AMERICAN MADE: Eric J. Robertson – VFX Supervisor – Mr. X

Last year, Eric J. Robertson explained to us about the Mr. X‘s work on ZOOLANDER 2. He then supervised the visual effects of BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK and MONSTER TRUCKS.

How did you and Mr. X get involved on this show?
We’ve worked with Doug in the past while he was developing another project, and I’ve worked with Justin for years – so it was a perfect fit.

How was the collaboration with director Doug Liman and VFX Supervisor Justin Ball?
Justin was very collaborative. He solicited ideas from our key creative staff – Rob & brand… and many of those ideas made it into the film. He was also very receptive to alternative approaches to shotmaking given the vast differences in cameras and material that were challenging to work with. Doug gave great notes and was also very open to our feedback. It was really a two way street which isn’t as common as we would hope. A fantastic experience for us.

What was their approaches and expectations about the visual effects?
Well the show had many changes throughout and it was a bit of a moving target as they developed the final movie. Overall the expectation was that the shots be invisible. Reality was paramount.


What are the sequences made by Mr. X?
We did all the hero VFX in the film. White House, all the flying (5 CG airplanes, the Managua harbor, the hard landing sequence, flying through the oil rigs at sea, the massive crash of the C123 at the end and the zero G lovemaking scene.

How did you organize the work at Mr. X?
We shared the work between both Mr. X Gotham in NYC and at Mr. X in Toronto. Great team collaboration between the two studios.


The movie is featuring many planes. How did you recreated them?
We had Lidar scans of the real planes and for the C123 we 3D modeled and textured from various reference and technical specs.

Which one was the most complicated to created and why?
The Managua harbor and the White House were both tough. The harbor needed huge environment builds including underwater ships, buildings, CG water and the whole shot essentially became fully CG. The white house was just plain unforgiving and needed to be completely recreated to be set in the 70’s.

How did you work with the SFX and stunts teams?
Justin did that on set – we had very little interaction with them. I supervised some reshoots in post in Atlanta but they weren’t very involved with SPFX and stunts.

During one of his surveillance, the plane of Barry Seal is damaged. How did you enhanced it?
We added bullet holes, FX simulated smoke & fire. We had to replace the props with CG versions that shut down and parts of the wings as well.

Barry Seal is doing an extreme landing in a neighbourhood. Can you tell us more about the creation of this environment?
We used a lot of the practical photography – but had to create a 2.5D projection to add destruction of the environment and the entire plane ended up being CG for the landing itself. We had to add propellers to the shots with the practical plane. It was difficult to stitch together multiple plates to have a complete environment but the 3D and 2D teams made it work.



We discover many locations during the movie. How did you enhanced them?
Both traditional 2D matte paintings and CG landscapes were used to create coca fields and we added shacks to the landscapes as well as adding a second story and a roof to a partially constructed house.

Later, a C-130 is catch in a massive storm. How did you created it?
We started with previs to give Doug options for the camera – based on actual footage of aerial spins. Once we had the camera locked we essentially created an entire CG shot. We had a BG plate that looked good so we used that as textures for the ground. Everything else was animated and simulated in Maya. We lit most of our scenes in Houdini.

How did you enhanced the various explosions especially the one of the car?
The explosion was mostly practical but we added some bits of fire and a little bit of gore. Mostly compositing help here.


During most of the flight shots we can recognize Tom Cruise. Did he really flight the plane or did you help him to do that?
Tom flew in every scene that was on screen – on occasion we had to move him from one plane to another but it’s all him. He’s a good pilot and spent considerable time training to fly multiple aircraft. Often Doug would be squeezed into the cockpit with him shooting handheld because the planes were so tight and small.

There is a sex scene in the plane to turn into zero gravity. Can you tell us more about it?
Since is was night the environment was forgiving so our key work was to add CG boxes behind the seats and animate them as if they were in a zero G environment

Can you tell us more about the White House shots?
We had some photography but ended up rebuilding the entire street, the gate and the building itself. Very difficult work to rebuild the fence as we drive through the gate and we also had to slightly reposition the White House so that it would be more visible in our shot.


Is there any invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
Haha…

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
We had a lot of screenings and over a year in post. We did lose a lot of sleep throughout but we’re really happy with the results.


What was the main challenge on this show and how did you achieve it?
The difference in all the shots required a lot of different assets and almost everything was a one-off shot. The multiple camera formats might have been the single hardest element – we had over a dozen different shooting formats in all different color spaces and resolutions.

What is your best memory on this show?
Working with Tom on set.

How long have you worked on this show?
Two years – from May 2015 to May 2017.

What’s the VFX shots count?
We worked on 750 shots throughout the process but we thing we delivered about 400 finals.

What was the size of your team?
75.

What is your next project?
We’ve just finished MOTHER! for Darren Aronofsky, THE SHAPE OF WATER for Guillermo Del Toro, and we’re delivering many more including OCEAN’S EIGHT for Gary Ross, UNTOUCHABLE with Neil Burger, and MR. ROBOT for Sam Esmail. I’m excited to be working on season 2 of AMERICAN GODS for Starz and Bryan Fuller.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Mr. X: Dedicated page about AMERICAN MADE on Mr. X website.





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2017

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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