One Of Us were involved from the pre-production stage in planning, pre-visualizing and budgeting the ambitious imagery required of the film.
Dominic Parker, VFX supervisor at One Of Us, comments on the challenge: “Sarah Greenwood's opulent production design and Seamus McGarvey's cinematography portray the juncture of the fantasy world of the theater and the real world of Imperial Russia outside. The work spanned every type of visual effect, from greenscreen, rig removal and matte painting, to full 3D character and environment work.”
The key challenge for visual effects was to really understand, interpret and explore the core visual language, to create material and help design shots that would truly enhance and broaden the ambition, without them being overtly “effects.” There was a need for the creation of some things impossible to actually film, yet with a fine balance to tread between them being utterly, believably “real” while understanding and setting them within this theatrical metaphor.
Richard Briscoe, VFX supervisor, adds: “From the very first meeting and subsequent discussions, it was clear that Joe already had an entire visual language mapped out in his mind for this project. His aim was to do something visually and structurally new and compelling, with the almost archetypal story. This was not to be just another 'period drama'. The sets and locations worked not only literally as settings but also metaphors for the characters' emotions and sensibilities.”
Tom Debenham, VFX supervisor at One Of Us, explains the detail. “Photographed on 35mm anamorphic film with a bold and classical look in camera, and strong textures and colours from set and costume design, the visual palette was rich and varied — a committed starting point, avoiding the anodyne deferral of vision which tends to accompany much of today's digital film making in the green-screen age. Integrating visual effects into this language was technically demanding, but the results are very much stronger for it — a genuine combination of forces.”
As the story unfolds, you experience Joe Wright’s re-visioning of the Tolstoy classic. The auditorium becomes a railway station, the loading bay doors open to reveal a wintry snowscape, a horse race plays out across the stage and off into the night.
Briscoe explains: “In discussion with Joe, his answers were always awash with references; music, art, cinema, history. He has a very keen eye and was very involved in designing many of the more complex and intricate camera moves. With such detailed, beautiful sets, the comparative luxury of using 35mm film and a superb camera department, it was clear from the outset we would have a very rich visual language to work with, match to and satisfy. It was a complex, fast moving shoot, with many ongoing changes to work with and adapt to very quickly, but it was also very rewarding to work with a director who knew so specifically what he wanted, yet while allowing for and embracing creative suggestions, all within a limited budget.”
Debenham continues: The surreality of the theatrical world central to the film's vision, and the balletic choreography of camera and characters weaving through it meant that disbelief was often suspended more than usual — a demanding presentation of a story involving carefully crafted poetic stylisation. Being able to believe in the cinematic reality of this staged vision is essential to the film's success.”
All this backed up by collaboration with some other very talented departments, particularly Sarah Greenwood (Production Designer) and her Art Directors (Niall Moroney, Nick Gottschalk, Tom Still and Tom Brown), Seamus McGarvey (DoP), Martin Harrison (1st AD) and Mark Holt (SFX).
Parker summarizes the project, “It was a privilege and a pleasure to work on this project with Joe. It was a show full of creative and technical challenges and much of our work helped to bridge this gap and achieve Joe’s incredible vision.”