What is your background?
I entered the film industry in 1991 as an FX assistant on the movie FORTRESS. I progressed in special effects and animatronics, then moved into VFX in about 2000.
How did you get involved on this show?
Because of delays with the release, the current supervisor had to leave for family commitments. I was originally bought on to look after 2nd unit on the re-shoots. Shane and Blondel asked me if I’d like to take over. It was daunting, but hey, its a Shane Black movie!
What was your feeling to work on such an iconic character?
It was a little daunting. We had to take a known and loved creature and then create a suitable nemesis for it in the form of the “Upgrade” Predator. Trying to make something like that fresh after numerous sequels and spin offs is always a challenge. But we loved it every step of the way.
How was the collaboration with director Shane Black?
Shane was great. He is super enthusiastic. Because of the tight post schedule (16 weeks) We would meet with him every other day for reviews, then every day as we went into the delivery stretch. He even travelled to Montreal to meet the crews at MPC and Atomic Fiction (now Method Studios). It was a great thing for him to do. He’s got a good eye and amazing comic timing. It really was a pleasure to work with him.
What was his expectations and approaches about the visual effects?
The great thing with Shane is that he has a lot of trust. As far as shooting went, I could let him know the methodology for a shot with the passes needed etc. and he would say “Sure! If you need it, we’ll get it”. He trusted us that we knew what we were doing and he’d let us go weapons free. It helped speed up the post precess a lot.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
Blondel (Aidoo) is also great. As a co-producer on the movie it meant that I could come to him with all sorts of requests. He would go and shuffle the spreadsheet and find a way to make it work. He has a very deep knowledge of VFX, so there was never any having to go over the top trying to explain why something needed to be done a certain way. He just made it happen.
Can you tell us more about the previz and postviz work?
The previous and postviz was done by Proof. A lot of it was done before my time there. As we went into the re-shoots, there was not enough time to prefix the hunt, so we just went with storyboards. Post-viz wise, we did some incredibly rough slaps to temp before we started getting blocking from the vendors. We had so little time to get the shots turned around we just went for it. We could not afford the time to post-via properly, so we just jumped right in with the shots. We knew we would lose or have to change some of them, but it was a calculated risk/reward situation.
The movie opens with a space battle. How did you design the ships?
The Predator 1 ship was a design from the Art Dept. that was fairly easy as it had been around since the beginning. The bigger problem was the Upgrade ship. It too, had been designed by the Art dept, but as we started slotting it into shots, we found that from a lot of angles it looked identical to the Pred 1 ship. We 911’d Myriam Catrin, a concept artist from New Zealand to re-imagine the Upgrade ship. Making sure it it was from the same world of design, but distinguishable from the Red 1 ship. Giving it it’s own war paint etc helped a lot.
Can you explain in detail about the creation of the main ship?
Atomic Fiction looked after both of the Ships in the movie. They have a really talented Modelling team and again, because of the time constraints, it was one of those situations where I handed a lot of freedom off to the VFX supervisor there, Ruslan Borysov. Their teams worked hell for leather to get those models made in a timely manner.
Later there is a dogfight between the Predator ship and the US Army. How did you approach this fight?
This sequence had been pre-vized and had been approved, so it was a great case of “Make it look real!”, with very little tweaking. We also had the advantage of the fact that Atomic Fiction were the ones who did the previz, so they were ahead of the game. There was a lot of back and forth about missile hits, brightness, backgrounds and all the FX work, but we were all pretty much on the same page from the get-go. Ruslan is great as you never have to explain something twice. The iterations on those shots were kept fairly low, which was good, because there was a hell of a lot of work to get done there.
There are many graphics on the Predator ship and with his tools. How did you design these elements?
Again, for time reasons, we let the vendors do the development for the holograms. It’s bit of a cheat knowing you will be designing stuff to suit what was shot instead of the other way around. We could tailor the holograms to interact at certain times and use any reactive light in the plate to help bed them in. Again, Atomic did the heavy lifting with the holograms in the ships and in Rory’s basement.
Can you explain in detail about their creation and animation?
Sadly, from a technical standpoint, not really. Animation wise, I’d adjust the base animation to hit certain beats usually via cineSync with Atomic. The animations would be adjusted, then once approved, we’d start bedding them in in comp.
How did you handle the lighting challenge?
