Before arriving at Cinesite in 2013, Richard Clarke has worked in many studios such as Industrial Light & Magic, CFC and Double Negative. He has participated in many films like STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and many HARRY POTTER (like HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE or HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX).

What is your background?
I was one of the early youngsters to leave University with a Degree in CG and Animation in the mid 1990s. My first job in the industry was in SFX Shed at Pinewood Studios, a company which was exploring the use of CGI. Later, I moved to Soho to work for CFC as a generalist, doing everything from modelling, texturing, rigging, animation, fx and lighting.

At the end of 2001 I went to ILM in Marin County as a Lighting/FX TD and worked on STAR WARS: EPISODE II. I also retrained as a compositor during that time. I spent eleven years at Double Negative doing a variety of supervision roles including Creature FX, CG Sup, On-set and VFX Supervisor. I have been at Cinesite for just over a year now, as a full time VFX Supervisor.

How did Cinesite get involved on this show?
We were brought on board quite late in the day, taking over work from another facility. The sequences we completed were pretty extensive and some were very challenging, technically.

How was your collaboration with director Noam Murro and Zack Snyder?
We would from time to time get notes and sketches from Zack, but most of the time we worked directly with VFX Supervisor DJ.

How did you work with Production VFX Supervisor John DJ Desjardin?
DJ is a fantastic supervisor to work with. He is very experienced and was extremely helpful and supportive. Unfortunately, we have never met face to face as we did all our reviews via cineSync sessions.

What was their approach about the visual effects?
Their approach was « don’t hold back » and « take everything to the max and keep going ». We were encouraged to adopt Zack’s visual style, with lots of glows and flares, taking the shots and making them graphic; subtle visual effects were not in the brief! We were encouraged to come up with many aspects of the shots ourselves and it was great to have such a creative contribution to the final look.

What are the sequences made by Cinesite?
We created environments for the Greek Encampments, Sparta, Athens and the Persian Palace. The environments included a CG wheat field as well as ships, props, ocean, soldiers, tents, shoreline, and floating atmospherics. All in all, it was a pretty substantial volume of work.

Can you describe to us one of your typical day?
A fairly typical day would involve a morning meeting between our producers and supervisors, then shot briefings, trouble shooting and dealing with any immediate issues. The rest of the day would be spent in the screening room reviewing shots with the artists. Before heading home we would often have a cineSync session with the client, when required.

What references and indications did you receive for your environments?
The original movie was a great point for us to start and expand upon. Some of our team were Greek and we have the luxury of many museums near by our offices in London, which we also used for research and reference.

How did you approach the recreation of Sparta and its huge surrounding wheat fields?
The city was based on the original Sparta from 300. I wanted to create huge, open, natural wheat fields with waves of wind wafting through them. Sparta is a place where the wind defines the ambience of the environment and a wheat field is a great way of representing it.

Can you explain in details about the creation of it?
The obvious choice was to use a fur system to give us ultimate control over the look and dynamics. We use Yeti and were able to get our own custom version from peregrine*labs that allowed efficient geometry instancing for the ears of the wheat.

How have you created the atmospheric effects for the wheat fields?
The God rays where created in Nuke, matching the original 300 look and then a layer of floating wheat chaff and dust moats nicknamed « Ridleys » after Ridley Scott’s LEGEND.

Can you tell us more about your work on the Greek army encampment shots?
These shots were achieved with a mixture of 3D, 2.5D and compositing. We would do a layout pass in Maya and hand that to the environment team, who would project the digital matte painting onto various geometry like the cliffs in the background, the ground and tents. We also created geo caches of clusters of digi-doubles that were laid out to create movement in the background. The compositors added campfires, smoke, embers and worked up the final look of the shot.

What was the real size of these sets?
The sets for the interiors are pretty standard. However, the set for the encampments are not large despite the nature of the final look. As in the first movie, the production cunningly used one rocky set, redressed many times, from many angles. All of the Greek encampments are filmed on the same piece of set. But, by the time we have completed our work, the environment has grown into something very substantial. You would be hard pressed to spot any similarities in the set between sequences.

Can you tell us more about Ancient Athens creation?
We started with a sketch which was drawn up by Zack; he draws exactly what he wants. DJ asked us to just copy it. We then built the key historical features of Athens and, after research, a selection of temples and homes. The shot is a mixture of digital matte painting and 2.5D reprojections for the background and suburbs. The main buildings in the Piazza and the Corinth Amphitheatre are full 3D.

The rest of the shot is dressed with smoke elements, crowd simulations and of course, a big lens flare.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge was delivering a pretty large number of shots in a compressed time frame. It was achieved thanks to an immense amount of hard work and dedication from the team at Cinesite. We are proud of our work and very proud of the team.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
We didn’t have time to sleep. So, no problem there!

What do you keep from this experience?
A number of things. Creating a great chunk of the world of 300, which was very enjoyable. The immense talent and output of the team at Cinesite. Also, having a fantastic client to work with, especially DJ and VFX Producer Jack Geist.

How long have you worked on this film?
In total, around 14 weeks.

How many shots have you done?

What was the size of your team?
84 including production, data ops and technical support.

What is your next project?
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which is directed by Guy Ritchie.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
BLADE RUNNER – not just for the visuals, but for the epic challenge of making it.
REGENERATION – about the WWI war poets. True dark grit with a powerful sound track. All the elements are there.
THE HUSTLER – a solid movie that is still as fresh, stylish and engrossing as ever.
LAPUTA – an amazing animation, with production design from the king of animation story telling.

A big thanks for your time.


Cinesite: Official website of Cinesite.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2014


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