SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD: Frazer Churchill – VFX Supervisor – Double Negative

After several years of freelance work, Frazer Churchill joined Double Negative which is one of the founders. He participated in many projects such as PITCH BLACK, BELOW or ENEMY AT THE GATES. In 2001, he became supervisor and handles the visual effects of DOOM, SAHARA or CHILDREN OF MEN.

What is your background?
I was a freelance graphic designer before working in video post production in the mid-nineties. I then moved into title design and film fx and went on to be a founding member of Double Negative. I developed a career as a digital artist and then VFX supervisor. I supervised DOOM, SAHARA & CHILDREN OF MEN.

How was your collaboration with Edgar Wright?
Edgar is an auteur, he has a unique style of film-making that is unmistakably his, yet he is still very open to input. The way the film looks is due to the collaboration of Edgar, Oscar Wright (Edgar’s brother, the film’s concept designer) Bill Pope, Marcus Rowland, Myself and Andrew Whitehurst (CG supervisor)

Have you used some motion designers for some sequences?
We had 150 digital artists working on the show from all backgrounds, some of them have motion graphics experience.

Can you tell us about the shooting of the first fight? And what have you done on it?
The first fight in the film is the Patel fight. This was a complicated fight to plan and shoot. We had already shot a short piece of the sequence during the test shoot and this helped us establish some key techniques but there was still a lot of work to do.

The Patel fight introduces the viewer to the hyper-real Manga-esque world of Scott Pilgrim, the film up until this point has played relatively straight, at this point in the story Scott Pilgrim shows it’s true colours and takes a sharp left turn. Matthew Patel bursts through the Ceiling of the Rockit nightclub and attacks Scott while he’s playing on stage. Matthew flies through the air, lands on stage, faces off with Scott then charges across the stage, get’s kicked up into the ceiling of the club, where upon Scott leaps from the stage, flies up to the ceiling catches Patel with a mid-air uppercut and then lands a repeated volley of punches on him while ascending to the ceiling of the nightclub at which point he smacks him down from the ceiling to the floor.

A kung fu style battle then takes place on the nightclub floor until matthew Patel levitates and begins an aerial bollywood style song and dance routine during which he summons four winged demonic hipster girls who bombard sex-bob omb with a deluge of fireballs.

The whole sequence was shot using a combination of bluescreen photography and in-situ on-set photography. Parrallelogram stunt rigs, wire work and jogging treadmills.

Matthew Patel’s flying pose was shot on a parallelogram rig against blue with an interactive light sequence rolling over him and wind machine to create movement. The interactive light was created by a series of programmed parcans and a rolling mirror.

For the punching and spinning, we used the phantom camera and shot at 288fps. Cera was shot on set punching 2 lighting triggers that set off four photoflash bulbs, Cera’s punching action was shot twice, one tight medium shot of him blocking and punching and one wide shot of the follow through KO punch, we then morph transitioned between the two shots two create a crash zoom out, this was augmented with camera shake and “colour shake” in which the image would cycle through frames of block colour which added a very stylised feeling of impact. The element of Patel being punched out was shot on a P-rig, Patel was manipulated by Brad Allen’s stunt team in blue suits while Bill Pope provided a 70kw “lightning strike” interactive light to create flashing KO light on Patel as he spun out of frame in digital slow mo.

The whole shot was composed around the “Krowww” and “kpok” sound effect graphics which we took from the comics and overlayed live on set to get good composition and line-up on the day.

In the final composite put together by Ian Copeland there are Handrawn flash frames during the impact flashes, these were provided by Oscar Wright, the film’s concept designer.

In another action shot Patel runs across the stage at Scott during which the proportions of the room stretch and distort as they do in Manga animation, in the finished shot the camera appears locked to Patel’s legs as he runs. To achieve this we shot Patel on a blue jogging treadmill to capture a “camera locked” aspect on his running legs, we then shot Scott, Kim, Stephen and Johnny stills on the Rockit set with a dolly move .

CG floor was created and then animated to match Patel’s treadmill legs, CG set wall was also added later, Anime zoom lines and lens flares were comped in to create the final look.