Larry Fong was very supportive on set. as long as you make it clear that its helping them and the look of their film, most DP’s get on board… most of the time. For instance, he had his boys create an LED light suit for the stunt actor playing the upgrade while he’s on fire in the woods. Without that suit we would have been in a heat of trouble. Fire really throws a lot of light around and Larry completely got this. They made a great LED flickering fire suit for the Stuntman to wear. It worked a treat.
The iconic invisibility effect is back. Can you explain in detail about it?
We actually kept this pretty simple. For Pred 1 and McKenna’s invisibility, we more or less just updated the original effect. We just made it a little sexier. Like in the last 30 yours their tech has got better. From Motorola flip phone to iPhone sort of feel. The Upgrade has a more intimate effect, with some very designed geometric shapes that spread over his body. MPC and supervisor Richard Little were responsible for all things involving the Upgrade, so they took point on the design and implementation of the cloaking effect.
How did you create the various POV of the Predator?
We cheated! We were going to get a Flir Camera, but it needed too much support. In the end we roto’d and color treated the plates to create the iconic “Heat Vision” look. If you look at them strictly from a heat point of view you’ll see they are not consistent. But they look good! Also, at one point the Upgrade uses echo location to pin-point someone behind a tree. This was an entire CG shot where we see what looks like a combination of heat vision and lidar, basically. There were another couple of these shots in the film, but they got cut for pacing reasons. But we kept one!
A new Predator comes in the game, the Upgrade Predator. How did you work with Tom Woodruff Jr. and his team?
When I join the team we had some concept art of the Upgrade from the Art dept and MPC were already working on the Model. As The Upgrade is entirely CG, Amalgamated Dynamics worked primarily with the Pred 1 and the Emissary’s (Later cut from the film), who were played by the traditional “Men in a Suit”. Although we did add the Red one and replace him in a few shots as we tidied up after the re-shoots.
Can you explain in detail about the CG enhancements for the Upgrade Predator?
The Upgrade was a heap of little challenges. It seemed everybody had ideas about his abilities and “Upgrades”. it was a lot to squish into what is, in the end, not a great deal of screen time. He had the ability to go armoured, echolocation, different styles of vision, backwards dog leg, distendable jaws and needed a “Ton of attitude”. Giving him character was first and foremost for Shane. We kept having MPC add these tics and beats to the animation, just to bed him in an give the impression of his character. From spitting as he’s leaving the school to small shoulder rolls and angry glances. We wanted him to feel more like an actor. At one point he actually looks at the camera accidentally before glancing away. Just a ton of small things that stack up subconsciously.
How did you design and create the Predator hounds?
The hounds were also designed by the Art Dept and we had MPC under way with them as soon as I came on board. The biggest problem we had with them was the dreadlocks. So many Tech animation tests to get them feeling natural. We had to constantly adjust the amount of flex and compression, almost on a shot by shot basis. We decided early on to make the dogs armoured from the get go. They were originally able to armour up and down at will, but decided to leave that ability to the Upgrade. also adjusting the lighting and the amount of dirt to allow us to integrate with whatever location/set we were in.
How did you work with the SFX and stunt teams?
Both SFX and Stunt teams were great. We would have dozens of side meetings and tests so we could figure out where the optimal point for us to take over or enhance what is happening in the frame. My background is practical effects, so its something i’m super comfortable. Even if we are replacing the subject, its always good to have something practical in the frame as a reference. When Baxley jumps on the burning Predator, Marnie Eng, the stunt co-ordinator made sure we had some practical fire either in the frame or on the actor grappling with the Predator actor.
At the end of the movie we discover a new Predator suit. How did you design this new armor?
The final scene was another reshoot, very, very late in the schedule. We had two weeks to get the suit designed. We enlisted the Aaron Sims company and also the Hydraulx Art Dept. The final design was elements from both companies approved by Shane and the studio, then Hydraulx took over the design and began the build. By the time we had the re-shoots, we were less than two weeks out from delivery, so getting the design finale and the build underway was critical.
Can you explain in detail about its creation and its development around the guy?
As the other vendors were going so hard on the other sequences we approached Hydraulx to complete the final sequence. Under the supervision of Colin Strause they managed to pull out the 17 shots needed for that sequence in under 2 weeks. I think it was 9 days from plate turnover to final delivery. It was pretty amazing work. We knew we would have 1 if any, iterations, so it was bit of a hail mary. But Hydraulx managed to pull it off and both the director and studio were very happy with the work.
