THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: Sean Andrew Faden – VFX Supervisor – Method Studios

Sean Andrew Faden began his career in 1996 at Digital Domain where he worked on films such as THE FIFTH ELEMENT, TITANIC, FIGHT CLUB or RED PLANET. In 2004 he joined the team of Asylum Visual Effects and participate on films like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON or DOMINO. In 2009, he joined Method Studios and oversee the visual effects of films such as LET ME IN, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS or CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER.

What is your background?
I began my career at Digital Domain in 1996, straight out of engineering school, and worked on numerous projects using Prisms, and then Houdini to create complex procedural animations and fx animation. Eventually, after leading several fx and scene setup teams, I began CG Supervising, and VFX Supervising on both features and commercials at Digital Domain and then Asylum Visual Effects. I have been at Method Studios for almost 3 years now, taking a lot of the commercial production tricks learned at Asylum and applying them to both our feature and commercial projects.

How did Method Studios got involved on this show?
Our show’s lead matte painter, Wei Zheng, had worked on THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and ZODIAC with David Fincher and he asked Wei to help out on DRAGON TATTOO. Of course we were very excited for the opportunity – I was especially happy to start what would be my 6th David Fincher project.

How was the collaboration with director David Fincher?
In the beginning, we were sending up mock-up frames for each sequence that Wei and our comp supervisor, David Rey, would create using a combination of Photoshop and Nuke. Fincher was incredibly available, responding at all hours of the day to our postings and guiding us to his vision for each setup. As the post progressed, we began meeting with Fincher once a week at the DI house, reviewing our shots. This was a relatively quick process, as he would generally keep his comments brief and very specific. By the end of the job, we were showing up twice a week for reviews. David is a rare filmmaker that really gets what we do and was always very clear with his direction, while still being very open to our suggestions.

How was the collaboration with Production VFX Supervisor Ruslan Ogorodnik?
He was not involved in the work we were doing- we dealt directly with Fincher.

What have you done on this show?
Method completed about 110 shots in total, mostly replacing green screens on interior shots to create BGs of downtown Stockholm, Hedestad, and London with varying times of day and weather conditions.We did all of the BGs for all of the Millenium Newspaper interiors and office window comps on the exteriors, the Milton Security interiors, Martin’s house, and Surveillance van interiors.One notable all CG shot was the wide shot following the train across a snowy landscape towards Hedestad.

Can you tell us more about the wide shot showing the train and the Swedish landscape?
That shot took quite a while (about 3 months) to complete. It was a lot of CG snow and fog elements layered upon a terrain that was multiple matte paintings projected onto a landscape geometry. The projected matte paintings were helped by having thousands of tree cards generated in Houdini as well as some procedural tree shapes to make convincing edges of mountains etc. Our Matte Painter (Wei) also created a few custom trees which he projected on multiple cards for hero bits. The train and tracks were modelled, animated and lit in Maya using Vray. Interactive snow for the train was generated in Houdini. The final composite was done by David Rey in Nuke, with one of the greatest challenges being to bury the environment in snow without losing detail and realism.

Can you tell us more about the matte-paintings? How did you create them?
Matte paintings were always sourced in some photography – we had some production reference of Sweden, but a lot came from our own research – some shots of Stockholm’s harbor were shot by one of our compositors when he was visiting family in Sweden. Each sequence required a look frame to be made which we would go back and forth with Fincher until we had something we agreed on. From there refinements were made to make sure it would hold up for a sequence and additional perspectives were painted where necessary.

Have you filmed some elements for the backgrounds?
Not specifically, although production did provide photographic reference when available.

What were the advantages of using both Nuke and Flame?
We were able to use Nuke on a lot of shots where there were similar setups, greatly benefiting our overall efficiency. Our Nuke artists were able to easily share keying setups and color setups between similar shots within a sequence. There were a few difficult one-off shots which stayed in Flame as well as some self-contained sequences. The Flame gave us a very quick feedback on shots where we were making a lot of small adjustments such as the nighttime Milton Security BGs, where we added moving lights etc. to give the matte painting life.

Can you tell us more about the CG snow?
We created CG snow for 2 shots – the big train/landscape shot and an additional landscape shot that did not make the final edit. The snow, created in Houdini and rendered in Mantra, was comprised of several layers including: multiple layers of instanced snowflakes on particles, a corresponding volume layer, fog for BG atmosphere, and heavy sheets of particles instanced into the distance to create additional texture in the atmosphere. For the train, we generated volumetric snow getting kicked out by the train wheels as well as volume snow blowing off of the train roof. These elements were generated using Houdini’s DOP volumetric sim tools.

What was the size of your team?
At our largest we were 6 compositors (we averaged 4 however), 2 matte painters, and 2 CG artists

Your compositing team is pretty small for so many shots. What is your way to be so efficient?
We tried to focus our attention on specific shots within a sequence before getting ahead of ourselves trying to do too much at once. Once we had David Fincher’s blessing, we would go full force to bring the rest of the shots up to that level.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The big train shot was the most difficult since it literally began from a concept sketch. It was a slow process, but we did it properly and were able to work with Fincher to come up with something that in the end is pretty convincing.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Not really, I was always confident in our team, and had fun every day going through the shots, looking for new ways to push the realism.

What do you keep from this experience?
We had an amazing team on this one, and we really tried to be efficient despite tireless efforts to hit the look and quality that David Fincher would expect.

How long have you worked on this film?
Method worked on the film between mid August and mid December (about 4 months).

How many shots have you done?
110.

What is your next project?
I’m currently busy on a few Super Bowl spots and reading a lot of scripts for potential new feature work.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE TERMINATOR, THE FISHER KING and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Method Studios: Official website of Method Studios.

// THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – SHOT BREAKDOWN – METHOD STUDIOS

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2012

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Vincent Frei

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

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