Stuart Bullen began his career in the VFX almost 10 years ago. He worked many years at MPC on projects such as THE WOLFMAN, GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA and QUANTUM OF SOLACE. He joined BlueBolt in 2010 and worked on films like THE IRON LADY, THE CLOUD ATLAS or MONUMENTS MEN.
What is your background?
I began as a runner and worked my way up through the 2D route, roto, prep, supervising roto/prep, comper, lead, 2d supervisor and currently VFX supervisor.
How did you got involved on this show?
As with many shows that come our way it starts off with receiving a script and bidding that up. It is then down to how well the bid works with their budget and how well we click as a team.
How was your collaboration with director Morten Tyldun?
Morten is a very passionate director, and he wanted to portray the characters and the history accurately. Right from the very first meeting with him he was going into incredible depth of his research into the era, much more than you ever see in the movie.
We here at BB love what we do and I think that always shows in the meetings we conduct and the work we produce, with this in mind Morten and our team always were on the same page pushing for the same look and feel so the collaboration was very natural and creative.
What was his approach about the visual effects?
The vfx was never intended to stand out as such, they would always support the content of the plot, this is the type of work I love. Morten wanted a wow factor on occasions for sure, but only when necessary, though mostly the work was to enhance what was filmed on set.
How did you collaborates with VFX Supervisor Angela Barson?
I have worked with Angela for many years and we have always had a similar approach to shots and we can both be sticklers for making sure work doesn’t leave BB unless it is seamless. I will always bounce work and ideas off of her. She deals with many shows which means she has enough distance from the shot by shot runnings that she has a more objective view, whereas if you are looking at the shots all the time you may begin to miss subtleties.
Can you describe one of your typical day on-set and then during the post?
When working on location things don’t tend to take a typical route. Even when you previs shots before hand practicalities onset may mean approaches need to be reassessed. That being said much of our work on set was set extensions and invisible effects (examples are the bombed out streets and modern day item removal), and our larger cg shots were an entity on their own without main unit shoots, so only a 2nd unit to film plates was needed, as in the train sequence. Therefore our work on set went according to plan…. mostly. It is a fluid process where we may shoot a shot and Morten would see an opportunity to improve the image from what was originally planned, so it’s a case of thinking on your feet and solving challenges as they present themselves. There are times where there is a possibility of VFX work cropping up so presence on set may be required but the end of the day will come around and no VFX coverage was needed, it’s just the nature of the game.
Every day in post begins with a dailies session. This is where we review artists work in our screening room from the previous day and decide on where to take the shots next. Once they have gone through that process and passed all the criteria set out by the director and myself it goes through a final tech check where I run the shot through a series of tests to ensure it won’t fail in any way in the DI. I too will be working on shots so with that and supervising the team that can fill up a good part of my day. In the afternoon myself and the producer will do rounds where we visit each artist, check they are comfortable with the brief they have been given and the time that they have to do it, and to solve any creative or technical issues they may be having. In the evening we may run a cineSync session with Morton in LA where we present our work, whether it be concepts or final pieces.
Have you received specific indications or references for your sequences?
Morten had a clear vision of the types of vehicles he wanted. A reconnaissance plane was needed for the first aircraft seen in the film, so with a little research we found that the Dornier plane was ideal. We created a handful of variations of this plane in flight, some with stronger turbulence than others and each one was rendered from a different perspective. The side profile was the one that worked best for Morten.
How did you created the plane and the boats for the war sequence?
The vehicles were modelled by our modestly sized 3D team. There is a balance between modelling the vehicles and texturing them. The further away from camera the object the lighter (in terms of model complexity) the model needs to be, as textures can sell the same look but without having to spend extra time in Maya. Which means you can allow your resources to be spread a little more evenly. This can’t alway be the case however. Once these objects are closer to camera then you need to show the fine details as the lack of perspective shifts and parallax will give the game away. I was amazed with the level of detail our texture artist (Yannick Cibin) gave the planes, subs and tanks. It was sometimes a shame to then allow motion blur and atmospherics to hide some of it.
Can you explain in detail about the long shot that start above the sea and finish in front of the U-Boats?
We used a reduced camera crew to film the sea from a jetty. The camera was rigged on a crane giving us full control on the timing of dipping the camera under the surface. This had to be timed to sync with a wave crashing over the lens to create a quick wipe from plate to vfx environment.
