WARM BODIES: Dan Schrecker – VFX Supervisor – Look Effects

Two years ago, Dan Schrecker had explained the work of Look Effects on BLACK SWAN. He then oversaw the effects of films such as LIMITLESS, THE SITTER or MOONRISE KINGDOM. Accompanied by Mat Krentz, Digital Supervisor, he talks about the effects of WARM BODIES.

How did Look Effects got involved on this show?
The director, Jonathan Levine, who was relatively new to visual effects and wanted to learn as much about them as possible, looked to bring someone on early in the process. He preferred effects that blend into the film, rather than stand out and had been a fan of visual effects supervisor Dan Schrecker and was impressed with the work LOOK had done on THE FOUNTAIN. So he contacted Dan and they hit it off. (They’re both Knicks fans.)

How was the collaboration with director Jonathan Levine?
It was great. He was really eager to learn as much as he could about the vfx process, which was pretty new to him. He knew pretty much what he wanted. He picked stuff up pretty quickly. He was really focused on the story and where he wanted it to be, but was really open to listening to our suggestions.

What was his approach about the VFX?
Any direction he gave was coming from a place of story. He wanted to make sure any effect we did served the purpose of the story. His approach was very collaborative, but he did have his vision of what he wanted.

How did you create the various airport exterior shots?
Most of that was practical. We did take out some traffic in the background, but that was about it. The outside of front of the airport was all practical. Now, the airport itself was practical, but we did do cg glass for the exterior, which we “broke” to make it look more deserted.

Can you tell us more about the wide shots of the airport with the planes?
We created a plane as a cg build, with some matte painting enhancements. It wasn’t too complicated because we placed the cg plane onto live-action plates of the tarmac.

Can you explain to us in details about the impressive shot that start from the airport and ends in the city?
We started at the practical airport. For the fly-over of the airport terminal, we used an all-cg building, so we could control the reflections, which were of the cg city that we had created. We created a cg city roughly based off Montreal to start with – not for any specific reason. Jonathan wanted a generic city that had the feel of Philadelphia. So we changed some things, moved some things around, such as moving the stadium closer to the “Green Zone” where the humans lived. We built fairly simple geometry and comped matte paintings on top of the models to make the city believable.


We connected the cg cameras to the live-action cameras from the set. Then we were flying through the cg city with the cg camera, we flew over the cg wall that surrounded the green zone. That connected to the live action camera and plate of the green zone using photogrammetry.

Can you tell us in details about the design and creation of the Boneys?
We got some great concept art from production. Basically, with the production art, Jelmer Boskma, our art lead, started modeling the model in ZBrush. We got buy-off of the early rough model to make sure everything was the right proportion. Then we did some early tests with cloth that didn’t end up being accepted. Mostly we worked with the art from production, but there was a lot of going back and forth to get the look Jonathan really wanted.

There was also a lot of back forth to make sure the texture of the Boneys was right. We wanted a dry-meat – jerkyesque – feel. Not something that was moist and slippery. Jonathan had definite ideas of what he wanted and we spent a good bit of time doing different iterations to make sure we got exactly what he was looking for.

Can you tell us more about their rigging?
We did all the rigging in Maya. We had 5 unique Boneys models. So each one was individually rigged, based on the master model we did. Specifically we had challenges in that we originally rigged them for mo-cap and key-framing – so that they would work in both. We needed to be able to switch back and forth between both and for the rigs had to work in both.

How did you manage the animation challenge?
We originally planned to use motion capture for the Boney animation. And we tried it. But it just didn’t work out. The mo-cap animation just didn’t give them the power that Jonathan was looking for. They weren’t scary enough. The director wanted them to be extreme zombies that would be feared by everyone – human and zombies alike. We couldn’t get that feeling with the motion-capure. So we reverted to old-fashioned key-frame animation, which gave us the flexibility and freedom we needed to make these guys really powerful.

