David Vickery Joins ILM London

David Vickery, ILM

David Vickery, ILM

Industrial Light & Magic – currently celebrating its 40th anniversary – today announced that BAFTA-winning visual effects supervisor David Vickery has joined its expanding London studio. Vickery recently served as production VFX supervisor on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

In addition to supervising effects work, Vickery will also provide creative oversight on the studio’s other projects, while creative director Ben Morris takes on Star Wars Episode VIII as production visual effects supervisor.

Commenting on the appointment, Morris said:

“We have a number of exciting projects in the works and David is a creative problem solver with a great eye, both of which I know will benefit our clients and the studio immensely.”

ILM Head of Studio, Sam Mercer added:

“David has a stellar reputation amongst filmmakers and the visual effects community at large and I know he is going to be a strong addition to our global creative team and bring a unique perspective to his new role in London.”

David Vickery remarked:

“We’ve all grown up being inspired by the fantastic effects created by Industrial Light & Magic, but to be able to work alongside the people that create those visions is such an honour and an exciting prospect for me. Oh, and my first-born son’s middle name is Indiana. I need say no more.”

Vickery, who joins ILM after a 13-year stint at Double Negative, has been interviewed several times by Cinefex, most recently for the Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation article in our current issue. Go behind the scenes on some of his previous feature credits by delving into our back catalogue:

Image courtesy of Mark Osborne Photography / Industrial Light & Magic.

“Goosebumps” – VFX Q&A

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A

In 1992, author R.L. Stine published Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House, a children’s book in which a houseful of zombies causes chaos in the small American town of Dark Falls. Five years later, the Goosebumps series ran to over sixty books, with individual volumes selling millions of copies every month and regularly appearing on bestseller lists.

Since then, Stine has continued to write new Goosebumps stories at a frankly phenomenal rate. The original series spawned a TV show that first aired during the late 1990s, at which time a feature film adaptation was also in development – with Tim Burton attached as producer – but the project bit the dust.

Now, R.L. Stine’s creation has finally hit the big screen With Rob Letterman directing from a script by Darren Lemke, Goosebumps chronicles the adventures of teenage protagonists Zach (Dylan Minnette), Hannah (Odeya Rush) and Champ (Ryan Lee) as they attempt to return the monstrous creations of R.L. Stine (Jack Black) to the pages of the books from which they’ve accidentally been released.

Overseeing the visual effects for Goosebumps were production VFX supervisor Erik Nordby (Elysium, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and VFX producer Greg Baxter (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Divergent). The majority of the film’s 900-odd visual effects shots were handled by MPC at their facilities in Vancouver, Montreal and London, with MPC Santa Monica doing extensive previs and postvis. Additional support was provided by Vitality and Instinctual.

In this VFX Q&A, Cinefex spoke to both Nordby and Baxter about the challenges involved in bringing Stine’s menacing menagerie of monsters to life.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A

How did you first get involved with Goosebumps?

ERIK NORDBY: We were brought on board early in development. Preproduction hadn’t officially begun, but Rob Letterman had already spent some time working through a lot of designs. This proved very valuable for us because most of our full CG creatures had a solid design concept fleshed out – and in some cases fully approved, all the way up to the studio level. As many teams know, this is often very difficult to achieve early on, but is incredibly valuable in solidifying a shooting approach and an efficient asset plan.

GREG BAXTER: I got a call from Sony and met with Rob Letterman back in September 2013. Rob had already been developing the story and designing some key monsters for several months. Meeting with Rob and hearing about his vision for the show was amazing. I left that meeting knowing I was going to join this project.

Were you familiar with the Goosebumps series of children’s books?

ERIK NORDBY: Like most of the crew, we were familiar with them and their popularity, but didn’t have much specific knowledge beyond that.

GREG BAXTER: Familiar? Yes. Had I read them all? No. I had to do a little research on the creatures we were tasked with bringing to life. But I could really see how the series had been such a hit – the stories were more fun than scary and were all very engaging.

ERIK NORDBY: One of the biggest surprises was how intensely revered the book series is by a certain generation. One of Rob’s early points of connection – which I thought was really smart – was to equate our generation’s love of early Amblin films with this generation’s love of Goosebumps. The Goonies, for instance, was a good touchstone for us in remembering that love of the adventure/horror balance.

How closely did you work with Rob Letterman?

