Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Double Negative: Total Recall (2012)

Whilst attending the Bradford Animation Festival, I heard a talk from Double Negative, a visual effects company who worked with Len Wiseman on his revamp of the Sci-fi classic 'Total Recall'. The talk was given by the CG supervisor of Double Negative Vanessa Boyce.

Tying back in with the creative processes behind Star Wars episode III, it seemed that Wiseman tried to take a kind of purist approach, meaning lots of props and real physical elements where present in the refined final product. Where I found the talk very interesting , was when learning about the interaction the VFX company had with the director. Throughout the entire process the team were showing Wiseman concept drawings and renders, and with a very very keen eye, the director gave feedback on the composition of each shot down to the last details. Through this constant networking, we saw how the shots developed to fit the director's eye. In this sense, I was supprised at how the team at Double Negative weren't given ultra precise storyboards to follow, but instead were given some creative freedom to work out the shots, bouncing ideas back and forth with Wiseman. This initial process involved a pre visualisation or Previs, an industry approach reflected through my rough cut used to work out the flow and timings of each shot.

After the Previs, team members went out and photographed buildings around London, emphasising the importance of using reference images to achieve the directors old stone London-esque image. Interestingly, Wiseman wanted the city to be completely original,  meaning the VFX team had to build the city form scratch. Although it was said to be easier working with real cities and adding digital elements to distort and manipulate their identity, This full computer generated approach gave us a great insight into the process involved when working on virtual cities. For efficiency, the team used a city engined, meaning they weren't modelling each building individually. The key to achieving realism, was said to be the imperfections we see. Little idiosyncrasies are important in making a city scape believable. This could be something simple like a slightly ajar window, or a switched on light.

Surprisingly, Wiseman wanted to shoot a real car chase. Although this posed a challenge for the VFX team as the footage required rotoscoping to isolate the cars, I can understand the director's motive to mount a camera on the back of a truck and film a real car chase sequence. Perhaps this was to gain a more hands on involved approach as oppose to leaving all of the creative visual aspects to such as camera movement to the VFX team. The real car footage did also add difficulty when comping, as the dust on the cars made them seem washed out and foreign against the clean futuristic backdrops. Similarly, Wiseman also wanted the Synthetics (the protagonist's robotic pursuers) to be shot physically with men wearing suits. After tediously trying to track the actor's movements and add gaps and piping around the abdomen, eventually full CG replacements were used.

I found this particular talk very informative. We were given insight into the creative relationship between the director and the the VFX team. I admire both the directors persistence towards his desired approach and personal vision, and also Double Negative's cooperation and efforts towards perhaps unorthodox approaches. Many of the easier CG elements such as rigged humanoids and hover cars, were filmed and given to the VFX team, whereas the complex cityscapes were requested to be built from the ground up. admittedly, I had this movie pinned as high budget formulaic throwaway, although, after seeing this creative collaboration my thoughts have become more varied. Even at the highest level, we still see this experimentation, trial and error and creative problem solving. In conclusion, I feel that I was really show Visual Effects as an art form, and not as a procedural service.

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