CHILD 44: Chris Harvey (VFX Supervisor) & Bernhard Kimbacher (Compositing Supervisor) – Image Engine

In last March, Chris Harvey talked in detail about the work of Image Engine on CHAPPIE by Neill Blomkamp. As for Bernhard Kimbacher, he had detailed to us his work on LONE SURVIVOR last year.

How did you and Image Engine got involved on this show?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor //
Daniel was in prep ou in Prague and I flew out to meet with him and the team. We sat down and went through the film, his vision for it, its not a VFX driven film at all, but he certainly specific needs and questions as well as an overall hope to add certain scope/depth with the aid from VFX. We got on well and Image Engine came on board.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // I just came off LONE SURVIVOR when Image Engine was awarded CHILD 44. From a VFX standpoint it was a fairly similar scope of work and the timeline worked out nice so I ended up transitioning straight into it.

How was your collaboration with director Daniel Espinosa?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Daniel was great to work with. We would often talk about how VFX could help out with a scene, where we could take extra liberties to add value and “richness” to the story while maintaining the overall vision he had.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // I had the pleasure of working with Daniel throughout principal photography. He has got a very strong vision of what he wants the final product to look like, yet he’s open to hearing suggestions on how to approach any challenge. He gives you the creative freedom to explore ideas while guiding things to the look he envisions which makes him a great director to work for.

What was his approach about the visual effects?
Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // Daniel’s approach to visual effects is definitely one of subtlety. I feel that for him visual effects is very much a supporting element to the story and the characters rather than something that draws the audience’s attention. Being on the same side of the spectrum myself it made the project a very enjoyable experience.

Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Daniels movies are not VFX driven films, they are very much character and story driven… so he had a lot of questions about what we could and could not do with VFX, and would very much trust our judgement on how to tackle certain issues. As Bernie mentions for us it was all out a supporting role.

Can you describe one of your typical day on-set and then during the post?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // I would actually travel back and forth between Vancouver and Prague, coming out for all of prep and then our major sequences. Bernard the comp supe on the show was there everyday however. A lot of time was spent making sure we would get the data we needed, and working with Director, Production Designer, and Producer to creatively sort out what was needed and how VFX could help.

Once we got back to the shop and were going with post most of my time was spent in dailies and rounds, with trips to LA to review the material with Daniel.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // This being a strongly character-driven drama the days on set were mostly spent in the background. A lot of the shoot was either very delicate or very intense for the actors, so as the VFX department we tried to interfere with that process as little as possible. It was a lot about knowing when to be there, but even more knowing when not to be there 🙂

During post my day was mostly spent as a bridge between the artists and Chris.

The movie features many environments. Can you explain in details about their creation?
Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // Because most environments were only featured once or twice we opted for a matte-painting heavy approach. We did a 3D build with very basic lookdev, matte painted on top of the renders and projected them back onto the geometry in Nuke. For one-off city extensions this seemed to be the most efficient way of approaching it.

Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Along with the specifics about execution that Bernard mentions below we did a lot of reference collecting while on-set. Bernard even made a trip back after we wrapped for another week devoted just additional material needed for these environments. Elements we collected consisted of, plates, texture, photogrammetry data, lighting reference etc…

What was the most complicated environment to create and why?
Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // The most involved environment was probably Volsk as we approach it on the train for the first time. It was the only environment we had to build completely in 3D, on most other environments we had underlying buildings we could build on top of. It was also the most stylized of all the environments, so making it sit in the shot in a believable way while conveying the dark mood Daniel wanted to feel in this shot was a big challenge.

Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Yep that Volsk shot was a challenge, along with the extensive 3D build and somewhat stylized nature of the location, it was also shot day for night, in reverse and from the back of a moving train…

Did you received specific indications and references for these environments?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Production Designer Jan Roelfs and Art Director Erik Polczwartek provided us with loads of great concept art and research that they had done for each location. I would then meet with Daniel and review each of the pieces and discuss what worked, what he wanted to keep or lose, and the overall mood that the concepts were creating for him. From there we would take all that and have a clear direction to run!