GREG BAXTER: Rob was fantastic. We worked very closely with him throughout the almost two-year process – from concept through development, shoot, editing and final VFX look. His background in animation and VFX compositing helped our dialogue tremendously, as we could jump directly into technical notes and bypass some of the usual steps to get from director’s vision to final on-screen content.

How long were you working on the project?

GREG BAXTER: Twenty-two months from September 2013 to July 2015. Although, honestly, I’m still working on it with wrap, stereo and home video details. VFX keys on shows like this are among the first on and last off the project.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A

What was the biggest challenge for the VFX team?

ERIK NORDBY: This film had an extremely wide visual effects spread … without a wide budget to go with it! That was the number one VFX challenge on Goosebumps. There were many all-CG creatures, with each one requiring a different approach and a unique balance of R&D and design development.

GREG BAXTER: The monsters were our major task, for sure. We not only had to create fully detailed hero characters, but they were all so different – in size, shape, texture and movement – that each monster was a huge project on its own. We had a hero Abominable Snowman, Army of Garden Gnomes, 30-foot Praying Mantis, Werewolf, Vampire Dog, Man-Eating Plant, Ginormous Blob …!

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How did you approach integrating all these outlandish monsters into the live-action setting?

GREG BAXTER: Rob wanted this to be a very photoreal film, with even the most fantastical creatures feeling as though they existed in the real world. While we were able to reference existing animals, insects and objects for the Mantis, Werewolf, Gnomes, Poodle – even the Abominable Snowman – some of the others were a bit more difficult. With the Blob, for example, there was very little reference to draw from other than the book and Rob’s concept of what it should do in the movie.

What else did you deliver apart from the monsters?

GREG BAXTER: There was a lot more VFX work, from matte paintings and set extensions to complex FX simulations. We had to run full digital doubles of our actors for the Ferris wheel ride at the end.

You spoke about the enormous differences between the various monsters. Can you give us an example of some of the extremes?

ERIK NORDBY: The Blob required a huge amount of fluid-sim R&D – many months’ worth – and almost as much work in terms of look-dev. It was amongst our most intangible creatures on-set, since its scale was so mutable. The Blob had to fit into our blocking instead of driving it.

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At the other end of the spectrum there’s the Werewolf, which required a very structured on-set approach. Since the Werewolf was a human-sized biped, it needed to be directable and shootable, and the cast needed to be able to act around it. This meant a human proxy stand-in, with a high degree of athleticism and wolf-arm extensions. We added tracking markers which allowed quick turnaround for first pass blocking, and kept the edit fluid before we had to lock things down.

Where did some of the other monsters sit on the spectrum?

ERIK NORDBY: Abby, the Abominable Snowman, was a hybrid: too large to have a human actor perform, but small enough that we could provide a blocking eyeline reference. Our PAs ran through the scene with Abby’s head on an eight-foot-tall stick. The gnomes were shot with hand-made stand-ins which the actors could interact with and smash. Shooting empty plates allowed us to fully replace and fill the frame with their CG equivalents.

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How about lighting reference – did you use regular grey/mirror spheres?

ERIK NORDBY: We really tried to leverage creature-specific reference spheres. During preproduction, we tracked down many fur samples, and Rob helped us pick a good, solid, real-world equivalent for our furry creatures. We wrapped the samples around spheres, and combined them with skin samples – leather or a prosthetic piece. For every setup, we would shoot these spheres in their respective lighting. We would also shake the fur around, giving our FX artists great dynamics reference.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Werewolf

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Werewolf

Let’s look at one of the creatures in more detail – the Werewolf, for instance?

GREG BAXTER: The initial 2D concept design for the Werewolf was provided by Carlos Huantes. Carlos then built a miniature maquette which we cyberscanned via 3DS in Burbank. This was our initial starting point for MPC to model and augment from.

Who performed the Werewolf on set?

GREG BAXTER: John Bernecker was our stunt proxy for the Werewolf. He performed on-camera for just about every Werewolf shot, including running on all-fours atop a grocery store freezer. Erik and MPC Supervisor Pete Dionne built a custom facial capture rig with Go-Pros and a bicycle helmet, capturing John’s snarling for additional animation reference.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Werewolf

Tell us about the development of the digital Werewolf character.

GREG BAXTER: MPC went round after round trying to solve the intricacies between human and canine facial expressions for the Werewolf close-ups. We often had to dive back into the model to solve some subtleties in facial performance. A canine snout doesn’t allow for much range, so we had to cheat that a bit in the model.

