Top artists from the prolific Vancouver-based VFX studio Image Engine discuss the shots they most enjoyed defining, creating, and delivering across 2017 - a year that showcased some of their most imaginative VFX yet.
Joao Sita, VFX Supervisor
The entire sequence created by Image Engine for Detroit, featuring the Algiers Motel and its surroundings, including the Great Lakes Insurance building, was a really unique experience. We were in direct contact with director Kathryn Bigelow throughout the sequence, so it was a brilliant opportunity to be part of the creative process - we weren't just executing the work, but helping to mould the story.
Building out that scene and immersing viewers within it was definitely one of the highlights of the show.
We carried out a huge amount of deep historic research, carefully considering reference material to ensure we placed all of the necessary architecture in the correct geographic locations, while also allowing the buildings to be creatively adjusted if needed. We needed to constantly consider the various elements that needed to remain in each shot, as they helped the audience to recognize the environment and orient themselves within its physical space.
As this was a period piece, the images had to look completely real but also portray the dramatic tension within the sequence. We envisaged this by creating elements akin to a real-life camera lens and mimicking a hand-held documentary-style cinematography.
Shane Davidson, Senior Compositor
One of 2017's standout VFX moments for me - which likely blew past the audience without so much as a second glance - is the 'Dramatics in Motown' sequence in Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit. Along with crew removals and de-modernization of the environment, this sequence also involved shots that brought a recording studio to life, despite the studio being filled with non-functional recording equipment.
In the shot, some recording engineers are set against a bank of period-appropriate reel-to-reel tape recorders and monitoring equipment. In true 60s style, each one of these units is the size of a refrigerator.
We were tasked with adding motion to these obsolete devices - and ensuring that the playback speed of the reels felt completely realistic. Additionally, the unpowered analog metering gauge needles needed to move, so they were synced in Nuke to the film's soundtrack. The resulting audio curve was tweaked, imbuing the animated needles with a tactility and weight. The original needles were painted out and the the animated result comped in, and we added the appropriate amount of backlighting to the instrument faces.
All of this had to be placed behind a pane of practical glass which reflected the lights from the recording studio interior. Also, as one of the actors was smoking, the smoke had to be extracted so we could place the animated spinning reels back on top.
It was a great deal of work, for a scene that passes without jumping out at the viewer. It stands out for me as it's a great example of how visual effects can immerse viewers within the rhythm and milieu of a scene without having to be completely obvious.
Jenn Taylor, Animation Lead
The Game of Thrones 'Loot Train' sequence was simply amazing for our team in animation. We were already big fans of the show, so bringing Drogon to life in an epic battle sequence kept us super pumped. I'm so proud of the contributions we were able to make to the season - seeing Drogon's magnificent, powerful form on screen was a truly gratifying moment for all involved.
Denys Shchukin, FX Lead
Working on Logan was a really fantastic experience - and a unique one, in that we were merging the seemingly disparate worlds of in-your-face superhero VFX and invisible VFX into one package. Logan feels real, despite the preternatural events taking place.
One of the biggest FX simulations was the 'pine cone debris tornado'. We needed to orchestrate and art direct piles of pine needles, wood debris, pine cones, dry grass and dirt, all flying in the air and swirled into a frenzy by the telekinetic powers of a young mutant girl. The challenge was to make it look magical yet very real at the same time. We also had to fine tune the timing of individual needles in the debris attack on the soldier.
On the less supernatural side, we also produced tons of FX blood simulations. It's a gory film, after all. By project end we had quite a library of different fluid behaviors, including spray blood, viscous blood, and mist blood.
Damien Thaller - Digital Environment Supervisor
Over the past year we've worked on many projects with some truly astounding environment work, but it's Logan and Detroit that really stand out.
Logan presented a wide gamut of challenges - we were asked to build exciting and complex CG landscapes, vista extensions and lots of blood damage. What was interesting was that Logan isn't the typical X-Men or Wolverine films we've seen in the past, but a more grounded and realistic experience as far as VFX goes. This was communicated directly from the beginning of the project - the production was very clear with communication and very smooth to work with. It was great to work with them to bring life to this new vision for a revered character. Wolverine has a huge fan base, so the whole team was fired up to be working on such an exciting project!
Detroit also presented some really exciting work in terms of environment matte painting. We created many shots that were totally invisible - and that biggest compliment to a VFX artist is not noticing their work! We also had the opportunity to work closely with director Kathryn Bigelow, which was a fantastic experience.
Link to Image Engine website: http://image-engine.com/