Sebastien Moreau began his career in visual effects over 15 years ago. He worked in several studios such as Hybride, Weta or ILM and participated in projects such as MIMIC, STAR WARS EPISODE II, WAR OF THE WORLDS or THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING. In 2006, he founded Rodeo FX with Mathieu Raynault and oversee the effects of movies like TERMINATOR SALVATION, SOURCE CODE or RED TAILS. In the following interview, he explains his second collaboration with director Tarsem.

What is your background?
I have worked in Canada, the US and New Zealand… most notably at ILM, Weta, Hybride and Buzz Image Group. However, I am most proud of where I am now at Rodeo FX as the company’s President and VFX Supervisor. We are a VFX company continually expanding our personnel with creative artists and executives that share a vision for the company’s growing future.

How was this new collaboration with director Tarsem Singh?
This was Rodeo FX’s second time working with Tarsem. Having worked on IMMORTALS with him, we were familiar with the scope of his vision… which was especially helpful this time since the post production schedule for MIRROR MIRROR was incredibly short. It was the first time working with VFX Supervisor Tom Wood. Tom was aware of our working with Tarsem on IMMORTALS and trusted us early on in the delivery process. Tarsem gave clear direction, carried out by the film’s VFX Supervisor, Tom Wood.

How have you worked with Production VFX Supervisor Tom Wood?
We met Tom Wood in person at the beginning of production on the MIRROR MIRROR set, here in Montreal. We then sent a great team of concept artists and modeler at Mel’s with Tom to get all the concepts, modeling and camera work he needed on a weekly basis. We also sent our camera match move team to do the data wrangling. We then met weekly via Cinesync and Skype.

Can you tell us what Rodeo FX did on this film?
Rodeo FX sent a team to create the concept, starting with the castle. Tarsem told us he wanted the film to have a surreal look. The concept stage is truly important in the process of creating environments. Rodeo FX was brought in as part of the VFX production team to create over 160 VFX shots including: the film’s opening shot transitioning the seasons from summer to winter, the long shot of the Castle and the cliff on which it stood, the long distance shot with the approach leading to Snow White opening her bedroom doors, the interior of her bedroom, day and night sequences of the castle’s exterior, stormy skies, snow falling, computer generated (CG) crowds, Snow White’s courtyard and the interior and background of the Queen’s Chamber and the environment during the Queen’s wedding. Rodeo FX created all the Snow White castle establishing shots.

What indications and references have you received from Tarsem for the castle and its environment?
Tarsem and Tom Wood first planned realistic winter landscapes. Once that vision changed, they referenced the work of legendary illustrator Maxwell Parrish for the cumulus clouds. They also referenced the architect Gaudi for the castle and environment around it for inspiration for the look of the film.

How did you proceed to create the castle?
We started with concepts for the creation of the castle. We started creating the Hi-res model, textures and shading. We spent a good deal of time detailing the asset itself. To ensure being in sync with Tarsem’s vision, we had many discussions with the film’s Production Designer, Tom Foden, and with the VFX Supervisor Tom Wood for every aspect of the castle. We had several detailed discussions regarding textures, architecture, shape, materials, design and the overall look of the castle to be congruent with the Queen’s sense of style and opulence. The castle could be considered an integral part of the story. It’s the center of the Queen’s comfort zone.

Did you use procedural tools especially for trees?
Yes, we used XSI and Arnold.

Can you tell us more about the beautiful transitions between the seasons?
First of all, the snow was created with Nuke’s particle system. The challenge was to have the right timing from beginning to end. The Nuke’s particle system was fast and easy to play with. We rendered different depths and textures of snow… foreground snow, background snow and mid- ground snow. So the snowfall would become lighter and heavier at times for a real snowfall look and feel. We also had an all-winter look in CG, transitioning to a summer scene. We used textures, like an icy lake animating the transition from one season to another. Rather than just use a dissolve, we worked to create something that looked more like a time lapse from winter to summer. The transition we were going for was to be organic, so the audience would feel the sense of time passing with the seasons changing.

How did you handle the many different skies that we see in the room of the Queen?
A big challenge for us in creating the sky outside the Queen’s chamber was to create a fantasy sky with cumulus clouds… some in the subtle shapes of animals. We started by tracking the camera to have a reference for the placement. We then did a huge sky asset for all moods in the movie. We projected the MP in Nuke by loading all 3D cameras, making it fairly easy to have a quick comp for all scenes. The difficult part of the process wasn’t creating a quick comp for each scene. Then it was a matter of tweaking the sky by moving it around a bit and painting the part that showed the most. This part of the process was necessary to have a nice composition for the parts of the sky seen the most. The sky was sent to compositing with several layers making it a little easier for the compositors to animate the clouds on a fix frame, using a warp recipe we developed here at Rodeo FX.

The castle interior includes many digital set extensions. Can you further explain their design and creation?
For the castle’s courtyard conception we tried a lot of different looks to get a certain feel. It was not conceived immediately, but rather, it developed into a process until we got what we wanted. Tarsem and Tom [Wood] provided us with several references to convey what they were looking for. Creating scenes with their vision and our artistry took time, communication achieved over time.

What was your equipment to retrieve the necessary informations during the shooting?
We used excellent camera survey, photosurvey and lidar scans.

How did you handle the lighting challenge for your mattes-paintings?
Since the environment was an asset, the CG guys could easily provide trees and land layers already lit to the matte painters. It was a good base for them to add their magic touch and create those funky skies.

Can you explain in more detail the use of Nuke and Flame to create your shots?
Again the position passes were really handy for all the cg shots to tweak colors and create rough mattes. Most of the sky projection was done directly in Nuke and Flame to allow the compositor to animate the sky on a still frame. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, Nuke is an asset because it can handle big resolution and it’s easy to test the animation because you have a big render farm. But we found the Genarts were a bit unstable in Nuke. Thanks to all the other tools it was easy to recreate the same thing. On the other hand, Flame is much more stable with Genarts plugin, but has some problems handling big resolution.

What was the biggest challenge on this film and how did you achieve it?
Time was a bit of a challenge having such a short post production schedule. However, I think one of the biggest challenges was creating the forest for two different seasons. The rendering time could go up quickly. Using Arnold really helped us achieve a good result with a short amount of rendering time.

What was the size of your team?
Rodeo FX now has close to 100 people covering every aspect of VFX. For MIRROR MIRROR, we used a team of 40 artists.

What is your next project?
Rodeo FX is presently working on THE TWILIGHT SAGA: PART 2 BREAKING DAWN, THE HOST, NOW YOU SEE ME, JACK THE GIANT KILLER and several other films and live production projects that we’ll soon be able to announce. It’s all very exciting… a lot of diverse work all on a large scale.

A big thanks for your time.


Rodeo FX: Official website of Rodeo FX.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2012


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