The run and walk cycles were also problematic, due to our design having the hind feet act as bipedal feet. The way a canine’s ankles bend results in awkward movement, and we didn’t want to come across comedic and so detract from the scarier moments.

Then there was the drool! What “real” werewolf drool might look like and how it performs had to be tested and re-tested to read the right way in the comedic beat when R.L. Stine (Jack Black) is hiding under the produce shelf in the store.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Ferris wheel

Towards the end of the film, a Ferris wheel detaches from its mountings and rolls through a forest. How did you approach this spectacular sequence?

ERIK NORDBY: The Ferris wheel sequence was meant to be visceral, entertaining and, above all, believable. We needed to create a shooting situation where we could achieve all the photography of the kids practically and insert them into a wild but well-planned ride.

Tell us about the practical shoot.

ERIK NORDBY: The previs existed early on, and it was a great guidepost. From that, we created very elaborate techvis which focused on one central idea: the Ferris wheel cab that the kids were in would be fixed in space and the camera would inherit all the wheel’s motion.

John Frasier, and his special effects team built a cab that could be safely and securely hung in the middle of our greenscreen stage. It could swing, but would not travel in any other axis. We then inverted the motion of the cab into the camera in the techvis, to illustrate to the camera and grips what they needed to accomplish with the Technocrane. There was a little give and take because the moves were sweeping and the wheel was so large. We would shoot each take, roughly key it, and comp in the previs background to check if we had accomplished our task.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Ferris wheel

Since you were shooting on a greenscreen stage, presumably the backgrounds were all created digitally?

ERIK NORDBY: Yes, everything besides the kids and their cab was CG. This required a fully-rigged CG Ferris wheel with all the other cabs, a kilometre-long CG forest for the wheel to run through, and distant 2½D matte paintings for the high angles. Once we became embroiled in the sequence in post, it was clear we needed a lot more tree interaction than previously thought. This pushed the complexity – and therefore the render time – through the roof.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Ferris wheel

How do you feel about your work on Goosebumps, looking back?

GREG BAXTER: We had an awesome crew on this show. Everybody really enjoyed the experience of making the movie … except for the late-night shoots in the hot, humid, bug-infested Georgia woods!

One memorable moment came when Rob had to direct an army of both practical and virtual creatures attacking the high school. Blocking out that performance required a lot of comedic work. In the middle of it all there was a crazy big thunderstorm, so we had to seek cover while the greenscreens took the brunt of the storm. But we survived, rebuilt the greenscreens and resumed shooting.

Special thanks to Stacey Leinson, Rebecca Rehak and Mick Mayhew. Goosebumps photographs copyright © 2015 and courtesy of Columbia Pictures/MPC Film.

Rogue Nation – Cinefex 143 Extract

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to snap up a copy of our latest magazine edition – Cinefex 143. Part of your mission briefing is to read this exclusive extract from Keeping it Real, Jody Duncan’s in-depth article about the stunts and effects of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

David Vickery, on loan from Double Negative to serve as the production’s visual effects supervisor, worked closely throughout the shoot and postproduction with visual effects and associate producer Maricel Pagulayan, who carefully chose a visual effects team that included Double Negative, with graphics supplied by One of Us and SPOV.

One of the highlights of Rogue Nation is the show-stopping sequence in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hangs onto the side of an Airbus A400 military transport plane as it takes off. The stunt was first worked out in previs executed by The Third Floor London, under the guidance of Christopher McQuarrie and David Vickery:

“We actually built a CG model of the A400 for the previs,” said The Third Floor previs supervisor Vince Aupetit, “with all the exact measurements, referencing blueprints and photographs of the plane. Airbus provided technical data to the production, as well, and gave us information as to what speeds the plane would reach as it was taxiing and taking off. We put all of that technical information into our previs so it would be as precise as possible. And then, we visualized the camera angles and beats of the stunt itself.”

“We tried to re-create the circumstances exactly as they would be when they actually shot this scene,” said Aupetit. “We considered things like wind turbulence and the size of the different windows and doors on the plane, and how they functioned. On our CG plane, we had the actual structures Tom could grab onto, as well as all the rigging for the camera. Everything in the previs was done with the idea that they were going to have to shoot this for real.”

