TOTAL RECALL: Rudi Holzapfel – VFX Supervisor – Baseblack

For over 14 years, Rudi Holzapfel worked in many studios such as Framestore, Double Negative, MPC, Rising Sun Pictures and recently Baseblack. He has participated in numerous projects such as PITCH BLACK, TROY, BATMAN BEGINS, AVATAR, or CLASH OF THE TITANS.

What is your background?
While I was studying engineering and later art I started working for a small production house in Germany learning video camera work, editing etc. I went on working for bigger post houses in Germany as editor and senior editor for commercials and promos before I moved to London. I worked as a freelancer for a good while and eventually moved into film in 1997 at various houses in London and around the world. After a Sloan Fellowship I am currently working as managing supervisor at Baseblack.

How did Baseblack got involved on this show?
We got approached by Peter Chiang to help out on several small, some self-contained, sequences.

How was the collaboration with director Len Wiseman and Production VFX Supervisor Peter Chiang?
I have known Peter Chiang since my days at DNEG and the work with Peter is always very pleasant and straight forward. He is very creative and has a wonderful eye for the necessary effects for a scene. We hadn’t worked with Len before. The communication was solely through video conference calls with LA, Len explaining what he wanted, often supported by him drawing on the screen for reference that could be taken away. DNEG also filmed all the sessions for good measure so that all of us could always make sure that we had hit the mark before the next submission for feedback.

What have you done on this show?
I was overall vfx supervisor for Baseblack looking after the tube-journey sequence and various shots from other sequences generally involving dilapidated London exteriors.

What was the real size for the underground station?
The station was a real station that Len and Peter had filmed in Toronto.

How did you extend and degraded the underground station?
We built a simple 3D model based on a LIDAR scan, then added matte-paintings to walls and roofs with cracks, flaking paint, graffiti and eventually we added the poisonous smog.

What references and indications did you received for the dilapidated London shots?
We had several pieces of concept art, some from production, some from DNEG that they had done to drive decisions forward.


Can you explain to us in details the creation of these matte-paintings?
Initially our head of matte-painting and our 2D supervisor went out and took lots of reference pictures around London, all sorts of buildings, tube stations, cityscapes etc. We also filmed a lot of reference, simply pointing an HD camera out of the window of the traveling tube. We used all these to create more specific concepts for Len and Peter. The next stage was usually building simple geometry that could be textured with more high-res images we retook of the elements that had gotten approved. Eventually these projections where either lit and rendered in Maya, or graded and used in NUKE’s 3D environment for the finished comp.


Can you tell us more about the advantages of the use of 2.5D matte-paintings?
2.5D matte-paintings can be very powerful when building backgrounds with not too much of a perspective change and depth within themselves with regard to camera. The speed of the NUKE render and the possibility to relight through simple grades, rotos etc. makes for very fast turnarounds when doing changes. It does make for new ways of working, the borders between matte-painting, 3D and compositing are becoming blurred. The closer you get to camera though, the more parallax you have within an element, the less feasible those projections become and you end up going the traditional route of textured and lit 3D.

How did you create the subway in CG?
The train for the subway sequence was Len’s plate photography.

How did you manage the green screen composites and the interactive lights?
The quality of the green screens of the RED camera was very good with usually very little noise and edge artifacts. The only restriction was often the interactive light on the screens or very soft (out-of-focus) edges which required a more hands-on approach. In order to incorporate the interactive lights into the backgrounds Peter and Len came up with the idea of holes in the tunnel wall or lights of slightly different colours on the walls as we travel by.


At the end, a Harrier is leaving the Matthias lair. Can you explain to us more in details about it?
We had two scenes with harriers leaving Matthias’ lair, Cohagen’s and then Quade’s. Cohagen’s harrier takes of very close to camera which is perched on top of the wall of the courtyard. For this shot we rendered the background and some set extensions for the cloister and church walls and finally two harriers, the one taking off and Quade’s which is still on the ground. Because of all the ash fallout in dilapidated London, the turbines of the harrier kick off a dust storm which surrounds the harriers and obscures the background.


When Quade takes off, the camera is behind the outside wall, looking through a cloister. For these shots we rebuilt a good part of the courtyard walls and the cloister in 3D in order to provide geometry for the dust storm and depth within these elements. We started using NUKE and Mari, the front wall closest to camera ended up being rebuild in Maya, because it had too much detail and depth which we didn’t want to lose. The particle storm went through several iterations from “take it to 11!” to eventually a more moderate approach. Len and Peter thought that after several harriers landing and taking off the dust would be somewhat reduced. For this shot, some of the mid-ground buildings were also 3D models, as there was too much change in them over the length of the camera move.


How did you collaborates with Double Negative teams for the Harrier?
DNEG had developed the harrier in all its detail. We took their model and textures and subsequent updates and put them into our pipeline in order to match a turntable render that DNEG also provided for the overall look of the shaders. Once a common base was established, we could light the harrier in our scenes matching the look of the DNEG harriers.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge was probably the limited time between arrival of the plates and delivery of the finished shots. It also meant that the production was very much in flux until quite late in the project with changes being made that would usually affect a whole set of shots.


Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
No, not really. Although it was probably the hardest CG that Baseblack has done to date, working with the people we have at Baseblack, we always knew we could do it.

What do you keep from this experience?
The trust in each other at Baseblack when it comes to delivering good work in a very team-oriented atmosphere.

How long have you worked on this film?
We worked on it for just over 6 months.

How many shots have you done?
In the end we did about 60 shots for TOTAL RECALL.

What was the size of your team?
We had about 35 people working on the project.?

What is your next project?
The next big thing for us is THE 47 RONIN.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
I am not sure if I can point to only 4 films, but here are 4 nevertheless: OUT OF AFRICA, DIVA, STAR TREK – THE WRATH OF KHAN and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Baseblack: Official website of Baseblack.





© 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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