Can you tell us how you choose the various VFX vendors?
MPC and Atomic fiction were in place when I joined the show. When it was clear the workload was going to increase and with the severely truncated post schedule we also bought on Rising Sun Pictures in Australia (supervised by Tom Wood) and Hydraulx (supervised by Colin Strause). Richard Little and Arundi Asregadoo supervised for MPC and Ruslan Borysov for Atomic fiction.
We also had an in-house team of 6 dealing with over 350 shots. They looked after a heap of muzzle flashes, clean up, window comps and blood. So much blood.
How did you split the work amongst these vendors?
Rising Sun looked after the opening space battle, shots inside the crashed ship, McKennas cloaking and enhancing the woods hunt scene.
Atomic Fiction looked after the ship crash in the opening and Pred 1 capture and escape. They also looked after the “Ark Ride” sequence at the end of the movie as the soldiers are riding the Upgrade ship that eventually crashes.
MPC Looked after the upgrade Predator and the Predator dogs.
Hydraulx looked after the super suit scene at the end of the movie.
Raynault completed about a dozen matte paintings and establishing shots.
The inhouse team looked after cleaning up the multitude of sins of boom mics, camera gear and random crew members as well as the hundreds of enhancement shots.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with their VFX supervisors?
The vendor supervisors were great. It was clear from turnover that speed was of the essence. Each of the Supervisors took this film on knowing that the heavy lifting would be on them. They all stepped up and ran their teams really well. We got there in the end, but it was a hard road.
The vendors are all around the world. How did you proceed to follow their work?
Endless cineSync sessions and reviews. In the last week we went even into rolling reviews because of the size of the comp teams. Notes we had given at the beginning of the session had been addressed before we managed to finish the hours long review, so they were loaded up and we reviewed them again. It was crazy.
Which sequence or shot was the most complicated to create and why?
Think its a tie between “Upgrade on fire while being stabbed in the face by a guy riding on him” and “Bunch of soldiers surfing a crashing spaceship over Georgia”. Both sequences were very complicated and had a heap of shots. The quantity and quality of the work produced in sixteen weeks was nothing short of amazing.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
The whole thing! In case I was not clear before hand, we only had sixteen weeks between turnover and delivery. VFX did not even have the LUT’s in place when I came on board. It was a mad scramble to produce anything. I’m amazed we managed to achieve what we did.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
I have to say that the hunt in the woods is my favourite part. The shot of the Predator biting the guys head off in the trees is probably my favourite. That and the space battle and portal. Pretty cool.
What is your best memory on this show?
Reviews with Shane. He cares so much and has an amazing sense of humour about everything. Plus the blood. When you throw reality out the window and just go for it. The vendors were being reserved, and we were always crying “More blood!”. I ended up using the term “Just take it to 11” a LOT. The over the top gore was something Shane loved. Eventually MPC submitted a shot with an unstoppable geyser of blood pouring from a victim, and Shane said “OK… maybe that’s too much….”. I actually sent an email to all vendors saying that we have finally figured out how much is too much (It was a lot).
How long have you worked on this show?
I was on the show for a grand total of 18 weeks! I had been working with Blondel (VFX Producer) on X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. At the end of that, Blondel moved onto THE PREDATOR. I took three months off, then jumped onto MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE. I finished that movie and a month after that, I was called in to complete THE PREDATOR. It was a crazy short amount of time for me.
What’s the VFX shots count?
I know we finale over 1600 shots. I think about 1370 was the final “In-Cut” count by delivery
What was the size of your on-set team?
For the re-shoots I had Felix Pomeranz to look after 2nd unit as Set Supe. I was on main unit and both units had a Supervisor, coord, data wrangler and PA. So a team of four on each unit, plus lidar/scanning and photography units that we would bring in when needed.
What is your next project?
No idea. I’m in talks on a few things, but of course, can’t discuss those.. yet.
What are the four movies that gave your the passion for cinema?
I like this question! I have to say, when it comes down to it, I’m a pretty simple human. I like big and spectacular. So, if you twisted my arm, I’d have to say… ARMAGEDDON is a favourite. ALIENS. THE ABYSS… and then? Hell, lets go with BLAZING SADDLES. You need the spectacle, but the humour is what makes it human. Also, if you can’t laugh about it, whats the point?
A big thanks for your time.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018