Raymond Chen worked over 15 years at Rhythm & Hues. It starts as lighter on films such as BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, CATS & DOGS or X2. Then he was worked on THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT as VFX supervisor and then as the same position on projects like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN or HOP. In the following interview, Raymond talks about his work, including the aerial sequences of CHRONICLE.
What is your background?
I am a currently a visual effects supervisor at Rhythm & Hues, I have worked for R&H for 15 years, originally hired as a lighting TD.
How did Rhythm & Hues got involved on this show?
Rhythm and Hues got involved late in post-production to work on some problematic and difficult shots.
How was the collaboration with director Josh Tank?
Josh was great to work with – he had very clear ideas about what he wanted the visual effects in the shots to convey, and was always open to ideas and suggestions for improving the shots.
What was their approach about visual effects?
Rhythm & Hues was only involved late in post-production, so I don’t feel that I can answer this question satisfactorily.
What have you done on this movie?
Rhythm & Hues worked on the flying in the clouds/playing football in the clouds sequence, Tibet shots at the end of the film, Steve’s death from lightning, Andrew dropping his father from the exploded hospital, and a few other shots with levitating CG elements: baseball, rocks, lego, Pringles.
The handheld style of shooting should have been a real challenge for the tracking and matchmoving. How did you achieve this challenge?
Yes, there were several difficult shots which were significant challenges for tracking and matchmoving. In addition to the handheld camera being an issue, in some cases there were no tracking markers in the plate. Luckily we have some great supervisors and TDs, and they did a great job with the footage they had to work with.
Does the specific look of video format causes you some troubles for the final compositing?
Our VFX work for the film was done ‘clean’ so that any video format look could be applied afterwards. We did add camera bobbles, auto-focus artifacts, lens abberations and flares in order to help the video feel, but did not add any resolution or scanline effects.
How did you manage on-set the interaction with the different elements and characters with the kids powers?
Since Rhythm & Hues only became involved with this project well into post production – we did not have any on-set presence.
Can you tell us how you create the huge environment for the various flight sequences?
The environment for the flight sequences were created with several elements. The deep background clouds, sky, and terrain were matte paintings projected onto geometry. The mid and foreground clouds were volumetric renders. We also created some particle-based mist elements that would go close to camera to help imply the speed of the camera through the environment.
About the clouds creation, did you used the same technique that Rhythm developed for A-TEAM?
We originally investigated using Terragen for creating the clouds, and had some very promising initial results, but ultimately decided to build on the cloud system that was developed for the work on A-TEAM which was a Houdini/Mantra setup. It was modified so that the cloud shapes would be more in line with what Josh Trank was looking for in the sequence, and the rendering was optimized so that we could get quicker iterations.
How did you create the digi-doubles?
We were given scan data and texture reference photography from the production – we cleaned up the geometry and made some customizations for what we needed the digi-doubles to do in the shots. Since the framing of the digi-doubles was originally meant to be quite wide, we did not build hair, although we did allow for cloth simulation. For the one shot of Andrew flying out of the hospital and dropping his father, Josh ended up requesting a much tighter framing than we had anticipated – we had to obscure some of the lack of detail through lighting and smoke elements.
How did you create the Tibet environment for the final sequence?
The Tibet shots were shot on location in British Columbia. Since the photography was originally intended not as VFX plates, a large portion of our work consisted of roto to separate the FG actor from the background. We created a oversized multiplane Tibet matte painting to go behind him. There was also some FX mist added for atmosphere, as well as some composited blowing snow off of the mountain peaks.
What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge for the project was the schedule that we had to work within. For the clouds sequence, for example, we had to rebuild the A-TEAM cloud pipeline, build the shots from scratch to final film version in 7 weeks. We were essentially doing shot production at the same time we were doing continued R&D and pipeline building. Oftentimes, just the R&D phase for the shows we work on is considerably longer than this.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
I was originally very concerned about being able to complete the clouds flying sequence to the level that we like to achieve at R&H, but as I saw the progress our team was making, I didn’t feel the need to lose sleep over it.
What do you keep from this experience?
That working with first-rate supervisors and artists can make even seemingly impossible work both possible and enjoyable.
How long have you worked on this film?
Rhythm & Hues had 7 weeks to complete the work.
How many shots have you done?
Rhythm & Hues worked on 16 shots total.
What was the size of your team?
I believe we had close to 100 people from our offices in Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Kuala Lumpur involved in the project.
What is your next project?
Currently involved in a test – cannot discuss due to non-disclosure agreement.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
2 that come to mind are BRAZIL and BLADE RUNNER.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Rhythm & Hues: Dedicated page about CHRONICLE on Rhythm & Hues website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2012