Greg Butler began his career in the visual effects more than 20 years ago at ILM. He then worked in several studios like Tippett Studio, Weta Digital and MPC. He has worked on many projects such as FORREST GUMP, THE MASK, the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy or JACK THE GIANT SLAYER.

What is your background?
I studied history, film, television and theater design in school. My start in the VFX industry was as a camera engineering intern at ILM. I spent some time as a lighting TD and then worked my way up to VFX Supervisor about ten years ago.

How did you got involved on this show?
MPC had been looking for an opportunity to work with Malpaso Productions for a number of years. Everything finally lined up, including my availability to supervise.

How was the collaboration with director Clint Eastwood?
Working with Clint Eastwood was great. He knew the movie he was making at every step and I was never in doubt about what the VFX work needed to achieve. We went through a few revisions on the bigger shots, but most of the work was approved very quickly.

What was his expectations and approach about the visual effects?
Visual effects was expected to fit in seamlessly with all the other depts’ work on the film. If the audience is watching and enjoying the film, then the VFX were successful.

How did you work with Production VFX Supervisor Michael Owens?
Michael was a great collaborator and partner in the work. He and Clint Eastwood have been working together for years and are pretty in sync. We would do regular cineSync sessions with Michael and he would fly up to spend a few days with us whenever there was a deadline approaching.

Can you describe one of your day on-set and then during the post?
I didn’t spend any time onset, MPC only joined the show for post production. On a standard day, I would meet with the MPC vfx show team in the morning, attend dailies, go see artists on desk rounds, send latest work to Michael and then end the day with a cineSync call.

How did you approach the creation of the various New York environments?
We had two time periods to cover, 1958 and 1990. For the earlier period, we built cars and pedestrians using the reference taking during the shoot, which took place on a backlot with large blue screens where the small New York St set ran out. To increase the variation in vehicle traffic, we also built some Chevy trucks and a city bus. Our lead digital matte painter, Juan Jesus Garcia found a couple of period photos that lined up really well to the angle we needed. He did a lot work to blend and modify various images, both period and contemporary. Our compositing supervisor, Christine Petrov brought together the background matte painting, foreground building extension, street traffic and window interior footage.

For the 1990 scene, we had a photographer go out and capture a series of still photos we used to create a 3D projected matte painting for the buildings and roads. Again, we built vehicles and pedestrians from onset reference as well as some additional vehicles appropriate to the period, which as pick up trucks and vans.

Did you used green screens or did you rely on rotoscoping?
We heavily relied on roto, but there were screens used on a few of the bigger shots.

What was the main challenge about the environments creation?
The biggest challenge was extending the Brill Building in the 1958 NYC shot, especially incorporating the footage of musicians on every floor. We had to design the building to work with the real ground floor set as well as the interior rooms, which weren’t shot as motion control. We took a lot of liberties with the design of the building to be able to comfortably see inside. It’s a fun shot to watch, especially with the soundtrack.

The band is performing on huge stages. How did you created the various crowd?
We had a number of shots that required additional audience members, including one where everything in the background is digital, the theatre as well as the people. We built a large group of male and female crowd members, based on the actors used in the real scenes. We then varied and duplicated them around the real and the digital theaters.

The motion of the audience was captured in a series of short clips for each required action. There was subtle head bobbing, polite clapping and eventually a standing ovation. We ran everything through MPC’s crowd software, ALICE, which handled playback, blending and timing of the motion clips.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
There was one shot we did that did cause me some lost sleep. I’m not going to reveal it though!

What do you keep from this experience?
That working in visual effects can be fun, especially on a film that has lots of music.

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

How many shots have you done?

What is your next project?
I’ve just started working on Clint Eastwood’s next film, AMERICAN SNIPER.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?

A big thanks for your time.


MPC: Dedicated page about JERSEY BOYS on MPC website.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2014


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