Kingsman: The Secret Service – VFX Dossier

by Graham Edwards

Cinefex reports on "Kingsman: The Secret Service"

Based on a series of comic books by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman: The Secret Service chronicles the recruitment of bad boy Gary “Eggsy” Unwin into a top secret spy organisation.

Recently unclassified files reveal that the action comedy is directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), with visual effects by a range of vendors delivered under the surveillance of visual effects producer Stephen Elson, and deployed by production visual effects supervisor Steve Begg, and a team of supporting agents. (Begg ultimately handed over to veteran VFX operative John Bruno, in order to undertake another espionage mission, this time on Her Majesty’s secret service.)

Cinefex has obtained additional top secret documents from three of the visual effects vendors assigned to Kingsman: The Secret Service. They are presented here on an “eyes only” understanding. Once read, all trace of their existence must be destroyed.

Top Secret

Dossier 1 – Prime Focus World

Agent Name: Marc Jouveneau | Agent Role: VFX Supervisor

Mission Background

Agent Jouveneau – previous association with Agent Begg, on missions including Casino Royale and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.

Prime Focus World – previous association with show VFX producer, Stephen Elson.

Roxy rises into the stratosphere in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" - visual effects by Prime Focus World.

Roxy rises into the stratosphere in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” – visual effects by Prime Focus World.

Mission Scope

Prime Focus World was operational on several key sequences and one-off shots. Agent Jouveneau supervised from shoot to final delivery:

  • Fight in church
  • Individual shots in tunnel sequence
  • White House shot
  • Worldwide fights finale sequence, including shooting aerial plates and motion capture
  • Roxy (Sophie Cookson) in near-space

Additional resources deployed for:

  • Designing and building house belonging to Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) for aerial establishing shots
  • Comped graphics/footage inserts into monitors, HUD, phones, etc.
  • Various additional enhancements

Shot Count

410 shots delivered by a team of approximately 160 Prime Focus World agents, in all departments.

Agent Jouveneau involved on shoot Oct 2013–Feb 2014. Post-production commenced Mar 2014. Most shots delivered Jun–Aug 2014. Retakes and graphic inserts addressed Sep–Oct 2014. Final shot delivered 10 Oct 2014.

For the near-space sequence, VFX supervisor Marc Jouveneau's team studied weather balloons, skydiving, footage of Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude jump and various NASA image sources.

For the near-space sequence, VFX supervisor Marc Jouveneau’s team studied weather balloons, footage of Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude jump and various NASA image sources.

Research & Development

Key reference sources:

  • Original Kingsman graphic novel
  • Previous films of director Matthew Vaughn – notably Kick-Ass, emblematic for editing style i.e. quick cuts and fast moves during action sequences
  • Style guidelines provided by Steve Begg, drawn from action/spy films including Casino Royale and Skyfall
  • Previs used on most sequences – either CG or stunt choreographies
  • Brad Allan, second unit director and stunt coordinator, planned all fights with his team
  • Near-space sequence: weather balloons – including explosion of same; skydiving through clouds; Felix Baumgartner’s jump from near-space; various NASA pictures

Interrogation Extracts – Marc Jouveneau

“The fight in the church was originally designed to be one long continuous shot lasting over six minutes. It was edited and cut in the end, but there are still three long chunks – each one over 1,000 frames. I supervised it on-set with the second unit, working with director of photography, Fraser Taggart, and assistant director, Joe Geary.”

“We took a lot of measurements, scans and reference pictures of actors, stunts, special actors and extras, as well as texture references and a laser scan of the church. During the shoot, we focused on continuity and the rhythm of the action, and, the sequence was edited by Eddie Hamilton as we went along.”

“Much of the hard work in post came from match-moving the camera, which was mainly handheld, sometimes with zoom. The cameras were ARRI Alexas, used with a 45° shutter to enhance the energy of the action, but RED EPIC and Blackmagic cameras were also used for POV shots.”

“We also had to object-track for transitions like the flying gun, or the stick-in-the-throat at the end, and body-track on several shots in order to replace Colin Firth’s face. All the clean-up of tracking markers, wires and props had to be addressed, while at the same time applying re-time and re-frame to the shots.”

“Another thing we had to do was to add and define the look of the blood and wounds. Matthew Vaughn wanted a misty blood that spread and disappeared fast, in order to reduce the goriness of the sequence. This stylistic approach was used throughout the movie.”

