THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US: Kevin Hahn – VFX Supervisor – MPC

Kevin Hahn started his career in visual effects in 1998. He joined MPC in 2007 and works on films such as ANGELS & DEMONS, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, JOHN CARTER and MALEFICENT. As VFX Supervisor, he took care of the effects of films like THE FINEST HOURS, XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE and FIFTY SHADES DARKER.

What is your background?
I studied theatrical set and lighting design. As wells as a having general art background.

How did you and MPC get involved on this show?
Originally I was just going to cover the Vancouver shoot. My name came up because I was between things at the moment. Hany, Mandy (DP), and I really hit it off, and I was very happy to take the project to completion.

How was the collaboration with director Hany Abu-Assad?
Hany was really great. He is very good in putting his trust in to the HODs to carry out his vision. I had a lot of creative freedom. I really enjoy working with directors like Hany.

What was his approach and expectations about the visual effects?
That the VFX largely not be seen. We had a saying for this movie that “if people notice the VFX we didn’t do our job”. Hany really wanted to keep this movie about our two characters, their experience, and the environment. The film went to great lengths to film as much of this film without VFX as possible.

How did you organize the work at MPC?
The work was done in MPC’s Montreal and Bangalore locations. DFX supervisor Etienne Daigle looked after Montreal, and Bangalore. For most of the project, I worked remotely from editorial in Los Angeles.

There is a really long continuous shot inside the small plane. Can you explain in detail about its creation?
The plane interior was a real Piper Navajo plane that we striped down to just the body and was mounted on a 6 axis motion base. Hany wanted the whole shot to be one take, no cuts, so there had to be continuous camera movement throughout. The interior of the plane was really quite small. So it was shot with an Alexa Mini on a small 360 head. The camera track and remote rig had to be mounted outside the plane body, just above the ceiling. A 12 inch gap was cut into the ceiling to accommodate the camera, which then had to be patched by VFX. The camera tracking was remotely controlled by an additional operator just outside the plane body.

We shot the scene against white backlit screens instead of green screen. This allowed for us to get a very real, very natural looking plate, something that we just could not of gotten with if we had to light the scene around green screens. We shot slightly underexposed to protect edges whenever we could. It still was a lot of roto work. But it was well worth the extra work.

How did you created the huge environment?
Initially we wanted shoot most of the mountain environment that you see outside the plane windows. We rigged 3 Alexa minis on stabilized head to get 180 view angles off the helicopter. We scouted a path from our actual shooting location of the crash site that looked interesting. The idea being we would fly 2 passes (there and back) to get a rough 360 pano of the flight path our characters would take. As it happens in the mountains in January, the weather did not necessarily cooperate. We never got a full 7 minute run that was needed for the single shot, because of high winds. What we got instead was a ton of shorter sections, that we ended used as material for projections and DMP.

The environment team in Montreal started by getting publicly available elevation data around the crash site. This gave us some quick geo to start our work. On top of that geo we procedurally created basic mountain details like snowcaps, green valleys, avalanche tracks, etc. This gave us a real quick turnaround on version that we could use to block out the animation, and for early editorial screenings. Once we were happy with the animation and the edit was locked we could just work on just the parts the environment that is actually scene out of the plane windows.

The flight turns badly with a crash seen from the inside. How did you work with the stunt and SFX team for this sequence?
Stunts did the initial blocking. Because of the tight space, the camera moving back and forth, and the movement of the gimbal, the whole shot had to meticulously rehearsed and blocked before we even put actors in the plane. Then Kate and Idris had another full day of rehearsals to learn the blocking, and get the timing of the camera down. The rest was really just the actors and the motion base.

We discover many beautiful landscapes. How was filmed these locations?
The locations were truly amazing. The mountain locations were shot in the Columbia Mountains in eastern BC. Most of the locations, including the crash site were helicopter access only. Shooting days were quite short, we would have to be completely clear of the mountain tops prior to dusk which in January was around 4pm. Plus the time it took to get a full film crew ferried up to the mountain locations via the helicopters. We maybe had 4-5 hours of shooting time before we had to start packing up and heading back down. Other than it being extremely cold (-38C somedays), weather was not an issue. Every location we would grab high res stills of the entire environment, but in the end we never really used them. We were fortunate to get most of the locations all in camera.

Can you explain in detail about the creation of the cougar?
The initial plan was to use several trained cougars. And we did shot the entire scene with 3 trained cougars. But, once we got to editorial, we just did not have the footage to make all the shots of the cut work. In the end, there is a health mix of real cougar shots and full CG cougars. We had the real cougars photographed and scanned. From there the build, rigging, textures etc. was pretty standard for the MPC assets team that had just come off Jungle Book. We had a ton of footage of the real cougars on green screens that the animation team studied.

Alex falls into a lake. How did you enhanced this sequence?
Safety would not let us drop Kate Winslet into water in -25C weather on location. So there was a plan to shoot the one shot of Alex being pulled out of the water and onto the snow on a outdoor green screen set back in warmer Vancouver. But when the day came to shoot the shot on location, it happened to be the one day we had above freezing temps, ~1C. Kate and Idris ended up doing several takes of the shot for real on location. We just had to clean the surrounding snow of crew footprints. The underwater shots were shot in a tank on set, with VFX extending the underwear environment.

Can you tell us more about the creation of the Sawmill and its environment?
The sawmill environment was pretty straight forward. We had to add it to two shots when Ben sees the sawmill from a distance. The sawmill was a working sawmill that was used as shooting location for when Alex is discovered. We shot stills of the sawmill from various distant locations, then combined with other high res mountain photography that was shot we could put together a convincing matte painting.

Is there any other invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
There is quite a bit in this movie, actually. The end sequence is set in NYC but was shot in London. The Piper Navajo that is on the tarmac as Ben and Alex are boarding was the one real flyable plane we had. It had to be digitally “re-painted”, as the owner of the plane would not let the film production repaint the plane to match the movie version.

Which sequence or shot was the most complicated to created and why?
The plane crash just because it was 5 mins of continuous VFX. The work itself wasn’t anything we hadn’t do before. But it just becomes an issue of scale. Just the logistics of working and iterating on a 8000+ frame shot presented some unique challenges.

What is your favorite shot or sequence?
The obvious choice would be the plane crash as that is the most unique and challenging shot of the show.

What is your best memory on this show?
Our location shoot in the mountains. It was crazy cold but, it was some of the most beautiful locations I have been.

How long have you worked on this show?
12 months from pre preproduction to final DI.

What’s the VFX shots count?
I think it end up being nearly 300 shots

What was the size of your team?
It was close to 300.

What is your next project?
Currently finishing up THE DARKEST MINDS, and just starting SKYSCRAPER.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

MPC: Dedicated page about THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US on MPC 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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