Hugh Macdonald (VFX Supervisor), Paddy Eason (VFX Supervisor) and Martin Chamney (CG Supervisor) and two others founded the studio Nvizible in 2009. Nvizible worked on numerous projects as CLASH OF THE TITANS, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, JOHN CARTER or GRABBERS.
What is your background?
Hugh Macdonald (HM), VFX Supervisor // I studied Computer Science at university, strongly leaning towards the graphics side of the course, and getting very involved with making short films. Following this, my first job at a VFX company was as a pipeline developer, before moving into the compositing department. Over the course of the last 9 years, I have composited on a number of films, moving into lead, and then supervision roles. In 2009, I co-founded Nvizible along with Martin, Paddy and 2 others.
I was the initial VFX Supervisor on the show, from the shoot, and through most of post, but other commitments meant that I was unable to finish the last month of post, so Paddy took over at that stage.
Paddy Eason (PE), VFX Supervisor // After Art College and an MA in Computer Graphics at Bournemouth, I joined CFC as a trainee in 1990. I worked my way up – tech assistant, junior compositor and so on, up to supervisor on shows like CHICKEN RUN and SLEEPY HOLLOW. After 10 years at CFC/Framestore, I was at MPC for 5 (HARRY POTTER 3, WALLACE & GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE RABBIT), Rainmaker/CIS for 3 (VANTAGE POINT, GOLDEN COMPASS), and have been supervising at Nvizible for 3 (THE PROMISE, GRABBERS etc).
Martin Chamney (MC), CG Supervisor // I studied computer animation and design communications at college, for 7 years I worked at television post production facilities as a computer animator, before joining VFX facility Mill Film in 2001, as a lighting and rendering artist. Since 2003 I have been jointly running Nvizage at specialist previs company, and started Nvizible with Hugh, Paddy and 2 other directors in 2009.
How did Nvizible got involved on this show?
MC // Over a year ago, VFX Supervisor Steve Begg and VFX Producer Leslie Lerman presented us an opportunity to produce a discreet animation test shot of a CG scorpion poised on a human hand.
How was the collaboration with director Sam Mendes and Production VFX Supervisor Steve Begg?
HM // Steve, our main creative contact on the project, is incredibly experienced with both digital and miniature VFX. He was great to work with, and knew just how to pinpoint exactly what was needed in any shot. His relationship with Sam meant that he could guide us down the right path, ensuring that many changes that Sam had when he saw our shots were minimal. Our experience working directly with Sam was similarly positive – as a director, he is very clear in what he wants, and with a sequence like the scorpion one, he will ensure that it is absolutely believable in every way.
What have you done on this show?
HM // Our main sequence on the film, while only a small number of shots, was the scene in the Turkish bar, where Bond has to drink a drink with a deadly scorpion on the back of his hand. Obviously a scorpion like this could never be filmed for real, so we took on the task of creating a fully CG scorpion.
We also had a number of shots where we enhanced the London skyline view from M’s office.
In the Isolation Chamber scene, we provided the effect of the glass frosting/defrosting, plus did a number of clean-up shots to remove reflections, due to the large amount of reflective glass in the set. Finally, we did a number of wire removals for the opening scene, plus monitor inserts throughout the film.
Can you tell us more about your work on the opening sequence?
HM // We had two separate bodies of work for the opening sequence. Part of it was wire and rig removals for the chase and fight in Turkey, and part was the enhancement of the view from M’s office.
For the chase and fight scene in Turkey, we cleaned up a number of rigs and wires, including a ramp that flips the car, and safety wires on the actors and stunt performers when they are on top of the train. As with any rig removal, the complexity varied between shots, depending on the size of the rig and what it happened to be going in front of.
For M’s office, this was filmed with a translight, and we added life, and occasionally extended the view. I’ll talk about that more below.
How did you create and rig the scorpion?