A dynamic low angle shot of Scott kicking Patel was accomplished using stunt performers on wire rigs who later had their faces replaced. The impossible focal length change during the crash zoom was created using close and distant camera positions morphed together.

The Final Anime backgrounds for the sequence were created using a combination of plate photography and digital stills. Working with with 2nd Unit DP David Franco, I shot travelling plates of the Rockit set using a 50ft techno crane. Compositors worked through the material to come up with a photographic version of a “Naruto” style speedline background.

Patel’s song and dance sequence was choreographed to music written by Dan Nakamura. Patel was shot in situ in the Rockit set on a fork rig performing his dance routine, photoflash bulbs were triggered at the appropriate times during the live playback to sync with the appearance of the demon hipster chicks and fireballs.

The idea for the four demon girls is that they all look identical but have slight differences in their performance, the way we acheived this was to shoot the same girl on a fork rig with a four camera array on bluescreen, this gave us a slightly different angle on each girl relative to their position in the air. We shot numerous takes of her running through her routine which enabled us to use different takes for the different girls giving us a synchronised but not identical performance from each of the girls. One girl pass was shot with a spotlight on to create a pass that we could place in the spotlit area of the hero plate. Flashbulbs were fired in time with the song playback to synchronise with the Hero Matthew Patel performance.

The Hipster chicks were given CG wings, an ethereal glow and ghostly transparency in compositing. Fireballs, flames, debris and magicdust were also added. Fireball effects were created by Aline Sudbreck using in-house software squirt. CG wings were built and animated to complement the dance routine, while Kate Porter oversaw compositing of the sequence.

Did you create digital doubles for the fights?
The actors trained for a long time with Stunt Co-ordinators Brad Allen & Jackie Chan’s stunt team so they were able to do a lot of the fighting and physical stuff for real. We did create quite a few digital doubles for the more extreme moments in the fights. We would always start the effect with an actor on a rig, shot against bluescreen and then take over with a digital double. I think you’d be surprised by how much of the fighting is actually performed by the actors.

Did you create previz for the different battles?
We previs’d the Katanyagi scene and the Lucas Lee skateboard scene.

How did you create the impressive downhill skateboarding?
Scott challenges Lucas lee to show off his skateboarding skills by getting him to grind down the big staircase leading up to Casa Loma. This sequence sees Chris Evans ollying up onto the railings and grainding his way down to the street below. In the world of Lucas Lee “There are like 200 steps and the rails are garbage”.

The sequence sees Lucas hopping from rail to rail, pulling an aerial 360 degree rail grab, a backside toeslide and other radical moves, all of this is punctuated with on screen sound effects, flurries of snow and plumes of sparks.

A previz model of the Casa Loma staircase environment was built using location photography as reference and the sequence was animated using a digital Lucas Lee. The sequence underwent numerous revisions in the edit suite before it was locked.

The previz models of portions of the steps and their associated CG camera positions were placed into a maya scene of the bluescreen studio, this enabled us to create the physical layout for each of the shots. Art dept provided the practical railings and platforms that doubled for the CG set. All the stunts were shot entirely against blue using wire work and gimbles. CG environment was created based on extensive location photography and lit using HDRI derived CG lights. Once again The Casa Loma staircase is an exaggerated version of reality, we played very fast and loose with the spatial relationships and increased all the distances and changed the layout to create the breakneck Anime flavoured action set-piece. The final sequence has matte paintings of the Toronto skyline, CG steps, CG trees, CG snow flurries, CG sparks, lens flare elements, 2D graphics, bluescreen stunt performers, bluescreen actors, CG coin explosions, CG & photographic smoke elements. Chantelle Williams created the CG environment using Maya and Renderman. Steve Tizzard oversaw the creation and compositing of the action sequence.

Only the first shot in the sequence was shot on location at Casa Loma with Chris Evans ollying up onto the railings with a wire assist, he pulled it off in two takes, that shot is completely real!

