, Marc and Volker had done a lot of previs for the film; most films do as it saves a lot of time in the end. On WHITE HOUSE DOWN, It felt like Roland took it to the next level where he would sculpt and design each camera and shot in previs and even further with the team at Uncharted Territory once they had completed filming, before passing it off to us to create the final shot. By the time we started working with them they had pretty much locked down every camera angle and shot. This gave us time to work on the more important details of each shot and given the time constraints we had this was ideal.

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From Vancouver to Elysium


For anyone who saw Neill Blomkamp’s breakout film District 9, it’s no surprise his follow-up Elysium is chock-full of elaborate flying machines, futuristic weaponry and an assortment of bizarre robots. Most of the effects were handled by Vancouver-based Image Engine, which also worked with Blomkamp on District 9. Smaller, specific tasks were spun out to the Embassy, Moving Picture Company, WhiskyTree and Method Studios, says Image Engine partner Shawn Walsh.

“We have a good reputation for doing visual effects work which is seamless,” says Walsh. “We would talk a lot with Neill about trying to un-sci-fi our work and he was very conscientious about consistently reminding us that we’re not trying to create something that is openly acknowledged as science fiction.”

Blomkamp’s latest vision, which boasts a budget roughly three times that of the $30-million District 9, stars Matt Damon as an ex-con battling his way to an idyllic space station reserved for the world’s richest. “He’s a very talented filmmaker, the kind of filmmaker that I think, appropriately, deserves the description of visionary,” Walsh says of the South African-bred director, now based in Vancouver.

“He’s very much in the school of James Cameron or (George) Lucas or (Steven) Spielberg in that he imagines a kind of complete world, a complete universe, and posits his story within that.”

For those who haven’t seen Elysium and want the effects to be a surprise, stop reading now — although there’s plenty more than what’s outlined below. Here’s a look at how some of the wild images came together:

1. Elysium.

The film takes its name from an orbiting paradise that offers sanctuary from a polluted, disease-ridden Earth in the year 2154. Walsh says Blomkamp consulted scientific experts to come up with a plausible space habitat.

“We approached it very much like an engineering or design firm — we approached it by breaking it up into its component parts and designing each and every one of those independently,” he says of the fictional super-structure, which he described as “a bicycle wheel spinning in space.”

“It’s based on this idea that’s called the Stanford torus, which was a NASA jet propulsion lab idea of what kind of a shape would you need to create in order to create a centrifugal force that would create gravity,” he says, adding that other parts of Elysium are inspired by images from conceptual artist Syd Mead.

2. The droids.

Image Engine was in charge of an array of robots, known here as droids, that fulfil several tasks on Earth and Elysium ranging from food service to health care to policing. Anytime you see a droid moving “it’s 100 per cent computer-generated,” says Walsh.

This was achieved by filming an actor in a grey suit performing the scene first.

“Essentially, we removed the actor from the plate and replaced him with a digital version of the character that’s moving in a very, very close approximation to what the actor did,” Walsh says.

3. The weaponry.

The Embassy handled the film’s wild weapon effects, which include a powerful anti-aircraft railgun and an impressive force field-type shield, says Walsh.

“Neill has kind of a gearhead background that leads him into creating these sort of fantastical weapons in his movies and he has worked with the Embassy before.”

The villainous Kruger, played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley, gets one of the more unique toys — a sort of energy shield that can turn on in an instant to deflect whatever flies his way.

“It was a bit of a worry of ours to understand exactly what that thing was and how it functioned and they managed to make it look extremely physically real,” says Walsh.

He says Image Engine devised a laser-like device that Damon’s hero uses to cut a hole into a spaceship from afar.

“There was a practical effect of blowing the hole open, and the door essentially, but then we had to reverse engineer it so you didn’t see the hole. And then obviously all of the sort of tracer markings and burning embers and smoke and stuff was visual effects,” he says.

4. The vehicles.

The assortment of aircraft includes a sleek, red Bugatti-like shuttle, crafted by Moving Picture Company, that ferries bad guy William Fichtner to and from Elysium. There’s also the more utilitarian fleet used by the government-run Civil Cooperation Bureau to keep Earth-dwellers in line and several rebel crafts used in a bid to smuggle illegals onto Elysium.

But Walsh is most enamoured by the Raven, a monolith Kruger uses to swoop in on his targets, armed with automatic guns, missiles and an all-seeing surveillance system.

“It kind of becomes this bird of prey,” Walsh says of the creation, handled by Image Engine. “We used helicopters to show framing and staging and movement as well as editorially to get the interaction of dust and debris from the ground when a vehicle comes in and lands or takes off. And then essentially we remove the helicopter and add in the computer-generated vehicle.”

5. The City of Los Angeles.

“It’s in this slow, grinding, sand-paper like decline,” Walsh says of the city’s imagined future, laid bare in a fly-over shot provided by Industrial Light & Magic.

Squalid shanty towns that dot the landscape are actual slums on the outskirts of Mexico City, says Walsh, while dilapidated skyscrapers are inspired by actual L.A. city plans.

“We researched with the City of Los Angeles which buildings had been approved to be built but had yet to be built,” says Walsh.

“So anybody who’s a real student of the downtown area of Los Angeles will be able to pick out these buildings that don’t quite exist but somehow are very accurate to the future plans of Los Angeles.”



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