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October 2017
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  • The Facilities 50
    Jon Creamer launches Televisual's 30th exclusive annual Facilities 50 survey featuring the top post production houses in the UK and 52 pages of analysis of the sector
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    Hiring top talent and investing heavily in development have been key to growing his Bristol indie Plimsoll Productions, says founder Grant Mansfield
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    What ever genre you work in, you need to be lens savvy. Here three DoPs guide us through the lens market, picking out the models they like to use in drama and factual
  • Over the top
    The growth of Netflix and Amazon is proving a boon for UK indies, but broadcasters are starting to panic. Tim Dams reports
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    The producers of Blue Planet II tell Tim Dams how tech advances and military planning helped them capture the secrets of the deep
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Film 40, 2014 Back to Reports & survey Listing

The VFX Artists

The UK has built up a deserved world-class reputation for its visual effects work on feature films. Here Jake Bickerton showcases four of the best examples of UK vfx on some of the year’s global blockbuster movies



Gravity


Charles Howell, Framestore

80% of what you see in Gravity was created by Framestore, which delivered 84 minutes of vfx for this 86-minute movie. It made the space suits, vehicles, environments and the majority of the sets, which are all cg. The only ‘real’ elements are often just Sandra Bullock’s and George Clooney’s faces.
“When your work is seen from every angle, from far away to extreme close up, for up to 13 minutes at a time without a single cut, there really is nowhere to hide,” says Charles Howell, head of production, film, Framestore. “Then there is the amount of cg. Normally you are creating a cg element and compositing it into a live action plate, but for Gravity it was the other way around. We were animating these really delicate finger movements and creating entirely cg interiors that the audience had a long time to look at and it all had to look 100% photorealistic.”
“Finally, there’s the fact it’s set in zero gravity,” adds Howell. “That changes all the rules and not always in ways you would expect. Conveying weight is one of the most essential things; it’s in our animators’ blood. Then suddenly everything is weightless and you have to deal with that. Those three problems didn’t just add up, they multiplied, making for the most demanding project we’ve ever undertaken. Luckily it has also been the most rewarding too.”

300: Rise Of An Empire

Richard Clarke, Cinesite

Cinesite created around 350 vfx shots on this follow up to 2007’s 300. “A substantial volume of work included environments for the Greek encampments, Sparta, Athens and the Persian Palace,” says Cinesite’s vfx supervisor Richard Clarke. “The environments included a cg wheat field, as well as ships, props, an ocean, soldiers, tents, shoreline and floating atmospherics.” 
Somewhat unusually for a vfx supplier, Clarke says Cinesite was brought in to work on the film relatively late in the day, after being asked to take over from another vfx facility. “The sequences were pretty extensive and the size of the team varied but we completed the bulk of the work within a period of just four months,” he says. “All of the work was completed in the UK, using Maya, Nuke, Renderman, Photoshop, Mari, Yeti, Mudbox and 3D Equaliser.”
One of the most memorable vfx shots was the recreation of Sparta and its huge surrounding wheat fields, says Clarke. “The city was based on the original Sparta from 300. We wanted to create huge, open, natural wheat fields with waves of wind wafting through them. A custom version of the fur system Yeti, by Peregrine Labs, gave us excellent control over the look and dynamics of the wheat, as well as efficient geometry instancing.”

THOR: The Dark World

Alex Wuttke, Double Negative

Double Negative spent around 15 months working on this visual effects-heavy superhero film, from pre-production through to final delivery. At its peak, 750 artists and production personnel worked on the production at the visual effects giant. “We handled the majority of work on the film, fielding around 950 shots in total.
Our work consisted of large-scale environments (Asgard) along with extensive effects undertakings, including the Kurse transformation, throne room destruction and the final act battle,” explains Double Negative’s vfx supervisor Alex Wuttke.
“We use Maya as our principle 3D authoring system, but make use of various other tools, such as Mari, Houdini and Renderman throughout our pipeline,” continues Wuttke. “We also have a large R&D department who provide us with extended functionality across these packages, as well as some standalone tools where needed. In comp, we mainly use Nuke. The majority of the work was finished in the UK, but we also sent work out to our facility in Singapore.”

White House Down

Alex Pejic, Prime Focus

The Prime Focus World vfx team created two of the big action sequences in the movie – the ‘chase’ sequence, where the presidential limo is chased through the White House grounds by terrorists in SUVs, before crashing into a swimming pool, and the ‘bomb’ sequence, which sees F22 ‘Raptors’ fly low over Washington DC on a bombing run to destroy the White House.
“We delivered over 100 shots for the ‘chase’ sequence alone, creating digital matte paintings, cg trees and lawn, a cg White House, set extensions behind driving plates, cg vehicles, blue-screen studio shot foreground plates and lots of effects – muzzle flashes, bullet hits, rockets, cg smoke and more,” explains Alex Pejic, vfx supervisor. “We also modelled the Treasury Building and Eisenhower Building to create the photo-real environment in which the action takes place.”
For the ‘bomb’ sequence, Prime Focus built the F22s to “an incredible level of detail, we created fully cg environments of Washington from the air and completed simulations to add huge cg crowds and gridlocked freeways.”
The majority of the work was completed in London, and the London team also supervised contributions from Prime Focus World’s vfx studios in Vancouver and Mumbai.

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