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Mission Summary

“When you start a show, there are always a lot of unknowns and surprises. This is part of the process of moviemaking, I guess. On Kingsman, it was good being involved on-set, and to have worked with Steve Begg before – both these things made us more involved in the creative discussions throughout the reviews with Matthew Vaughn, Eddie Hamilton, George Richmond and the producers from MARV. As you do the shots, you learn more and more about the director’s expectations; after a while, you know pretty much what he is after, and it becomes easier.”

“We were working on Kingsman when we heard the Prime Focus World London VFX facility was closing. You can imagine how difficult it is to focus in such a situation. I truly appreciated the team spirit adopted by the artists and production. I think they proved their real quality: creative talents who love making movies! You can’t beat that. I work freelance now, and I’ll miss these guys. But I would like to use this opportunity to thank the entire Prime Focus World crew for their great work, and say, ‘Well done!’”

Top Secret

Dossier 2 – Nvizible

Agent Name: Matt Kasmir | Agent Role: VFX Supervisor

Mission Background

Nvizible – previous association with director, Matthew Vaughn, on Kick Ass 2.

Mission Scope

Nvizible created previs for the mission, under the supervision of Martin Chamney. Primary VFX duties concerned the design, shooting and execution of prosthetic leg blades belonging to the character Gazelle.

Shot Count

210 shots delivered, over a period of 14 months. Half of these involved Gazelle’s blades.

Research & Development

Key reference sources:

  • James Bond films, particularly from the 60s and 70s
  • Paralympics and the prosthetics worn by competing athletes

Additional design considerations:

  • “Feminisation” of prosthetic blades from original graphic novel design, to accommodate character change from male to female
  • Development of “designer” look and feel, reflective of Gazelle’s fashion-conscious character

Interrogation Extracts – Matt Kasmir

“For Gazelle’s death, we created a special stunt previs sequence involving four Gazelle stunt doubles and two Eggsy doubles. On the day, we shot high speed for the majority of shots, and used The VFX Company’s motion control system to create the multiple passes we needed. In all we used four different Moco rigs, the high-speed Bolt, a conventional rig, a 360° rig and a high-speed rail cam. In some shots, up to six individual performers are combined into our two characters. This was done using CG body doubles to blend animation over a few frames, face replacements, and a projected 2½D environment for clean-up. We also inserted screens, legs and CG props.”

“All the shots were variable speed – a Phantom shot running at 600fps could ramp from real-time to 25 times slower. We worked very closely with editorial, as we were potentially working on 25 times the normal number of frames, yet starting from scratch each time a cut changed.”

“Overall, we allowed the performers to drive the animation, and concentrated on the subtleties and giving the blades a sense of intent.”

Top Secret

Dossier 3 – Doc & A Soc

Agent Name: John Paul Docherty | Agent Role: VFX Supervisor

Mission Scope

Docherty worked with digital matte painter Jim Bowers to create 360° environments, including a huge hangar filled with aircraft and secret service staff. Docherty was assigned to the mission, together with John Bruno, when Steve Begg had to move on to another production.

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Shot Count

100+ shots delivered.

Interrogation Extracts – John Paul Docherty

The hangar shot was created by Jim; we added in various moving elements, including workmen, a plane being towed and a man arc-welding at the back, which is a little throwback to Lost in Space – there are about ten layers of environment in that shot. Then we ran it through Fusion Studio’s 3D environment, where the shot went through an awful lot of changes, including re-lighting the whole thing.”

“For a major explosion sequence, we had to deal with four shots filmed with high-speed cameras at Leavesden on a cold, rainy day. I rendered these in together with glass shattering effects I’d created. We had to deal with multiple image formats and lots of lens distortion, as well as some pretty dramatic colour space and resolution differences, before we could effectively comp in separate office and taxi elements.”

“In another scene, we move from the aftermath of an action sequence to a moving taxi with the ‘Kingsman’ logo flashing on a monitor. This looks like quite a simple shot, but the speeds on both sides had been adjusted by the editor. It worked really well, however he threw in cut frames that made the re-speeds very complex. Fusion’s Optical Flow did very well handling all of that.”

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Top Secret

Special thanks to Steve Begg, Stephen Elson, Tony Bradley, Alex Coxon and Stephanie Hueter. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” photographs copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

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