The previs not only served creative and technical purposes, it also helped to reassure Airbus, which had some reluctance about turning over one of its mega-million-dollar aircraft to production and was also anxious about damage to the company’s reputation should something go awry. “Their caution was understandable,” David Vickery commented. “It was an extremely valuable plane, and they didn’t want it to be damaged. They also didn’t want anyone to be hurt. By designing the shots so thoroughly in advance, we were able to go to Airbus and show them exactly what we wanted to film.”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features Ant-Man, The Walk and Terminator Genisys.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

Terminator Genisys – Cinefex 143 Extract

Series T-800 Robot in "Terminator Genisys" from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Series T-800 Robot in “Terminator Genisys” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Just like Arnie, Cinefex is back – with our latest magazine edition! In this exclusive look inside issue 143, we’re treating you to an extract from Wrinkles in Time, Jody Duncan’s detailed analysis of the visual and special effects of Terminator Genisys.

Visual effects for the film were the province of a team of vendors including Double Negative, MPC, ILM, Method Studios and Lola. Essential practical support came courtesy of Terminator veterans Legacy Effects:

Legacy Effects provided practical endoskeletons used as in-camera props or as on-set reference for computer animated endoskeletons that would be composited into the action in postproduction. Founding members of Legacy Effects, as young artists working for Stan Winston Studio, had built the endoskeleton puppets employed in The Terminator. For Terminator Genisys, Legacy updated that original design, working from production art department concepts.

“The new design retained the essence of the old endoskeleton,” said Legacy Effects supervisor John Rosengrant, “but added a few new design touches, such as a reshaped pelvis and a more streamlined look, overall. We built three of those full size: one hero that was put in shots for lighting reference; a semi-puppeted stunt one that was hero-looking but made of urethanes so it could take a beating; and one that looked burned, which became the catch-all reference for burned endoskeletons on set. We also built a hero torso that was used for similar shots of a damaged or burned Terminator.” Legacy built an insert head, as well, for a shot of a brain chip being replaced in a port in the endoskeleton’s skull.

The Legacy Effects crew digitally modeled the hero endoskeleton, and then produced its more than 250 individual pieces through rapid prototyping. “Due to the new materials we have to work with,” said Rosengrant, “the final assembled endoskeletons were much lighter than they were when we had to puppeteer them in The Terminator. Back in the day, they weighed a ton!”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features Ant-Man, The Walk and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

The Walk – Cinefex 143 Extract

The Walk posterIt’s time for another peek into our latest magazine issue, Cinefex 143. Today we’re taking you behind the scenes on one of the tallest tales of the year – The Walk, which chronicles the extraordinary true story of Philippe Petit’s spectacular wire-walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie took overall responsibility for the film’s dazzling visual effects, with individual sequences crafted by a team including Atomic Fiction, Rodeo FX and Universal Production Partners.

In this exclusive extract from Joe Fordham’s article, Skywalker, director Robert Zemeckis discusses the genesis of the project, and reveals how his interest was sparked by Mordicai Gerstein’s fairytale-like picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers:

“It was a children’s book,” said Zemeckis, “but I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’ and when I researched the story, I discovered it was quite amazing. We bought Philippe’s rights and, three years before Man on Wire appeared, we were well into designing our film, because we did it in a strange way. The most powerful part of Philippe’s story was the walk, but I felt that would not translate effectively to the page as a screenplay. My decision was to create an animatic to present the story in the most powerful way possible.”

Zemeckis interviewed Petit and, using Petit’s narration, fashioned an animatic with a pool of artists at his own studio, ImageMovers Digital, led by The Third Floor previsualization supervisor Eric Carney. “It was an hour-and-50-minute previs of the movie,” recalled visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie, who was part of the ImageMovers team. “It showed everything from Philippe’s inspiration as a child all the way through his walk between the Twin Towers. It was such a powerful way of conveying Bob’s vision for the film. It contained the DNA of the story and was a very clear communication of what he intended to show on screen.”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features Ant-Man, Terminator Genisys and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

Ant-Man – Cinefex 143 Extract

Ant-Man - Cinefex 143

To celebrate the launch of Cinefex 143, we’re treating you to a sneak preview of all the articles inside. First up is Microcosmos, Joe Fordham’s extensive look at the effects of Marvel’s big (or is that little?) summer hit, Ant-Man.