How was simulated the Boneys presence on set?
We used a “Boney on a stick.” This full-sized-from-the-waist-up replica of a Boney gave us the ability to get really good data for lighting. We also had some stunt guys who blocked out the action for the actors. We would do the real plate without the stunt guys and with them. We would use the Boney maquette to get lighting reference and we used all this to match the lighting in the live-action plates.

Can you tell us more about the lighting challenge?
It was a challenge to digitally match all the lighting to the live action. We definitely used all the reference photography that was taken on set. Every shot on-set was also lit for the Boneys with the maquette. That was very helpful.

Some sequences involved many Boneys. How did you manage these shots??
For the final battle shots, we ended up using a combination of key-framed animation cycles and the Golaem plug-in. For the hand-to-hand combat shots, they were all key-framed animation and took a lot of animator time. We matched moved all of the live-action zombies and had digital representations of them in Maya, so that when the animators animated the Boneys, they knew exactly where to place them in relation to the actors. It was very time-consuming, but we’re really happy with how it came out.


A part of the movie took place in Montreal. How did you create the wide shots of the city?
Plates were shot from a helicopter. We enhanced or moved things around some, such as moving the Olympic stadium closer to the green zone, where the humans live. We did do matte paintings on top of the plates to make the city look more destructed. For some of the wide shots, we took out the traffic and pedestrians – the things you would see today. We ended up doing a lot of clean up.

How did you manage the freefall of the heroes from the top of Montreal Olympic Stadium?
That was stunt actors on rigs, wired up with harnesses and cables, rigged so we could shoot vertically. Then we did rig removal. These were shot at the Olympic Stadium. The close ups of Julie and R we did on a green-screen stage that had a small set of just the doorway. Then editorial cut it all together.

Can you tell us more about the Wall creation and its final destruction?
The wall was a digital build, modeled and matte-painted digitally. We worked with some great concept art from production. We also did some of our own ideas and worked with Jonathan to make it right for each shot. Sometimes it was taller or had more graffiti. We art-directed each shot to make sure it was what Jonathan wanted.

For the final destruction we used Maya particles in combination with 2D elements and a plug in for Maya call DMM (destruction and deformation plugin). We then comped it all in Nuke.

Have you enhanced the Zombies makeup and the gore aspect?
There was no real digital enhancement of Adrien Moro’s (Make Up Department Head) great make-up effects. We did a little gore enhancement, but not very much.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
Dan: Getting the movement of the Boneys right. We started out with mo-cap, which didn’t work. We ended up with key-framing. It took a lot to get the powerful movement that the director wanted. Lots of trial and error and going back and forth with Jonathan.

Mat Krentz, Digital Supervisor – LOOK Effects Vancouver // I agree with Dan. Besides that, the biggest challenge was starting up the studio from scratch, bringing everyone on board, making sure we had the right people, finding the right office space. And, then, developing a pipeline for our first feature. All in just weeks!

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Dan: Not really.

Mat: Honestly, not at all. We got a bit of an extension due to the reshoots. That really helped alleviate a lot of the stress.

What do you keep from this experience?
Dan: The relationships that you build with people, Jonathan, Bruna (Papandrea, the Producer), studio people. We learned a lot about creature work. But it’s really about relationships, working with people and learning new things.

Mat: Probably the big thing for me was organizing and working with everyone here to bring on a team and get the work done.

How long have you worked on this film?
We had about 10 months from award of the project to delivery. In that time we opened our Vancouver facility, equipped it, staffed it up, built a complete production and animation pipeline, did the necessary R&D, produced the shots and delivered.

How many shots have you done?
We did about 350 in all. Some of those, as always happens, didn’t make it into the film. About 85 of them were Boneys shots.

What was the size of your team?
At maximum we had about 45 artists on the project.

What is your next project?
Right now we are really busy on NOAH for Darren Aronofsky.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in our German location. And there’s lots of stuff I can’t talk about yet.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Look Effects: Official website of Look Effects.

// WARM BODIES – VFX BREAKDOWN – LOOK EFFECTS





© 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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