Marty Waters joined The Senate VFX in 2010. He worked on films like CAPITAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, TOTAL RECALL, THE MONUMENTS MEN and MALEFICENT. As a VFX Supervisor, he took care of the effects of shows such as DOWNTON ABBEY, BLACK MIRROR and KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE.
What is your background?
I started off working in engineering and CAD drawing in Australia however quickly became bored with that and pursued a career in 3d. Back in the early 2000’s I got an opportunity to head to the UK to work and haven’t looked back since.
How did you and The Senate VFX get involved on this show?
We were brought on early in the piece during the bidding process. However due to various reasons we were not out in Berlin until just prior to shooting started so we had a lot of catching up to do to prep for the shoot.
How was the collaboration with director Duncan Jones?
Duncan was great to work with from start to finish. He is very laid back and approachable and aware of the role VFX play in the film. He would happily listen to ideas and let us go with it and offer up suggestions to bring them into line with his vision.
What was his approach and expectations about the visual effects?
With so much effort put into the set builds it was always about augmenting and extending what was already there. Obviously there were occasions such as the larger city shots and the robots and robotic legs which were to be done in CG. For these, Duncan handed me a couple of books which he referred to his design bible and it was from these that we came up with designs for the CG prosthetics, vehicles and city scape.
What are the sequences made by The Senate VFX?
Originally we were working as the sole vendor, however in post, due to scope and schedule, a couple of other facilities were brought on to complete the work in the amount of time granted. We still completed the majority of the work, probably about 80%. We were responsible for all of the Foreign Dreams environments both inside and outside, the car chase sequence, Bowling Alley, all views of Berlin except for the swimming pool views.
Can you tell us more about the previz and postviz work?
There was no time prior to shooting for previs work unfortunately. I ended up prevising the more difficult shots after wrap in time before they were scheduled as we went. Case in point being the Bowling Alley. Luckily we knew the set dressing was not to change from the look of the real location so we were able to get in an lidar scan it prior to shooting it. This allowed us to previs and tech vis the shot prior to shooting. Originally it was hoped that we could get away with shooting the 3 tiered bowling alley with a poor mans motion control and just trying to recreate the passes as best we could however after we tech vised it, it was obvious we would need a motion control rig for it. Luckily the Milo was able to scrape into the service lift of the bowling alley and we were able to create the required moves so that we were able to film it multiple times with specific moves programmed in the day before. I think we had about 18 motion control passes blended into that shot.
The biggest post vis sequence was for the car chase. This was shot on multiple streets in Berlin with some doubling as two or three locations dressed differently. Using the lidar we pieced it all together and duplicated the double ups to create a kind of race track scenario so that it looked like Leo was travelling from one place in the city to another, and not just round in circles. From this we also knew when we should be seeing the same skyline in the back ground.
Where was filmed the various locations in the movie?
We shot in lots and lots of locations in a short amount of time, all inside or a short drive from Berlin. All the studio work was shot at Babelsberg just outside Berlin, however Duncan was very keen to shoot on location whenever possible so it felt like nearly a new location each day. We never lingered in any one set for too long.
How did you work with the art department to design this new Berlin?
The art department had been working on this for quite some time before we arrived in Berlin and we were lucky enough that they had designs and ideas for a lot of the film in various states of approval. From their look book and references provided by Duncan we came up with ideas for the look of Berlin. However, it must be said that the art department did an amazing job on the sets so we were in essence just extending that look and feel.
Which place was the most complicated to create and why?
As mentioned earlier, the most complicated shot was the Bowling Alley establisher. We had to program the motion control rig to shoot the single layered bowling alley 3 times. Each time, picking up the previous take’s speed and rotation so that they would seamlessly blend together. Adding to the complication was the limited space inside the bowling alley which did not allow us to get high enough or allow for run up speed so we have to reproject plates back onto the cleaned up lidar to create some CG transitions as well. For the people elements we had a platform created to replicate the height of the upper levels and shot them from multiple angles to achieve the correct perspectives of people seen throughout the shot.
There is a chase sequence with lots of handheld shots. How did you manage the matchmove work?
With a lot of patience! We had all the locations for the car chase lidar scanned which helped us a great deal during the matchmove.
There is a really nice timelapse shot of the city. Can you explain in detail about its creation?
This was a shot that was added in post and used to replace a more traditional flashback type effect. The idea is to roll back 2 days to the night Naadirah disappears and shows Cactus taking her from Leo’s apartment. Its an entirely CG shot until the end where we join up with a plate shot.
As the movie is set in Future, there is some robots of course. Can you tell us more about it?
We were handed the design to the dancing robot in Foreign Dreams which had its origins in the graphic novel that Duncan had been trying to get made prior to Netflix coming on board. Originally they had wanted to do it practically with a specially made suit however it quickly became apparent on the first day of shooting that this was not viable.
How did you handle their rigging and animation?
Rigging was done using traditional rigging tools in Maya and we hand animated all the shots. We had the German national pole dancing champion in on one day where we filmed her routines from multiple angles to give us some performance reference to animate to. Of course, we had to adapt the performance to have one of the hands permanently attached to the dancing pole.
What was the main challenge on this show?
Keeping up with the pace of both the shoot and the post. We shot the entire film in about 10 weeks and had about a 20 week post from the time all the shots were signed off on. However we had a great team at The Senate that really bought into the film and pulled together to hit the deadline.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
Good question. Possibly the run down section of the city where Leo is heading to Naadirah’s apartment. The shot with hessian stalls and neon lit street.
The Flying Maxi taxi dropping down into Foreign Dreams to introduce that location was also a lot of fun to work on.
What is your best memory on this show?
Shooting at night in the Berlin winter is certainly not one of them, however shooting the club scenes for Foreign Dreams was great. Loud music, 100 extras, what’s not to like. I think we all had a good time on that.
How long have you worked on this show?
All up I probably spent around 10 months working on MUTE.
What’s the VFX shots count?
We completed 274 shots.
What was the size of your team?
We hit about 60 people on this.
What is your next project?
Currently shooting it now so it’s not public yet. Sorry, you know how it is.
A big thanks for your time.
MUTE – TRAILER
MUTE is streaming now on Netflix.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
The Senate VFX: Dedicated page about MUTE on The Senate VFX website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018