The team of Day for Night composed by Frank Kaminski (Producer & VFX Supervisor), Marco Del Bianco (Producer & VFX Supervisor), Marwin Wanek (VFX Lead artist), Eva Wendler (VFX Producer) and Christoph Willerscheidt (VFX Artist) explains their work on NORTHMEN – A VIKING SAGA:
What is your background?
Marco Del Bianco – Producer / VFX Supervisor // I gained first experiences on 3D animation and compositing during university, while I started producing short films in late 90s. After my graduation I roughly produced 80 CG commercials on national and international level, being the director of some of them. In 2008 I began producing feature films with Frank at Jumping Horse Film. Soon I also started leading the operating of VFX for feature films with DAY FOR NIGHT by involving old friends from university; the founders of MACINA. We worked on approximately 30 shows since then, starting off with small TV Movie jobs to period TV Events and finally evolved to first theatricals.
Frank Kaminski – Producer / VFX Supervisor // I started in the entertainment business as producer for video promos and commercials in 1995. Back in the 90s in Germany video promos and commercials offered a very good chance to work with substantial VFX Budgets. I stepped into movie business as a producer in 1999. Since then I produced more than 25 features (national / international) for german and international markets. Creating and supervising VFX for my own productions was a very efficient and clever way to realize VFX within the limited budgets of local television and feature market. Since 2010 I also work as a VFX Supervisor and Producer for other production companies & productions.
How did you get involved on this show?
Marco Del Bianco – Producer / VFX Supervisor // I met director Claudio Fäh in L.A. at Crazy Horse Effects when we worked on our first bigger show. In this context he told me about his future project NORTHMEN and that they’ll need a VFX house and maybe a german co-producer as well. One year after producer Daniel Höltschi called me and so we got involved as coproducer with JHF and DFN as VFX supplier.
Frank Kaminski – Producer / VFX Supervisor // Marco Del Bianco called me and showed me the script for consulting. After talking to the producer in Switzerland and to director Claudio Fäh we found out that the show needed an executive producer with strong knowledge of VFX and limited budgets. Perfect for me, so I immediately stepped into the production.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with director Claudio Fäh?
Frank Kaminski – Producer / VFX Supervisor // The collaboration was very open minded. Before pre-production started we only met once on a location tour in Bulgaria which was primarily considered as location but later changed to South Africa. Because of limited budget we only had 2 month of pre-production on location in Cape Town but our work relationship was exceptional great. We were always on the same creative page and had the same film in our minds. Claudio is very experienced in achieving big budget production value for a very small budget. We spent a lot of time in Pre-Viz and Storyboarding in order to work and shoot as effective as possible. Claudio has a great knowledge of every aspect of filmmaking so my job was to support his vision as good as possible without stressing the budget too much.
I also worked with Claudio in Post-production, which was a very special collaboration. I am thankful for the experience of having worked that closely with Claudio as he was so focused on the team and the film. It was so much fun to work with a director who has so much knowledge, such an open mind and a team oriented work style. We had unnumbered Skype meetings developing the sequences and shots with him which is a gift I never had before.
What was his approach about the visual effects?
Frank Kaminski – Producer / VFX Supervisor // Our approach was: We are not shooting a VFX movie. We try to shoot as much as possible on real locations, with real stunts & fights. We used VFX to support this vision and to make things happen which were too expensive to build or too dangerous to shoot for real. This does not mean that we did not end up with an overall amount of more than 600 VFX shots.
Can you tell us more about Day for Night?
Marco Del Bianco – Producer / VFX Supervisor // DAY FOR NIGHT was founded in 2006 producing 3D commercials in-house for national and international clients which formed the cornerstone of our experience regarding CG and VFX. Thanks to this treasure trove of experience, DFN evolved to the TV and theatrical market in 2008.Today we have an internal team of 10 to 20 artist, who did about 10 shows in 2014 which can be classified in several categories from cinema to commercial / TV and even music video.
