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Friday, December 6, 2013

The Great Gatsby VFX - 5 Parts

Part 1 - Introduction

Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin are happy for me to release five new reels of the VFX work completed for 'The Great Gatsby'. We are showing these reels first and foremost because we are extremely proud of the artists who contributed to this collective vision, and we wanted to represent their ‘hidden’ works and talents. Secondly, we're doing this as way of explaining some of our processes within VFX - which have exactly the same creative rigour and the collaborative decision making that goes into every shot within the film – live action or not. And that all comes from the script that Baz co-wrote, and is reflected in the visual language that Baz and CM created. This first clip is to illustrate one thing:- why so much of the film relied on VFX. All of the shots within this first clip are heavily or completely VFX. And that reliance on VFX comes from a meeting that I had with Baz and CM in New York early 2011 - when Baz realised that Fitzgerald's vision of New York from the 1920’s no longer existed in New York city or surrounds. By the way - the reels were cut by my producer Prue Fletcher and VFX editor Daniel Le. Please enjoy!!

Part 2 - Why VFX?

No matter what the budget or how big the sets that art director Ian Gracie built - and he did go big – the scale was never going to be large enough for the vision. The physical build cost just for Gatsby’s mansion was over five million dollars. The biggest set build, which included the mansion hallway, ballroom, stairs and organ, then out to the breakfast patio and down to the dance-floor was more than 50 metres by 30 metres by 12 metres high. But that was just one specific set with 200 metres of bluescreen and blackscreen permanently hung. Gatsby’s mansion was in fact a mix of many locations and sets. The front gates and driveway were at Sydney's Centennial Park, the building fa├žade (first two floors) was a school at Manly, the entry to the dance-floor was in stage one (Fox Studios), the stairs, the pool were stage two, the wharf was on stages three and one at various times, the beach and water were at Cottage Point and Nick’s bungalow was built at Centennial Park, stage three and Mount Wilson (in the Blue Mountains). There were many practicalities and requirements on how Baz and the department heads decided what was live action, a VFX augmented or a fully 3d shot. Those being:- an overview of geography, being able to build a defined world, controlling lighting, availability of actors, flexibility and safety.To assist, we had rules that were implemented, such as, every wide had to have at least three storytelling points. For the Valley of the Ashes it would be:- the relationship of New York to the Valley of the Ashes, juxtaposition of wealth to poverty, and the use of colour to isolate Myrtle to name just a few. Then there was the downside to using VFX as well. It is harder for Baz and the actors to live in a blue world. But to their credit the results speak volumes. This second reel is a wide montage from many parts of the film to illustrate the decision making of what became just the VFX parts of the entire film.

Part 3 - 'Times Square'

The decision to use VFX as an adjunct to live action is never taken lightly. But how else do you 'show' the Times Square of the period? What we had available when we shot this sequence was 30 people, 10 cars, a length of pavement, a lit awning and a ton of greenscreen. Look frames had already been established with Baz and CM and Animal Logic constructed a 3d version of the same. The extra people in the background were a mix of additional bluescreen sprites and CG people. In an odd way 3d production processes are rather similar to traditional film making. The digital sets are designed and look frames are established, we build, texture, colour and light the 3d models and then we use them in production. As a result we used the same design and production methodology and also concept art and artists. Side note one: The reason we jump from bluescreens to greenscreens is simple. I always use bluescreen for stage and greens outdoor. But by the time we got to this scene I already had 1.7km of screens hanging and we simply ran out of bluescreens for this studio work. Side note two: For accuracy in making this film we engaged a lovely gentleman called Bob Singleton from the Greater Astoria Historical Society. He could tell us the building style, street furnishings, lamp posts, colour palette, bunting, awnings, etc, right the way from Long Island through to New York itself.

Part 4 - 'Cody's Yacht'

The very first time I met with Baz in 2000, just before we worked on Moulin Rouge, he explained that an important consideration for him when setting up a shot was the eyes and the face, (hair and makeup), then the body, (wardrobe), then the surrounds, (set dressing and construction) and then when we go wide – VFX. Not always in that order - but we try. Another rule is to use as little technology as possible on set that could interrupt the relationship between the director and the actor. (That and no cell phones on set). So for the fourth reel we have a minimalist set. Dan Cody’s yacht was referenced from a hero boat from the period that production had tracked down. (We digitally removed the radar from the live action plates). For the studio shoot Gracie built a large rolling deck. Like an old fashioned babies rocker with just a few stays and a guardrail. Lloyd Finnemore from SFX came up with the articulated arm that the dinghy floated on. This gave the dinghy a life of its own on the high sea. The opening wide shot was fully CG and the panelled room interior was bluescreen - only because we had not constructed the dressing room at that point because of changing schedules. The reference yacht was reproduced in 3d by ILM who completed the scene. Fabulous water work. A side note: In my opinion if you ever work on water it slows production down by a factor of 3.

Part 5 - 'The High Line'

The High Line had probably the greatest complexity of any of the sequences within the film. Simulated travel can look fake and the solution is complex as we need to introduced shadows, reflections in the glass, the duco and the chrome. Then there is the problem of intercutting to live action shot outside and also intercutting fully CG shots. For the action shots where we needed to see cars moving at speed we built a 200 metre solid green wall outdoors. Stunt supervisor Glenn Ruehland directed the unit and specialist stunt people drove and populated the street. The wall had to be versatile enough to dress all the way from Valley of the Ashes to the entrance of the bridge. For close work we shot the cars against bluesceen. Leo and Joel did truly drive outside elsewhere in the film but not for this scene. All cars were Lidar scanned and accurate 3d models made. This process was used because on every shot with Tobey and Leo sitting in the yellow Duesenberg against bluescreen, we would insert a brand new CG car around and behind them so that we could reflect the actual environment that they drove through. A lovely job completed by Animal Logic. As always I would like to thank our internal SWAT team, Animal Logic, Rising Sun and Iloura in Australia, ILM in San Francisco and also Prime Focus and Method Vancouver. Congratulations to all who did such fabulous work on almost 1500 shots. Many thanks to Baz, CM, Catherine Knapman, Chris DeFaria and Mark Brown - and of course Prue Fletcher and Joyce Cox. And thanks to Dan Le for putting the reels together.

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