The foreground ship is a 3d model with projected textures. Live action extras were shot on greenscreen in order to populate the deck. The remaining ships were digital matte paintings animated in 2D. Rain effects and sky replacement added to the mood of the shot.
The design of the sub matches that of the Type VIIC/41 U-Boat; we modelled all the larger characteristics of the sub in Maya and the extremely fine details such as rivets and distortions in the metal panels that make up the hull was created with a combination of modelling, displacement maps and highly detailed uv textures. These textures gave the U-boats the beautiful weathered look all the way down to rust emanating from the rivets.
Animating submarines is a hard thing to sell. When travelling forwards there is little motion in the fins so the propellers can be the only moving part visible at a distance. In order to sell the motion we played up the depth that it was travelling through and the parallax with other U-boats. The propellers were rigged in a way that matched the real thing. Therefore if it were turning left the right propeller would rotate faster than the left, this effect is most visible in the shot where the sub is travelling away from camera.
Besides matchmoving a water plate which is a very tricky thing to do, one of the other challenges was creating the lighting for all the submerged shots. Realistically we would see very little in terms of depth from camera so possibly one U-boat would be visible, unfortunately that would not have the desired impact and we needed to see the wolf pack of subs. With a little artistic licensing we tweaked the depth to where we can just make out the pack but still retain the oppressive murky feel that Morten wanted.
A combination of filmed elements of dust and Nuke animated particles created the plankton and general floating particles that you expect in the sea. The bubbles were created in Maya and these were used for the entry of the camera into the water and for the torpedo release.
We were lucky enough to find some footage of submarines in use and also some torpedo firing tests. What we found was that subs didn’t create a bubble path behind it like you often see in movies, and the release of the torpedoes had two stages of bubble creation that we wanted to mimic. Firstly when the chamber inside the sub opens to release the torpedo a small amount of air is released, the second part is the fine bubble trail that is caused by the torpedo propulsion. We played this up beyond what was accurate in order for it to read better on screen. All the vessels are travelling quite slowly in the scene, so the drama is created with the motion of the camera and the way the environment reacts with it.
London gets bombed. Can you tell us more about your set extension work?
The plates were shot in central London, near Chancery Lane. The set dressing was added at street level, this excludes the bombed out buildings as there were obviously added in post. All destruction above head height was added in post. Being at a central London location there are many restrictions as to what the set dressers could touch, therefore dirtying up the buildings at street level had to be added in post.
The challenges for this was to sell a shot where the all the mayhem had occurred a day previous and life as they knew it was continuing. Beyond the obvious devastation we had to show the serenity of London where life gets back to normal. Fire and smoke had to be subtle, and it was more about adding in smaller details. Examples of this would be a man sifting through rubble in a hollowed out building, rubble still breaking away from weakened walls, and the finer details of office furniture still in their rooms but clearly visible as the walls no longer exist.
How did you created the background for the train sequence?
We filmed from a low rider in the English countryside where it was void of any modern elements.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
That would have to be the tank shots, they prevented sleep as a few of us worked into the early hours of the morning on a few occasions. The shots we developed purely in post so we had to make speedy progress on the modelling, rigging and animation of them.
Is there any invisible effect you want to reveal to us?
You will always get the invisible effects, one example would be where Benedict is cycling at night. His lights were on when filming but the truth would be that it would be lights out at dark during WW2 so we had to prep out the light source and anything that it illuminated.
What was the main challenges on this show and how did you achieve it?
The main challenges would have to be dealing with the submarine sequence.
What do you keep from this experience?
Definitely not my hair line.
I learn on every job I do and TIG was no exception. We asked a lot from our VFX crew and they delivered beyond expectations, we have used this experience to push our team and to realise what we are all capable of. We had a small window to deliver some big shots and we are a stronger team for it.
How long have you worked on this show?
From filming to completion it took around 8 months.
How many shots have you done?
The final count was 38.
What was the size of your team?
We had 3 3D artists, 2 digital matte painters and 6 2D artists.
Plus you have the support from production and tech.
What is your next project?
Currently I am in post on TULIP FEVER and filming THE LAST KINGDOM.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
There are 3 that stick out to me right now; CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ROAD TO PERDITION – the cinematography was beautiful, and you can’t go wrong with a bit of ARMAGEDDON.
A big thanks for your time.
// THE IMITATION GAME – VFX BREAKDOWN – BLUEBOLT
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– BlueBolt: Dedicated page about THE IMITATION GAME on BlueBolt website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2015