What was you role on this show?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // Visual Effects Supervisor and Lead Artist of the Bridge Sequence
Can you describe one of your typical day on-set and then during the post?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // Working in South Africa turned out to be a special challenge as almost every location was shot in nature under heavy weather conditions. The regular wind even turns building up a green screen into a challenge which caused the problematic fact that we used very small or actually no green screens at all during the shooting of several VFX shots. Another challenge was that we shot many times by a crane under the usage of anamorphic lens. So we had to create a lot of complicated 3D camera tracks in post.
All that circumstance led to the fact that we needed a lot of information on the shooting about the environment, coulisse, camera and light situation to be able to create the VFX shots convincingly. Besides we established a library of footage for CG models,set-extension, elements and references material, to be prepared properly and stay flexible in daily work.
A typical day in post began with a team meeting in the morning on which we discussed the daily approach as well as arisen difficulties –that were mostly solved during these meetings. Afterwards the work on the single shots proceed till we presented our dailies to Claudio on Skype meetings in the evenings.
How did you approach the storm sequence?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // The storm sequence was intended to be the epic introduction to the movie and to set the tone for the story. The audience should feel that the vikings literally have lost everything they’ve known and loved.
Can you tell us more about its creation?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // The plan was to do as much as possible in camera and provide the actors with an engaging environment. So half a viking-boat was built on the backlot of the studio near Cape Town and mounted on some kind of suspension. This way the film crew could easily shake the boat to simulate wave-impacts. A big amount of water cannon and wind machines helped the actors to really fell like vikings fighting for their lives in that terrible storm.
During postproduction the visual effects team was facing the challenge to convey a compelling ocean, without ever shooting on the sea. We went with using stock material of contemporary ships crushing through huge waves and replace those ships with a 3D-viking-galley including simulated sail and ropes. We then added the actors who were also filmed in front of a green screen doing all kinds of stuff like pulling ropes and falling. A big amount of work went into convincingly add in the viking-boat behind the semi-transparent practical waves.
How was the climbing sequence filmed?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // The actors were secured by wires, climbing in several meters height, while the camera was rigged on a huge crane. But of course for every shot facing downwards, the height of the cliffs needed to be dramatically increased with a digital set-extension using a 3D Cliff and a matte-painting.
How did you create the huge cliffs for this sequence?
Eva Wendler – VFX Producer // For the top shots of the climbing sequence we created a matte painting of the beach on lowest level of the picture. The matte-painting in combination with some additional 3D elements on the rock surface as well as a precisely figured out lighting/shading gave those shots the necessary depth to work accordingly.
The heroes find refuge in a old tower. Can you tell us more about this place?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // To visualize the tower we used a practical tower pedestal on set and completed the top by a CG model in post. Having created the model in 3DS Max, the next step was creating a sim of the collapsing. Finally these tower shots needed a handful of comp days to establish it’s common look.
How did you create the wall of fire around the tower?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // On location the SFX team created only a very small part of the ring of fire. So we used a full cg simulation, created in fume fx by our particle specialist Anselm Seherr von Thoss, to complete the upraising firewall it in an appropriate dimension. For quite a lot of shots, we simulated fire elements which were added in post to the real fire to make it look bigger, while others of these sequence were created on the base of stock elements.
Can you tell us more about the tower destruction?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // For the tower destruction, we built a 3d model of the tower in 3ds max and used a destruction simulation to make it collapse. Fire, smoke and dust elements were simmed in fume fx, while sparks,debris and ashes were made with Thinking Particles, based on the fume fx fluid simulation.
The movie is featuring a lot a beautiful landscapes. How did you enhance these locations?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // A lot of those gorgeous landscapes are actually pretty much real. South Africa has some really great looking places with beautiful mountains and cliffs. Most of the time there were only a few buildings or cars to be painted out. The biggest contribution by the VFX team to the environments was this big gazing ravine with that wobbly bridge being the only way to reach the other side.
