THE WOLVERINE: James Rogers – VFX Supervisor – Method Studios

James Rogers had explained us about his work on DAYBREAKERS. He then joined Method Studios and worked on many projects like THE HUNTER, ARGO or SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.

How did Method Studios get involved on this show?
We came in to the project during production when specific sequences had grown and additional work was required.

How was the collaboration with director James Mangold?
The feedback we got was always precise and clear – but really we worked directly with the VFX department, so our working relationship was directly with Phil and his team.

How was the collaboration with Production VFX Supervisor Philip Brennan?
On a big effects show like this, you have to hand it to the production-side VFX department in being able to handle so many different vendors. Phil always gave us a lot of time, and the rope to explore a few options on each sequence.

What have you done on this show?
We worked on a number of sequences, including Yukon driving sequence, Tokyo downtown, interior train sequences, Noburo’s apartment, and various other parts of the film.

How did you approach the environment work for the Yukon sequence?
Production had shot travelling plates in Camden, which is a town on the outskirts of Sydney used to double for the Yukon location. We tiled and synchronised plates to create views for interior car windows, as well as adding background lights to match the interactive on-set lighting. Because it is supposed to be raining a lot in this sequence, and most of the plates were very dry, we created a procedural background rain system in Nuke – one for background rain, the other for raindrops on the windows. Doing this in Nuke, rather than as an element-based or 3D system really accelerated our turnaround quite a bit, especially when the background needed to be swapped out for story purposes or changed in the edit. We pulled as much reflection material as we could out of the greenscreen element, as well as adding bespoke reflections into various angles.

How did you get your references materials?
Most of our references came from the production. But for other sequences we actively went out and shot some footage for per-shot use.

The story move to Tokyo. Can you tell us more about your work on the Tokyo environments?
We used a similar technique for Tokyo as the Yukon. Tokyo was a bit more complicated because there were so many moving elements in the plate – people, traffic, etc. So rather than stitching buildings with the odd car, we were stitching cars and trying to make the buildings correct in perspective. With the multi-angle plate rig that production used, we were able to use a different camera angle per window, which really helped. But there were always the issues of making sure the background traffic didn’t distort or pop instantly from one window to another. While we could hide a few things in the parts of the background obscured by the car (like the corner pillars, etc), we mostly just needed to make the backgrounds work on themselves before applying to the car. Again, making sure we had sync between the foreground and background became an important consideration, and achieving both lighting and continuity of the background elements was quite a challenge.

What was the main challenge with the various Tokyo set extensions?
Some of the advertising billboards were fun to do, replacing real Tokyo locations with Yashida billboards. Again we heavily used Nuke and the modelling tool to recreate and lock in these elements. Animated neon signs were done in Maya by our matte painters from geo transferred from Nuke. We created interactive lighting layers/spill in Maya as well. Most of the billboard surfaces (gloss, matte, etc) were simulated in Nuke.

Can you explain step by step the creation of Shinjuku station platform?
This was a pretty straightforward matte painting. The foreground plate had a section of bullet train in it, and a pretty good amount of station as well. The bullet train – having a glossy skin – was pretty badly infected by green spill in the plate, so we carefully restored all that was there, and then painted an extension to the train (both front and back, covering all angles).
The background station structure was painted based on reference we found and some that I already had from previously working in Tokyo. We stole a crowd from other shots to extend the platform further, and strategically placed a few guard boxes to break up the platform as much as we could. The matte painting was painted a few stops under in Photoshop, and we blew it out more in the comps.

Can you tell us more about the sequence in Noburo’s penthouse?
Noburo’s apartment was a good sequence to work on mainly because I think everyone thought that the conclusion of the sequence was pretty cool. The backgrounds were supplied as R3D tiles, but it was a tough sequence to get sitting well with the foreground greenscreen material’s lighting. We did a fair amount of work on the background detail, so that there was subtle motion happening in there – some was lighting, other parts were atmos, light shift, etc. There was a reasonable amount of hidden matte painting touches in there as well, just to make the sequence sit.

The most obvious environment we created however was the shot where Noburo lands in the pool – we shot a whole lot of building plates in Sydney. One of our matte painters went up to Sydney Tower and stood out on the glass floor of the observation deck and collected what he could. I also shot material from the roof of a downtown building which was eventually combined into the finished painting. The traffic was put together in Nuke and we repainted the roads with correct Japanese road-markings. One of our Japanese compositors went to town with the signage, as the finishing touch.

How did you create the metal claws?
For the metal claws we manipulated on-set material, we didn’t create them from scratch.

Can you describe one of your typical day on-set and then during the post?
We were not on set. Because the production was back in LA when were doing the bulk of our work, we would usually have a morning cineSync call, and go through any issues or progress on shots. After that, we’d just work through what we needed to and make sure we had a transfer up for LA in their morning. That way, they could get us feedback before our day had started, which did help to speed up the turnaround.

What was your feeling to be part of the X-Men universe?
It was great, of course! Especially as this movie took a slightly different tack to the previous films. It was great fun to be involved.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
Actually the hardest sequence was ostensibly the simplest – the interior bullet train shots. It was the first sequence we started and the last one we finished. Probably a combination of getting the right background matched to the foreground, as well as adjusting it all as the edit evolved. There are lots of cut up bits of Tokyo flicking past in those windows, and the way we used the backgrounds turned into a real language. I mean, we had to make sure it looked fast, but with parallax, you don’t always perceive the speed. We added a lot of poles and foreground items to make sure the audience didn’t lose the sense of movement.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Like any production, there is probably a shot from every sequence that did this at some stage!

What do you keep from this experience?
We used a relatively small team in close communication to keep turnaround on shots as frequent as possible. It worked well for us given the kind of sequences we were working on.

How long have you worked on this film?
About four months.

How many shots have you done?
About 110.

What was the size of your team?
We had a core team of 10.

What is your next project?
Since doing THE WOLVERINE, we have already completed work on I, FRANKENSTEIN, FELONY, and TRACKS. The studio is currently hard at work on MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Method Studios: Official website of Method Studios.





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013

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Vincent Frei

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

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