TINKER TAYLOR SOLDIER SPY: Sirio Quintavalle – VFX Supervisor – Framestore

After speaking with us about the effects of SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, Sirio Quintavalle is back to reveal the invisible effects of Framestore for the spy movie TINKER TAYLOR SOLDIER SPY.

How did Framestore got involved on this show?
We have a good history with Working Title, the production company, having worked on films including NOTTING HILL, LOVE ACTUALLY, NANNY MCPHEE and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN and although Framestore is known for its high end, big budget visual effects work, we are also interested in smaller non effects driven films especially when they have such a strong cast and script.

How was the collaboration with director Tomas Alfredson?
Tomas was a real pleasure to work with, he has a quiet authority on set and a very clear vision coupled with his inimitable, dry, Swedish sense of humour.

What was his approach about VFX?
The VFX were always going to play a background role in the film and where possible Tomas tried to achieve everything in camera. There were however certain period details or scenes which needed a bit of assistance and Framestore were able to send Christian Kaestner as our on set supervisor to cover the shoots in England and Istanbul.

What have you done on this movie?
Recreating the MI6 building, some green screen driving shots through London, a burning owl and a bullet wound with a tear drop of blood as well as a few incidental effects to help set the scene and the period of the film.

Can you tell us your work on MI6 Headquarters?
Tomas wanted a sixties, concrete, institutional style building hidden behind a more ornate facade. Blythe House in London was chosen for the exterior shell and we worked up some concepts for the design of the main headquarters. One of the issues that we immediately came up against was that the courtyard of Blythe house wasn’t big enough so we had to open it up, push the far walls back and reproject the various layers to give the correct parallax as we track across the rooftops.

How did you create the shot inside the MI6 in which we can see the activity through a hole?
This was a fairly straightforward effect but a good example of adding production value in a cost effective way. We shot two passes with the camera angles matched up to give us the correct perspective and were then able to add a lower floor and the illusion of a much bigger environment. We also added some cg communication cables to help tie the two sections together.

Can you tell us more about the flaming owl?
During the middle of a lesson in a small country school a burning owl flies out from the fireplace, flies around the classroom and is eventually put out of its misery in a decisive blow by the teacher.
As a plot point it is quite important in revealing Jim Prideaux’s (played by Mark Strong) former training and killer instincts to the class room of dumbfounded school children. We shot multiple passes of the class room with and without children, the owl in flight to and from camera and Mark Strong’s performance where he hits a stuffed owl. During the takes we used guides for the performer’s eyelines and so were able to match the various elements together cohesively. We tracked flames to the owl’s wings, used a sim for the trailing smoke and added embers for the final impact. To get the owl’s performance just right we ended up changing some of the wing beat animation and even added some facial features to make it look more startled.
I only found out later that this was based on a real life event in John Le Carre’s life which he incorporated into his novel.

How did you help to change locations and time period?
Tomas was keen to use subtle imagery to tell the viewer where we were so for a few shots we added reflections of iconic landmarks like Battersea Power Station or 1960’s Picaddily Circus into some of the shots. The DOP Hoyte Van Hoytema was also very keen to get the period feel with the use of vintage style film stock and grain and to that end all our work was scanned at 4k to preserve the grain structure.

Did you need to use intensive clean-up work?
Everything was shot pretty well so there wasn’t much clean up required.

How did you create the various backgrounds for car shots?
For the car shots Tomas wanted the freedom to be able to move the camera smoothly around the car and so to be able to see the actor’s expressions. To achieve this we shot the car in a controlled studio environment on a green screen. We then shot the moving background plates with overlapping cameras mounted to the back of a camera car and drove round various London landmarks being careful not to include any anachronisms. We were then able to stitch together a panorama to cover the camera movement and we modelled a replica of the car to add moving reflections to the bodywork and windscreens.

Are there another invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
We recreated Paddington Station, made a hotel in Istanbul and added a few mig jets and a stray bee to a couple of shots.

How was dispatch the work between London and Reykjavik?
We divided the work between London and Iceland to take advantage of the talent that we had in our offices at the time. Iceland did the animation and compositing with London doing matte paintings, modelling and additional compositing.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The three car shots were the most challenging. It was important that the effects went unnoticed so that the viewer wasn’t distracted from the complex storyline and tense atmosphere of the drama so these shots had to be spot on.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Not on this film.

What do you keep from this experience?
It’s not often in our industry that we get to work on films with such a strong cast, story and direction so even though it’s not a big effects film it was still great to be involved.

How long have you worked on this film?
A few months all in all although it was spread over a longer period as there was a gap between shooting and post.

How many shots have you done?
About twenty.

What was the size of your team?
We had a team of twenty six.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Framestore: Dedicated page about TINKER TAYLOR SOLDIER SPY on Framestore website.

© 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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