MC // Scanning a real scorpion was considered, but we decided modelling from reference photos would suffice. On a cloudy day we visited Julie Tottham at Birds and Animals at Leavesden Studios and photographed a « Blond Desert Hairy » scorpion using a macro lens. The scorpion was placed in a glass fish tank, which protected us from it’s nasty venomous sting. The animal handler was able to suspend the creature from it’s tail with large tweezers, and we obtained great reference material with the tail unfurled. We’ve done a bit of work in past with scorpions on CLASH OF THE TITANS, so requirements for rigging this exoskeletal creature was familiar. At the time Nvizible had recently finished a very complicated alien creature for another project, so the rigging was straightforward in comparison.
Can you tell us more about the hand tracking to place the scorpion?
MC // Tracking an area of skin on a hand can be problematic, because the skin tends to stretch slightly when moved about. We decided a tiny rigid stand in prop was needed, beyond just marking dots on the skin, which also aided Daniel Craig for something to focus on and react to. Sections of wire glued into a tetrahedron shape seemed the way forward, keeping the prop small and limiting the amount of work needed to paint it out of the plate later. The first version collapsed, and all we had managed to do, was glue our fingers together! But we got the hang of it, and placed multi coloured plasticine balls on each corner, so the tracking software could differential front, back and top – very useful for shots where the orientation of the hand changed. The final tracking worked well with a combination of PF track- object tracking, and then sub pixel manual tracking in Maya.
How did you manage the lighting challenge for the scorpion?
MC // HDR fisheye images were recorded from the shoot, which formed the backbone of our general IBL lighting setup. Ascertaining the prominent light source was ambiguous when so many small lights provided illumination on this particular beach bar set. Many CG creature animations benefit from a single contact shadow, and it’s less satisfying when there are multiple shadows, confusing the form and placement. So a single light source was defined as the shadow casting light, and the angle tweaked for aesthetics. A glass resin maquette had been recorded in some of the rehearsals which was little help because the translucency of the material was completely different to the real scorpion. Mental Ray shaders played a big part in defining the required translucency on thick and thinner parts of the exoskeletal form. The effect of the translucency was subtle, as there were no strong light sources close up, so this had to be accentuated as well as stronger glossy reflections requested by Sam Mendes.
The M office has a big view on London. Can you tell us more about you created those background?
HM // The background was actually filmed for real using a translight and rain machines, which, for a large number of shots in the sequence, meant that there was no VFX work required at all.
For the shots that we did work on, which mainly consisted of moments when we saw low enough down on the translight that we should see moving traffic on the roads, or even so low that we saw off the bottom of the translight, we would add in traffic and river elements that we had shot especially for this purpose.
For one particular shot where the camera cranes up over M’s head as she looks down at the river below, we felt that the parallax of the shot didn’t quite feel right, as it was a translight 20 feet away, rather than the other side of the river, 600 feet away. To give this more realistic parallax, and to add the subtle parallax that one would see between buildings, we re-projected the view onto rough geometry, and re-rendered from a virtual camera that was that much further away.
In the whole scene, it is raining outside, and, while a lot of the rain was shot practically, we would also add a certain amount of extra rain onto the windows.
For one night-time scene, the day-time translight was masterfully re-lit by Cinematographer Roger Deakins to give the feeling of a dark sky, and amber street lights. We enhanced this view with moving traffic, and more finely detailed lighting in the buildings.
There is a huge cell chamber behind a tinted glass that become transparent. Can you explain to us more about this effect?
PE // There are a couple of beauty shots where we see the high tech security glass change from clear to frosted and back again, at the push of a button. In addition to the normal rotoscoping and cleanup, we had to work out how to get a realistic look to the diffusing effect of the glass. It’s very easy to get a look that is quite digital and post-processed looking – and we had to make something that looked like a real on-set effect. Subtle imperfections in the frosting was the key here.
