After beginning his career in traditional animation, Joe Farrell goes digital on TV series such as STARGATE SG-1 or JEREMIAH. Few years later, he joined Digital Domain and worked on films such as I, ROBOT, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, TRANSFORMERS or 2012. In 2010, he moved to Scanline VFX L.A to work on HEREAFTER and then on IMMORTALS and BATTLESHIP.

What is your background?
I started out in traditional animation working for Walt Disney Studios Australia and Warner Bros. Animation as a production « In-betweener ». I crossed over into the digital world in the early 90’s on commercials and television series in Canada. Eventually moving to the United States and working for Digital Domain on various feature projects before joining Scanline VFX L.A to help on Clint Eastwood’s HEREAFTER film.

How did Scanline VFX get involved on this show?
We were approached by the production’s VFX supervisor Everett Burrell to work on the climatic end finally for A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.

How was the collaboration with director John Moore?
John likes to shoot as much practically with stunts and special FX as possible. Our job was to meticulously integrate our elements into these amazing plates we received from set. The director payed close attention to all the details of destruction and fluid dynamics to keep everything based on reality. We approached the destruction shots in a way that allowed us to achieve real world dynamics as well as art directed characteristics to help tell the story.

What have you done on this show?
Scanline’s team was tasked with destroying the Mi-26 helicopter in the climatic final and an unusual « sea of fire » explosion sequence.

Can you tell us in details about the environment creation?
We worked closely with production VFX Supervisor Everett Burrell to cooperate with other vendors that were completing environment elements and shots that integrated into our shots. Shared assets traveled back and fourth depending on the needs of shots.

How did you create the helicopter?
Production provided us with the Mi-26 helicopter initially and we then extensively modified it for both simulation purposes and secondary destruction as well as close up detailing. A lot of our shots were slow motion and needed a level of detail in the modeling and texturing that was able to hold up to the viewers keen eyes.

The sequence features huge destructions. Have you used practical models?
I would have loved to shoot some large scale models for this film but unfortunately time was not on our side.

How did you create the many destruction’s in this sequence?
We made extensive use of our in-house simulation software Flowline on this project. We pushed its capabilities even further and created some of the most amazingly beautiful simulations I’ve ever seen. Artists on the FX team were able to take creative input from Everett and John and sculpt and design natural phenomenon like fire and smoke to do slow motion dynamic movements. The hard surface simulations where generated using « thinking particles » in and then looped back into Flowline simulations that fed off the hard surface geometry animations.

We got the level of detail needed by creating layers and layers of varying sims that were then artistically composited to create these complex and believable images. Our 2D department had its work cut out for them. CG fluid sim explosions needed to match perfectly with live action explosions and using careful integration techniques to smoothly blend the two worlds together.

Can you tell us more about the shooting of the big shot with John McClane and the helicopter explosion?
Shot 200 was a huge undertaking that both John and Everett wanted to be perfect. Production had built a full size set in Budapest of a swimming pool and glass atrium and rigged a huge 60 – 80 foot pyro fireball in camera. Plates of the two harnessed stunt actors falling roughly 60 feet smashing down threw the glass atrium into the pool water were shot using a Spydercam rig.

Can you tell us in details about the creation of this impressive shot?
The team learnt early on that animating the world’s largest helicopter colliding with a building in slow motion was going to be a challenge. We wanted to see and understand what would happen to such a huge mass under such extreme pressures and how the dynamic air mass would move in such a confined space. We simulated flows with real world characteristics to see what swirls and movement would appear. Art directing was a key part of the shot to help both the story points needed and the cool factor.

Layers of destruction passes from multiple 3D packages built up the detail that sometimes we ended up heavily suppressing in compositing. I found this technique gave us the photo real qualities the the film camera’s had captured on set. This project was great because it was shot on film. I love how film looks and we incorporated all the optical techniques that make it so special into our elements to help blend the shot together.

Two versions of the shot were worked on at the same time. A roiling fire version for the trailer and a smokey dust version for the film.

Did you used digital doubles for this shot?
No digital doubles were needed. All real stunt guys doing their thing.

How did you create the slow motion explosion and flames?
Flowline, our in house proprietary software with some custom twirls to boot.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The time frame on this project and its complexity where the biggest challenge. We overcame it by working on multiple aspects and disciplines simultaneously. Lots of overlap and a communicating production team keeping on their toes.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
I may have had a few restless nights. I dream in a simulation haze, its quite a thing.

What do you keep from this experience?
An awesome vfx crew and its combined artistry can be a very powerful thing when under pressure.

How long have you worked on this film?
About 5 months.

How many shots have you done?
20 shots.

What was the size of your team?
We averaged around 10 artists.

What is your next project?
The studio is working on 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE and IRON MAN 3 right now.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
I loved Ridley Scott’s THE DUELISTS, EXPLORERS, DARK CRYSTAL and an aussie movie called MALCOLM.

A big thanks for your time.


Scanline VFX: Official website of Scanline VFX.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013


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