Can you explain in details about the bridge and cliffs creation?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // The most challenging part on creating the Bridge sequence was to achieve a matte-painting that explains the vertical depth. Having mastered this challenge, we projected the matte painting on a low poly model and created a camera movement in the 3D space to visualize the ravine establishing shot. For the wide angle we shot the actors on a real bridge an extended the location with the matte-painting on the underpart.
The movie has many fights and gore. How have you enhanced these aspects?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // We would only slightly enhance the fights ranging from wire removals to adding small amounts of blood to particular shots. It was important for Claudio to stay with a realistic, non-stylised look.
How did you create the huge army at the end?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // Obviously there was no way this could be done with extras in costumes because of the big amount of soldiers needed. So about 20 guys were filmed from different angles and then duplicated multiple times to achieve king Dunchaid’s army.
Can you tell us more about the jump from the cliff?
Marwin Wanek – VFX Lead artist // For the jump off the cliff we shot a stunt guy jumping from a safe heigh into water. Later on, we shot the counterpart on another location which was a very huge cliff indeed. In post, we combined the both elements to achieve that impressive look of depth.
Is there any invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // Actually the castle of King Dunchaid was part of a monument in the middle of Cape Town which we had to expand with walls and towers. Also we had to completely change the environment from a busy city to a vast valley lighted by a beautiful sunrise.
What was the main challenge on this show and how did you achieve it?
Eva Wendler – VFX Producer // Get it done in time and budget. Regularly Skype calls with the director on the shot status, as well as daily team meetings helped a lot to work most efficiently. We had a great benefit from the empirical value of all team members and consequently didn’t wast much time on stuck into problems as everybody helped each other conjointly.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Eva Wendler – VFX Producer // Indeed there was. The Ravine establisher was one oft he most complicated shots. It took several attempts till we got the final matte-painting, because the difficulty was to tell the depth authentically. Besides this shot had to give an orientation to the audience on the position of vikings, the bridge and the ravine itself. We generated a different cam move in 3D as it was shot, so we had to apply a completely new parallax.
What do you keep from this experience?
Eva Wendler – VFX Producer // A great VFX team and structural experiences on the VFX pipeline, future projects will benefit from. The skills of our young VFX team improved appreciable.
How long have you worked on this show?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // The work was done in about eight months, including trailer and promo.
How many shots have you done?
Eva Wendler – VFX Producer // We did about 600 shots, 350 retouches and 250 more complex VFX works with full CG parts, set extensions and 2D & 3D animations. It is quite hard to name a concrete number as last retouches, time ramps and continuity fixes rushed in as deadline approached apparently while others were omitted with the development of edit.
What was the size of your team?
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // During crunch time there were about 45 people involved in bringing the visual effects on screen.
What is your next project?
Frank Kaminski – Producer / VFX Supervisor // Currently I am working on a production called UNFRIEND which is an internet related horror movie. My work here is very interesting – coordinating different VFX companies which create everything from complex full CG VFX shots to GFX screen animations for all kind of screen devices. Overall we will end up with more than 650 shots here.
Marco Del Bianco – Producer / VFX Supervisor // Currently we are doing the VFX for the TV adaption of a popular german book for young people named PAMPA BLUES. It’s a nice experience to work with DOP Hagen Bogdanski and Director Kai Wessel. The collaboration is a real pleasure and efficient all trough.
Right after NORTHMEN was finished, Ken Duken – who is playing Thorald in the Viking movie – approached us with a request for the VFX work on a music video in the context of he comeback of the german rapper „Curse“. In TATOOINE we faced once again the challenge to create strong VFX under the condition of a limited budget.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
Marco Del Bianco – Producer / VFX Supervisor // WAG THE DOG, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, GEGEN DIE WAND and DELICATESSEN.
Frank Kaminski – Producer / VFX Supervisor // DIE HARD, HEAT, DRIVE and KICK ASS.
Christoph Willerscheidt – VFX Artist // STAR WARS, LORD OF THE RINGS, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and IRON MAN.
A big thanks for your time.
NORTHMEN – A VIKING SAGA : International Trailer
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Day for Night: Official website of Day for Night.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2015