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // Daniel had a very clear vision of what the various environments should look like, and he provided us with several references. This gave us a great starting point and we could really focus our energy on making the environments look believable rather than having to figure out what they should look like.

The train plays a big part in the movie. Can you explain in details about your involvement on it?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // There are actually a couple of styles of trains in the film… and while they did a great job sourcing and replicating period appropriate train cars they couldn’t ever get a full trains worth. So it fell on us to digitally extend them. We did shoots for textures and photogrammetry and then simply replicated the live action ones with appropriate variations. We would also add or embellish the steam pumping out of the engine.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // It’s important for the story to have long, almost endless trains that ship off people to the Gulags. For obvious reasons it was not feasible to shoot them practically, so we ended up with just 3 or 4 real train cars and we added another 15-20 CG ones. We had perfect reference from the real train cars so it ended up being a fairly pain-free process.

How did you enhanced the various fights?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Really in anyway we could to add to the “energy” of the sequences. It was sometimes a carefully placed bit of squid or mud… and in other cases more extreme like caving in someones head. More often it was the subtle stuff… but it’s funny how effective those little things add up to become.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // The fight we enhanced the most was the Reichstag fight. We had an incredible set build and SFX did a great job rigging it with practical bullet squibs, but in order to achieve the chaotic and hectic feel Daniel was after we had to add a significant amount of CG bullet hits. We shot a lot of elements with the SFX crew in Prague, and combined with our existing element library at Image Engine we had a good selection to pepper the shots with bullet hits and blood sprays. There was also some minor enhancements to the fight on the train and the mud fight at the end, but it was much more subtle and really just needed to add that last little touch to sell the shot.

Can you tell us more about the creation of the muzzle flashes?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // We spent a half day shooting muzzle flashes from the actual guns we would be adding them to. Then they were all tagged and when artists has to add a muzzle flash we knew we were adding an authentic element for each gun.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // In the age of digital cameras muzzle flashes tend to often be captured only partially or not at all, so we had to add a significant amount of muzzle flashes. We shot muzzle flash elements in Prague with period correct guns, which we then matched to each shot, so they blended in seamlessly with the existing muzzle flashes in the shots.

Is there any invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Hahaha, I sure hope so…but I won’t tell you which ones 🙂

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // If we’ve done our job right there should be plenty of invisible effects in this movie! We’ve touched almost 300 shots in the movie, I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which ones 🙂

What was the main challenges on the show and how did you achieve it?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Its funny, there are some shows that are just damn technically hard… the VFX you are trying to achieve is simply something never been done before. This was not that show. So the challenge here was to add the breadth and scope… moods if you will (whether it be tension, scale, ominous, whatever), that Daniel wanted us to help add to the film… and do it in a way that you don’t notice directly. It was an exercise in subtle precision… not something you always get to focus on, but certainly fun.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // The main challenge I think was being subtle with the visual effects while doing some pretty drastic changes to the real environments. It was key not to draw attention to the visual effects, which can become tricky when the VFX work is actually taking up a large part of the shot.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Not really.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // Gladly no.

What do you keep from this experience?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // I say it every time, new relationships and new experiences. We met some great people out in Prague and got to send a lot of time out there. And back home discovered some new friends and talent.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // Having been on set in the Czech Republic for 5 months and seeing some very interesting sets that would otherwise be inaccessible to the public I think that’s the most memorable aspect of this project for me.

How long have you worked on this show?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // About 16 months all told.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // I was involved from the beginning of the shoot in May 2013 until we wrapped the last VFX shot in August 2014

How many shots have you done?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Just under 300.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // We have 276 shots in the final movie.

What was the size of your team?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Smaller team on this, around 30ish.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // We had a core team of about 20 people who were dedicated full time to the project and another 20-30 people who were involved in a smaller capacity.

What is your next project?
Chris Harvey – VFX Supervisor // Can’t really say.

Bernhard Kimbacher – Compositing Supervisor // I am currently working on Gary Gray’s STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON which comes to theatres this August.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Image Engine: Official website of Image Engine.





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2015

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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