What have you done for the scenes with the Twins?
In one of the more spectacular fight sequences Sex-bob-omb have to face off with the Katanyagi twins in a battle of the bands at huge warehouse party. Sex bob-omb start to play a track written by “beck” called threshold whereupon the Katanyagi twins fire up their synths and blast Sex bob-omb off the stage with a devastating sound wave from their huge speaker stack, the wave also blows a hole in the venues roof.

Sex-bob-omb recompose themselves and start to play again, snow is falling through the hole in the roof and as they start to play the snow dances in time to the music. The Katanayagi twins summon 2 huge snow dragons from their speaker stack they coil through the air, breath snow fire on Sex bob-omb blowing them off the stage.

The fight resumes with Sex bob-omb summoning a sound yeti from their amplifiers, the dragons & yeti battle for supremacy in a huge aerial striuggle while Sex bob-omb and the Katanyagis play. The fight intensifies and finally the yeti bashes the snow dragons heads together and they fall onto the Katanyagi stage destroying the twins, their synths and speaker stack in a huge explosion of coins and broken speakers.

The scene was pre-vizd at Double Negative, so the choreography & basic look of the creatures was to some extent designed prior to shooting. The scene took 2 weeks to shoot and was shot with on-set playback to sync all the elements of the peformance, using the previz we marked the position of the creature in each shot with a weather balloon, this also acted as a CG lighting reference. Bill positioned long sequences of lights which were programmed to follow the creatures movement providing interactive lighting at the correct spatial positions.

Colin Mcevoy animated the creature fight while Markus drayss and Lucy Salter designed the complex particle system that defines the snow dragons. The dancing snow system and the Katanyagis soundwave effects were created by Alexis Hall using Houdini & Maya.

One of the features of the Sound Yeti is that it’s covered in “sound fur” which reacts to the music. CG supervisor Andrew Whitehurst wrote a piece of software called the waveform generator which converts data from the audio files into animation data which drives the amplitude and frequency of each spike of the sound fur. The end result is a relentless bristling movement on the yeti which is driven by the music.

Ultimately the look of the yeti harks back to hand drawn animation, one of the first briefs for the creature was to make it like the “creature from the ID” from the film FORBIDDEN PLANET. The final Yeti look is a combination of hand animation, complex particle system dynamics and audio driven animation.

In the fights big finale the dragons fall onto the katanyagi twins demolishing their stage in a spectacular explosion enhanced with a scott pilgrim signature shower of coins. The basis of the explosion was a practical gag rigged by Laird McMurry with pyrotechnics provided by Arthur Langevin. The explosion was enhanced with Rigid body dynamics using in-house software “Dynamite” and coin particle simulations, provided by Chris Thomas and Federico Fasselini. Composited by Keith Herft. The final shot is a seamless blend of Live action and CG destruction mayhem.

As production VFX supervisor, can you tell us what are the sequences that were attributed to Mr X and why?
Mr X created the stylised exteriors of Toronto, lots CG falling snow and snowy Backgrounds. Mr X are based in Toronto where the film is set and shot, they were very keen to work on the film, their previous work was great and Dennis Berardi & Aaron Weintraub (the VFX supervisors) are great guys.

Is there any shots that prevented you from sleeping?
The birth of my daughter halfway through the shoot!

How many shots did you made?
1200.

What was the size of your team?
About 200 people.

What did you keep from this experience?
The best projects involve a director with a clear vision and extensive collaboration between department heads.

What is your next project?
I’m talking to Edgar Wright about his next film

What are the four films that gave you the passion for cinema?
Can I have seven?….
STAR WARS: I was 7 when it came out and it blew my mind.
A MAN CALLED HORSE: I was 10 when I saw it and knew it was good but I didn’t know why.
TIME BANDITS: I was 11 when I saw this and it changed my life.
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER: Revenge from beyond the grave, perfect cinema.
LA HAINE: Made me want to be a film maker.
ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE: Best last shot in any film, ever.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST: Will anyone ever make a better film than this?

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Double Negative: Dedicated page about SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD on Double Negative website.
fxguide: Article about SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD on fxguide.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2011

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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