Venti Hristova started her career in visual effects in 2006. She worked on many films such as SPEED RACER, TERMINATOR SALVATION, AVATAR and IRON MAN 2. As a VFX Supervisor, she took care of the effects of films like THE AVENGERS, IRON MAN 3, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING.
What is your background?
I am from Bulgaria, raised in England and have been living in Los Angeles for the past 20 years. My father, Lubo Hristov, has been in the VFX industry for around 30 years and it only made sense that I would follow in his path. I met Stephen Lawes in Berlin on SPEED RACER and we found a very common creative language. Lubo and Stephen has been my mentors through the VFX world.
How did you get involved on this show?
Over the past decade I have worked with Cantina Creative on a wide range of film projects. When HOTEL ARTEMIS came along, Sean Cushing (Executive Producer and co-owner of Cantina Creative) and Stephen Lawes (Creative Director and co-owner of Cantina Creative) asked whether I would be interested and I most definitely was.
How was this new collaboration with director Drew Pearce?
Drew was incredibly hands on with all aspects of the project so we worked very closely to create the best possible version of his vision for the film. Our collaboration was very fluid and uncomplicated.
What was his approach and expectations about the visual effects?
The beauty of having an indie budget is that everyone understands the financial parameters and is passionate to find the most creative solutions to achieve a massive budget vision. Drew imagined an apocalyptic future Los Angeles, with military technologies that filled every potion of the environment in some capacity. His expectations were enormous for the visual effects, his approach was always based on the creative solution. He problem solved with our VFX team so that we could all achieve his massive vision with classical film and story cheats. We also had the advantage of being the only VFX vendor on the show which included on-set supervision and housing the editorial team on our 4th floor. This proved critical as we built a firm relationship with Drew from pre-production through production and post. in that time we built a visual short hand that enabled us to solve creative problems efficiently and in a timely manner.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
Donna Cullen, the VFX producer, and I work extremely well together. She and I strategized the entire project from the start and we stayed fluid and adaptable when scope changed. A producer can make or break a project, Donna was the glue that kept all the pieces in place from beginning to end.
The movie opens with a beautiful holograms. How did you design and create this element?
The opening shot of the movie in the bank lobby is actually 90% CG. This shot is actually the gorgeous handiwork of Stephen Lawes. The bank greeter hologram is an elaborate Trapcode build all done in AE using green screen footage of the actor as the base element for various depth passes. The set extension including the marble back wall and elevator entrance, TV feeds (a shot within a shot), sconces, blood trail, waterfall projection and various plants were all built in Cinema4d and rendered in Arnold.
Once at the hotel, we discover many screen graphics. What was your approach for these elements?
The UI language within the Artemis underwent an initial design development stage at the beginning of post production. I asked a few different designers to create completely different UI languages based on military medical technology of the future. The result ran the gamete of organic liquid ink to retro-future soviet inspired designs. Drew was presented with a few rounds of screen concepts and he selected the retro-future direction to best describe the Artemis digital world.
Did you received specific indications and references for the director?
Our main reference for all the technological inspiration in the movie was based on Simon Stalenhag as well as architectural Brutalism. Those were our main creative guides from Drew.
Can you explain in details about this motion graphics creation and animation?
Cantina Creative is phenomenal in motion graphics animation and UI design. We have an amazing collection of designers and animators: Alan Torres is the Art Director at the company responsible for most design exploration, Andrew Hawryluk designed and animated the majority of the monitor graphics in Hotel Artemis, Carly Cerquone designed and animated all the advanced phone holograms and UI.
The approach is always the same, we start with the design stage where the client/director can identify the creative direction that best suits their project. After that stage, we begin to breakdown the primary functions of the graphics within the story. Motion graphics and their animation is predominantly used to set a tone and tell a succinct story to help the action along. Animation can vary from passive background motion to specific interactive and/or active animation conveying concrete story information.
Can you tell us more about the fonts choice and creation?
The design of the screen graphics needed to feel inspired by retro Soviet military technology. Andrew Hawryluk explored a variety of geometric, heavy-set square fonts to empathize the rigidity of the design tone and eventually settled on Bourgeois as it encompassed the majority of our creative needs. The ‘DANKO’ logo boot-up underwent a specific design process based on architectural Brutalism.
Did you provides some graphics to be use during the shooting?
