Marc Jouveneau worked for more than 20 years in visual effects. He began his career in France before crossing the English Channel and going to London. He has worked on various projects such as CASINO ROYALE, DREDD, BYZANTIUM or THE GREAT GATSBY.
What is your background?
Before PFW I worked at Binocle in France, a company that shoots stereo. Before that I was at Eclair Lab in France working on VFX and finally before that at Peerless. I have worked on shows such as THE GREAT GATSBY, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION, TOTAL RECALL (2012), DREDD, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS and CASINO ROYALE.
How did Prime Focus World get involved on this show?
VAMPIRE ACADEMY Producer Deepak Nayar had been in talks with PFW’s EVP & Head Of Global Production Anshul Doshi, and Prime Focus World became attached to the project early in the production as exclusive VFX partner. PFW worked closely with director Mark Waters and producer Deepak Nayar throughout the production.
How was the collaboration with director Mark Waters?
As Mark Waters was based in LA, during the post process we held reviews with him three times a week. We ran the reviews using cineSync and TVIPS. He also came into our studio in London on his visits to the UK.
What was his approach about the visual effects?
Apart from the Psi Hounds, he wanted the VFX to support and enhance his story, so a lot of invisible effects were used such as environment extensions of the Montana mountains. Fang extensions and animation were used to further support the story, and we enhanced and cleaned up the fights and created some VFX ‘magic’ moments.
What was the main advantage to being the exclusive VFX partner?
We worked very closely with Mark Waters, and we were part of the decision making process in order to tell the story he wanted to tell, which made it a lot easier for us because we didn’t have to go through so many layers of approval as Mark trusted our work.
What have you done on this show?
Full CG Psi Hounds, CG Raven, fang extensions, CG stakes, wire removal, environment extensions of the immediate surroundings of the Academy as well as the Montana mountain environment, and water, fire and blood effects as ‘magic’ tricks. There was a scene in which Gabriel Byrne is healed from his disease which required some work. Apart from this, vehicle green-screen work and set extensions in the security centre and the feeder room.
How did you create the set extensions for the Academy?
We started with a matte painting and a concept of how the wide shot of the academy would look. Once agreed on the look, we created the camera and started matte painting and building the assets to provide all the different layers we needed to create. We then used real life footage of the academy which we mapped onto our re-built environment.
The students can manipulate the elements. Can you tell us more about their creation?
The fire isn’t used by the characters to burn people, it is a magical fire. Through their learning they enhance their ability to play with the elements to use them as they wish, therefore the render had to look realistic but still magical. We took a realistic approach from references, but on the compositing side, we applied more or less realism to them to get Mark’s desired result.
How did you approach the Rose eyes?
The idea was that the pupil was contracting just leaving the iris visible so we tracked the eyes and balanced the brightness of the effect to achieve an interesting result.
Can you tell us more about the canines creation and animation?
We tracked the head and mouth of the subject and from that we animated the fangs. This work was completed by our Indian facility.
How did you approach the psi-hounds?
The initial idea was to enhance a real dog but it was then decided to go for a full CG creature. We therefore adapted the concept to a new CG creature. The idea was to get Psi Hounds looking like intelligent creatures and not just beasts – therefore they had to be scary but not ugly. It was a mixture between a dog, a wolf and a hyena, so once we had a concept which was approved, we started to build and animate the Psi Hound to give it some personality and character. The Psi Hounds went through a texturing and grooming process to fine tune the balance between scary but also looking like a well-bred animal.
Did you receive specific indications and references for the psi-hounds?
We started from a dog/wolf hybrid, then it was decided that the bulky look of a hyena could be used to portray a sense of how powerful the animal was. We sent concepts back and forth from PFW to Mark Waters until we decided on the one to go with.
Can you explain in detail about their creation?
We started with conceptual design. Neil Miller (PFW VFX Art Director) and his team developed the look of the animal, and concepts for its face and muzzle when it was growling, and then we built the model. We hadn’t worked on flesh, muscle or fur before so lots of R&D went into that. We then did some animation testing to flesh out the behaviour of the Psi Hounds, before diving into shot production.
Can you tell us more about their rigging and lighting?
Once the concepts were completed and signed off, we created a skeleton and musculature that worked in movement. Once this was worked out and rigged, we worked on the fur and the lighting interaction – the next level of pipeline complexity. There was lots of interaction between our art department, CG and animation throughout the development of the Psi Hounds.
How did you created the flames on the psi-hounds?
The flames were created in Houdini, but we were rendering the psi-hounds in Arnold from Maya. We needed the fur to burn with this magical fire, so we developed a system to export the fur out of Maya and into Houdini so we could comp them together.
The movie ends on a continuous shot. Can you tell us more about its design and creation?
Yes – there is a huge pullback camera move at the end of the movie, starting close on the Academy itself and pulling back to reveal its setting in the Montana mountains. This required close collaboration between the CG and matte painting departments – it was a challenging shot.
What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge was the development and proof of our furred creature pipeline. VAMPIRE ACADEMY represents our first animated sequence since MIRROR MIRROR and the first time Prime Focus World has taken on the unique challenges of conceiving, designing and delivering a fully furred and animated creature – it’s a landmark moment for any VFX facility and a great demonstration of our growing maturity and capability as a global VFX vendor.
How did you split the work amongst the various Prime Focus offices?
The split was that London completed the heavy CG sequences whilst our Indian facility contributed 184 VFX shots, including the fang and stake shots. PFW also completed the DI here in London.
What do you keep from this experience?
Working with Mark Waters was an amazing experience. I have never worked with a director who so clearly knows what he wants. He is very open to creative input, but you know that he has already thought about and planned out every aspect of his film.
How long have you worked on this film?
I was on set for a lot of the filming so in total I think it was about 9 months, from May 2013 up until January 2014.
How many shots have you done?
511 VFX shots in total.
What was the size of your team?
158 over London and Mumbai.
What is your next project?
I’m currently working on HERCULES.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Prime Focus World: Dedicated page about VAMPIRE ACADEMY on Prime Focus World website.
// VAMPIRE ACADEMY (CLOSE UP)
// VAMPIRE ACADEMY SHOWREEL
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2014