After building his career working at The Mill and Framestore, Dadi Einarsson co-founded Reykjavik-based RVX in 2008. At VIEW Conference 2018, Dadi presented his work as visual effects supervisor for STX on Baltasar Kormákur’s ocean-going survival film Adrift. Cinefex met up with Dadi after the presentation to talk about what it took to create a shot that balances intimate character moments with the awesome power of a gigantic ocean wave.
CINEFEX: In your VIEW Conference presentation, you talked in detail about a centerpiece two-minute shot from Adrift, where a yacht capsizes in a tremendous storm. It’s an epic shot – how did it come about?
DADI EINARSSON: Well, the film as a whole is a survival story, and it’s a love story, but the key drama point of this sequence is the 100-foot wave that smashes the boat. The go-to image for this sort of thing is the small boat on the huge wave, but that’s been done before, so Baltasar challenged me to come up with something different. We have a good working relationship, and a shorthand, and he trusts me to sleep on an idea, play with it, and suggest stuff.
CINEFEX: How was the action presented in the script?
DADI EINARSSON: It was actually written as eight or nine scenes, which was three or four script pages. Shailene Woodley’s character, Tammy, is at the wheel, then a wave crashes against the boat and nearly throws her off. Richard, played by Sam Claflin, pulls her back in, and they have dialog where we go in tight, then there was a cut to the big wave. There was another cut when Tammy goes inside the boat, then we were back outside for when the boat does what they call a pitchpole – it capsizes stern over bow – and Richard gets flung from the boat. There were lots of points in the script that were very visual, like the image of Richard sinking down with the red light flashing on his jacket, but there was a lot of room for interpretation.
CINEFEX: You saw all that happening in a single shot, without cuts?
DADI EINARSSON: Yeah. I read the script several times, and it became clear to me that it wasn’t just about that beat of the boat capsizing. It was all about the precursor to that, staying with the characters and following their gaze up to the wave, somehow going into the cabin with her, then back out underwater. A lot of that came from having worked on Gravity with Alfonso Cuarón, where we spent a lot of time forming this kind of language; I was very influenced by that experience. That was my pitch to Baltasar and he was really into it.
Watch an Adrift breakdown reel by Milk VFX:
CINEFEX: In executing a long shot like this, some filmmakers might have gone to town with a crazy camera move. But you were actually very restrained. There’s just a long, slow push-in behind the boat, with the big move only happening at the critical moment, and very much driven by what the characters are doing.
DADI EINARSSON: Absolutely. I hate physically incorrect, bullshit camera moves that don’t feel like any other camera move in the film. That really breaks everything for me. This shot is all about us finding those characters and being drawn into their experience of the storm.
CINEFEX: To execute the concept, you broke the shot into four separate beats. Then you had to break those into their component parts. You shot some live-action with a boat on a gimbal, some on a rotating “green cube” cabin interior, and then there’s all the CG ocean.
DADI EINARSSON: Yeah, as I was designing the shot, I was also thinking technically about where we could do the beat stitches.
CINEFEX: As you were capturing or creating all those different components, how important was it to keep the original vision in mind?
DADI EINARSSON: Oh, you have to constantly refer back to the concept. And it’s a leap of faith, you know? Adrift wasn’t a $200 million movie. We didn’t have months of prep where we could program motion control moves. I’m happy that we used a hand-operated crane for the gimbal shots, because it gave us the freedom to follow the action, but the flipside was that you just didn’t know whether it was going to work. So there was great anxiety there. Baltasar totally had my back, but the studio would still look me in the eye and say, “This is the moment of the film. It’s going to work, isn’t it?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, it’s going to work.”
CINEFEX: You’ve worked with Baltasar on many films now. What are the benefits of that ongoing relationship?
DADI EINARSSON: I think Baltasar knows that if he needs someone to come up with an idea, he can leave it with me. Then he’ll develop it, of course, or come up with his own ideas as well. For me, it’s magical to read a script and come up with something, knowing that my idea will be supported by the director. By the end of it, I’m sitting in the theater and people are going “ooh” and “aah.” It’s super-inspiring.
Watch an Adrift breakdown reel by Cinesite:
CINEFEX: The visual effects on Adrift were done by Milk VFX and Cinesite. Your own company, RVX, recently shifted away from visual effects to take on virtual reality projects. Why the change?
DADI EINARSSON: About two years ago, there was a lot of hype about virtual reality being huge, with big projections about all these headsets being sold, so RVX redirected its energies to start working on real-time projects, using Unreal Engine. The projected sales weren’t as big as everyone expected, but business has still been pretty good, and it’s been an enjoyable experience. But that doesn’t mean we’ll never do visual effects again!
CINEFEX: What’s RVX working on now?
DADI EINARSSON: We’re just finishing a location-based virtual reality project. It’s a 10-minute experience that takes you to the biggest Viking battle in Icelandic history, for a museum in the north of Iceland. It opens early 2019, and we anticipate 99 percent of users will be tourists who have never used virtual reality before. It’s a linear story, but there’s some interaction so you can walk around and try out weapons before you get taken into the middle of this huge battle. It’s room-scale – the user has full control within this 10-foot by 10-foot square space – and we’re looking at leading the eye to a specific place so we can teleport them to the next location, and they arrive facing in the right direction. I’m not sure if that’s been done before in this kind of virtual reality experience.
CINEFEX: For you personally, what’s the appeal of virtual and augmented reality?
DADI EINARSSON: It takes me back to 25 years ago, when I was just starting out. Things weren’t easier back then, but there wasn’t the volume of work that’s required now in delivering a visual effects film. For a project like our Viking battle, we have a small team and it feels more nimble and light and fun. It feels like we’re trailblazing.
CINEFEX: So are you done with production visual effects supervisor roles?
DADI EINARSSON: Well, there’s always something being dangled in my direction, but it’s a tricky thing to find a work-life balance as a visual effects supervisor. Baltasar is currently looking at something that would be shot in Iceland, which would make it easier for me in that respect. So you never know!
VIEW Conference 2018 takes place at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Torino, Italy, October 22 to 26, 2018. Check out the full program of talks, workshops, panels and masterclasses at the VIEW Conference website.
“Adrift” image copyright © 2018 by STX Entertainment.