We did not have on-set graphics, however, we were able to create design references for the actors and Drew to use during shooting for better cinematic understanding. Jodie Foster’s character always help an iPad which became a significant part of her persona. By generating reference graphics, Jodie was able to interact with her iPad seamlessly.
What was the main challenges with these screen graphics?
The curtain graphics specifically became a large compositional undertaking because during shooting they were lit in a dimmer fashion than what we ended up with in the final film. A large amount of the action and dynamics between characters take place in front of the floor-to-ceiling curtain elements, so expanding the light source became an involved roto/comp task.
How did you extend the set on the hotel rooftop?
We used creative strategizing to make the Hotel Artemis neon roof sign have the same structural scaffolding build as the practical rooftop sign of The Rosslyn Hotel that was used for shooting. The Artemis sign was built in C4D and comped in Nuke. We created a collection of city fires visible from the roof in all direction so that we could empathize the devastated tone.
Can you tell us more about the helicopter crash?
The helicopter crash is an epic 2.5D comp. One of Cantina’s resident effects geniuses – Aaron Eaton is responsible for that shot. The helicopter element is a 3D model, the crash is a collection of 2D composite solutions including stock particle explosions for debris, fire and smoke.
How did you handle the FX work for the explosions and smoke?
The Artemis rooftop generator explosion is actually practical and shot in camera, we augmented it with smoke assets. The big CG explosion was the brick wall in the beginning of the movie during the bank heist, curtesy of Aaron Eaton. The shot went through a very elaborate exploration phase during the majority of the post schedule because the mechanism of the wall destruction was very intricate. We were tasked with figuring out the « real » way a brick wall would spall and breakdown from a high energy plasma gun on the inside. The final shot was a complex FX comp with layers of Houdini render passes, stock elements, AE filters and effects, and magic.
There are some really gore moments during the fights. How did you enhance this aspect?
We generated all the gore moments in VFX – blood hits (using both Houdini and stock footage), the Polyp spray is an FX build using both C4D and AE to generate crystalizing coral artifacts, the Morgan stomach surgery is a combination of Houdini blood and AE comp magic, the Niagara surgery wound is all AE, etc.
Can you tell us how you choose the various VFX vendors?
We were the only VFX vendor on the show.
Is there any other invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
There are TONS of invisible effects. I am personally most proud of all the shots of the CG arms (built in Maya and rendered in Arnold) during the entire film. Every time the robotic surgical arms appear it is the amazing work of Julianne Dome. She singlehandedly, rigged, textured, animated, lit and comped every arm shot in the movie. They are all beautifully understated and hidden, with intentional direction from Drew, in order for the viewer to never feel they do not belong. The arms are the perfect example of invisible VFX because they are incredibly complex but never hero featured.
Every single window shot from the Artemis is also invisible VFX. The sequence in the Honolulu suite when Waikiki prints a 3D gun, the physical printer device is all VFX because it was not on set that entire sequence. The bank lobby at the beginning of the movie is 90% VFX. Just to name a few.
Which sequence or shot was the most complicated to created and why?
There were a few sneaky shots in the show that seemed straightforward at first glance but ended up being significantly more complex. One such example was the overhead shot of Waikiki pulling Honolulu through the bank alley and trailing blood on the ground. We needed to stabilize the shot and add blood to the ground. Seemed very simple at first but ended up being pretty trying. The majority of our difficulty in compositing on this show frankly came from its anamorphic nature.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
My favorite sequence was Nice on the Artemis roof on her holographic phone with the backdrop of burning Los Angeles. That sequence is the essence of the movie in all its stylized and epic beauty.
What is your best memory on this show?
Donna Cullen and I laughed a lot and we made a point to celebrate milestones with our team over mimosa and donut breakfasts.
How long have you worked on this show?
We worked on HOTEL ARTEMIS for approximately 8 months. That included production and post production.
What’s the VFX shots count?
What was the size of your team?
What is your next project?
I am a freelance VFX supervisor and I am currently actually working at an advertising agency (Ayzenberg Group). Cantina is always busy doing crazy cool stuff.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
I love good stories and beautiful visuals – BLADE RUNNER, 2001 SPACE ODYSSEY, STOKER and STEALING BEAUTY.
A big thanks for your time.
HOTEL ARTEMIS – VFX REEL – CANTINA CREATIVE
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Cantina Creative: Dedicated page about HOTEL ARTEMIS on Cantina Creative website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018