For various design and continuity reasons, we also had to change the frosting in the glass on a lot of other shots too. We had to do this both ways – in some shots we had to make the practical clear glass frosted, and in others we had to make practical frosted glass clear. This, in addition to the obvious issues (for example, creating the view behind the clear glass from reference stills), gave us a few other less obvious challenges. We had to reconstruct missing reflections of all the cast. For one shot, where we were missing a reflection of M, we ended up doing a little CG M double.
How did you created the various graphic elements for the screen at the MI6?
PE // We were not actually involved in the creation of the graphics – that was the talented artists at Blind Ltd. – our job was, on certain shots, to composite graphics into the screens. A large number of the graphics, were played back practically on set, with only ones that were not finalised at the time of shooting being done in post. Occasionally, we would need to replace a graphic that was shot with an updated one, and this made for some extremely challenging tracking and rotoscoping.
What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
HM // Getting the scorpion to feel perfectly real, and have the kind of life and movement that would absolutely sell as a real scorpion was the toughest challenge. Our CG team, led by Martin, rose to the challenge, and proved themselves exceptionally capable.
MC // When Sam and Steve requested that scorpion should have less animation, this highlighted the requirement for higher precision sub pixel object tracking, for many frames in a couple of high tension shots the track had to be absolutely perfect.
PE // Rotoscoping Q’s hair!
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
HM // Getting the scorpion just right was a challenge, certainly, but not something that I lost any sleep over. We have a very talented team, and there was nothing that I didn’t feel that I could push them to do.
MC // I think I slept just fine! Some of the background large monitor screen replacements were a massive challenge for our roto team, isolating the actors from monitor graphics that were shot on set, proved to be some of the most difficult roto and keying work Nvizible has undertaken to date.
What was your feeling to work on a James Bond movie?
HM // I, like so many people, grew up on James Bond movies, and to have been able to work on one, and especially one that is considered one of the best, was an amazing experience, and one that I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to do again. It is such a long-standing and well-respected series, and one that I’ll always be proud to have worked on.
MC // It’s an honour and a privilege to work on any Bond film, and this experience was enhanced by having the opportunity to produce work for Sam Mendes. AMERICAN BEAUTY is one of my favourite films.
PE // It was a privilege to work as a tiny part of a huge team of people working at the absolute top of their game – Sam Mendes, Stuart Baird, Steve Begg, Roger Deakins.
What do you keep from this experience?
HM // The feeling of having worked on such a great film, with such amazing people, and the knowledge that, whatever we at Nvizible push ourselves to do, we can accomplish.
MC // Admiration and respect for our clients Sam Mendes, Steve Begg and Leslie Lerman.
How long have you worked on this film?
HM // As Martin previously mentioned, Nvizible’s involvement started in August 2011, when we first took on the test of the scorpion, so in total, we’ve been involved for over a year. Personally, my first day on SKYFALL was with the shoot of M’s office in January 2012.
How many shots have you done?
HM // We completed 97 shots, for a combination of the trailers and the final film. 5 of those shots had the CG scorpion in.
What was the size of your team?
HM // We had a team of 20 people working on the project – mostly compositing, with 6 artists in our CG team, whose primary job it was to produce the scorpion, with the occasional additional piece of work being done to assist the compositing team.
What is your next project?
HM // I’m currently finishing off the shoot for KICK ASS 2, which I am VFX Supervisor for. The post on this will take us through until April 2013.
MC // As Hugh has mentioned KICK ASS 2 is our next big project in house. Nvizible is currently finishing content on I GIVE IT A YEAR and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. We are also currently providing virtual production services on Roland Emmerich’s WHITE HOUSE DOWN.
PE // I’ve just supervised on I GIVE IT A YEAR – which includes probably Nvizible’s biggest CG shot to date. And we’re starting to think about prep on a major Sci-Fi movie that I hope will keep me busy for most of 2013.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
HM // JURASSIC PARK, ALIENS, GLADIATOR, MEMENTO.
MC // 2001, ALIENS, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
PE // STALKER, BLADE RUNNER, COME AND SEE, 2001.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Nvizible: Dedicated page about SKYFALL on Nvizible website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2012