Under the expert guidance of visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison, a VFX team including Double Negative, Method Studios, Luma Pictures, Industrial Light & Magic, Cinesite and Lola Visual Effects – with Prime Focus World and Legend3D handling stereoscopic conversions – meticulously crafted the film’s miniature magic.

Our exclusive extract outlines the work of the “macro unit”, which operated concurrent to the main unit shoot photographing specially constructed sets:

“We approached macro-world scenes like ‘pack shot’ product photography in television commercials,” explained Jake Morrison. “The art department took small sections of the main unit sets and rebuilt them as six- to eight-foot extractions. Macro sets were built 1:1 scale – we never tried to make anything oversized – but detail was much higher. Macro unit art director Jann Engel had bags of dead bugs, gummy bears and all sorts of nasty debris that she dressed in.”

To line up shots, the macro unit used a tiny rapid-prototyped model of Ant-Man, smaller than an HO-scale model railroad figure, and a P+S Technik Skater Skope periscope lens with a rotating nodal head that placed Frazier lenses as low as possible to floor level.

After motion control photography of macro unit sets, production plate photographer Teddy Phu Thanh Danh and Alex Wuttke gathered still imagery using three Canon 5D cameras on Dr. Clauss Rodeon panoramic heads. “The joy of the process was discovering the detail in what we’d shot,” said Wuttke. “To the naked eye, the macro sets looked quite mundane – a rusty pipe, or the corner of an old floorboard – but when we photographed those with a 100mm lens centimeters from the subject and did our preview stitch, the information it revealed was mind blowing. Jake’s strategy of using real objects with natural wear and tear really paid dividends when we got into macro scale, because there was no artifice. An astonishing level of detail appeared before our eyes.”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features The Walk, Terminator Genisys and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

Now Showing – Cinefex 143

Cinefex 143 - From the Editor's Desk

The kids are back in school and the leaves are turning orange on the trees. It can mean only one thing. It’s time to release the fall edition of Cinefex, the premier magazine for visual effects professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Cinefex issue 143 is bulging with big stories. In fact, even the smallest story is big. Yes, I’m talking about Ant-Man, in which cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is hired by biochemist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to battle a rival weapons manufacturer in the development of a serum that can shrink a protagonist to ant size, imbuing microscopic combatants with super powers.

Starting with The Terminator in issue 21, we can proudly say that Cinefex has delivered in-depth effects coverage of every Terminator film to date. Terminator Genisys is no exception, so if you want to know exactly how those duelling T-800s were created, this issue is for you. Another old franchise friend comes in the form of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, as the IMF team undertakes its most audacious feats of espionage and daring to date.

Also featured in Cinefex 143 is The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’s gripping dramatisation of the true story of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist who in 1974 attempted to walk a steel cable strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to talk about our behind-the-scenes analysis of the latest films by leading moviemakers …

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

You know the kind of day that, by the time it’s all over, makes you wish you’d stayed in bed? You’re rushing out the door to work, and can’t find your keys, and then you get stuck in traffic because the main road to your office has been shut down for construction, and when you stop at the grocery store on the way home, the cash register at the checkout line you’re in breaks down. Yeah, that kind of day.

Issue 143 was that kind of issue. Obstacle begat obstacle, until I found myself paraphrasing Joe Gideon in All That Jazz, looking up to the heavens, and asking, “What? You don’t like visual effects journalism?”

We persevered, and the issue turned out spectacularly well – with only one battle scar visible. (You’ll know it when you see it.)

What I like about this issue is that it offers some “off the beaten path” stories. Joe Fordham explores micro-photography effects in his Ant-Man article, while my Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation piece is as practical effects- and stunt-heavy as any I’ve written for the magazine.

Joe had the privilege of interviewing Robert Zemeckis for his story on The Walk, making for some fascinating commentary on the creative choices involved in dramatising Philippe Petit’s 1974 wire-walk between the World Trade Center towers. We round out the issue with Terminator Genisys, whose cinematic grandpappy, the original Terminator, graced the cover of Cinefex no less than 116 issues ago. That’s a lot of printer’s ink under the bridge.

Even now, we’re hard at work on Cinefex 144. On our travel log this time: Mount Everest and Mars!

Thanks, Jody!

Oh, a word of warning before you pick up your copy of the new Cinefex. Don’t forget to switch off the shrink-ray machine first. It may be cool to look like Ant-Man, but you’ll have one heck of a job turning those pages.