In 2021, Matt Kasmir explained the visual effects work on The Midnight Sky. He then took care of the effects on The Tender Bar and Luther: The Fallen Sun. Today he tells us about his new collaboration with George Clooney on The Boys in the Boat.
What was your feeling about this new collaboration with Director George Clooney?
It was great to be working with George Clooney again, especially on this passion project of his, Rowing is a huge sport in the US and in the 1930s was amazingly popular.
What was his approach and expectations about the visual effects?
Right from the start, we made the decision to shoot this in the UK, which meant all the environments had to be VFX , finding a large body of water that we could control and augment was essential. We found this in the Cotswolds, and I had to use VFX to turn this lake into the multiple rivers from the film. The same had to be done with the city environments too, such as New York, Seattle, and Berlin.
How did you choose and split the work amongst the vendors?
We turned over a lot of the work as soon as we could, we knew the Locations wouldn’t change and the VFX builds could start as we entered production. Adam Broderick my VFX Producer and I put the bulk of the work through BUF, splitting the race scenes through BUF Paris and the urban environments into BUF Montreal. Lola carried out some Face work on Hitler for us, and ILM came in and helped out with the last push.
Where was filmed the various sequences of the movie?
We filmed in many Locations around the UK, London, Kings Cross, and Greenwich, we had studio space at Winnersh and we build the remaining set by the lack in our Cotswold location.
Can you elaborates about the design and creation of the various period environments?
Right from the start, we aimed for historical accuracy, as there are still many people who remember the period, luckily there is a whole plethora of photographs of the time.
What kind of references and influences did you received for the environments?
We Created large libraries of ref martial for each location, spending lots of time researching the ‘Hoovervilles’ shanty towns the displaced populations built. Then trying to make sure the contrast of the richer Seattle town folk around these poor areas.
Can you tell us more about the Berlin sequences?
The whole film reaches a crescendo during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where are boys beat the German team, so a lot of time was spent designing and creating the stadium environments and populating them with digital crowds, to aid the climax of the film.
How did you populated the various sequences?
We created libraries of sprites, we did this when ever we had a crowd scene being shot by main unit, we had to pay close attention to Jenny Eagan’s Costume design, as all the crowds were categorised into groups, such as Poor Seattle residents to rich, as well as the military, this had to be done for each location, New York, and Berlin.
Which location was the most complicate to create?
All the river banks were the most complex to create as we often only kept just the water, from the practical locations, meaning we often had to build compost water interaction, with our digital sets.
How was filmed the various sequences on the water inside and outside the boat?
We shot our Cast in their boats, on the water whenever possible, occasionally we had to use doubles for some of the extreme wide shots, then replacing their faces with our cast. With the help of SFX we also created a ‘process Rig’, a boat mounted on a turntable, out of the water, that allowed us to use a Steadicam to get intimately close to the cast. As the oar were cut down to only a meter long, SFX created a system other than buggy cords and pulleys to replicate the resistance of the water. We then used VFX to place the river banks and the oars.
Can you elaborates about the creation and animation of the boat races?
All the animation, was augmented from the actual plates of the Boys rowing, as it became so personal to them, it was hard to fake.
What was the main challenges with the boat sequences?
Shooting on water is hard at the best of times, but this was particularly tricky as we had to make sure our various camera boats didn’t create to much wake, or get to close to the rowing boats that it could tip them. We had a small armada of support boats that had to be removed from most of the shots.
How did you handle the water simulations?
We agreed to let the photographed plate dictate the level of water simulation and water colour, even though this could change between shots over a race, otherwise it would have meant replacing all the water in most of the shots, as well as the river banks, making most of the shots fully CG.
Did you want to reveal to us any other invisible effects?
Lola did a good job, augmenting Hitler’s face, so the actor for was more convincing, plus nearly every shot has a level of modernity painted out, increasing our workload hugely.
Which sequence or shot was the most challenging?
The Race scenes were without a doubt the most challenging to shoot, we had witness cameras on our boats following the hero boats, as well as drones, often during each take we could travel up too quarter of a mile, and this meant reseting took time to let the water settle and get back to our start positions, as well as the cast getting more and more exhausted and needing long breaks, often meaning weather may also change between takes.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
All the water work, so we made sure we created loads of clean plates of water and banks to cover ourselves.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
I really liked the Shanty town, Hoovervilles, as they were so evocative to the reference, and was the closest I have been to time travel!
What is your best memory on this show?
We wrapped in Summer, so I have nice memories of being on the water in the sun, which was the perfect way to work.
How long have you worked on this show?
I was on the show for a total of 15 months.
What’s the VFX shots count?
Our shot count, including in-house shots was approx 900 shots.
What is your next project?
I am not really sure, as the strikes have really slowed down the industry.
A big thanks for your time.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
BUF: Dedicated page about The Boys in the Boat on BUF website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2023