Practical Effects Comp’ing for Feature Film
February 26, 2013

Practical Effects Comp’ing for Feature Film

Wes Anderson’s highly acclaimed Moonrise Kingdom is a beautiful example of the director’s unique approach to filmmaking and storytelling. LOOK Effects worked closely with Anderson to deliver the wonderful aged, nostalgic ’60s look of his film, which made its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
LOOK Effects has offices in Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, and has also worked with Anderson in the past to deliver effects shots on both The Life Aquatic and The Darjeerling Limited.

Although Moonrise Kingdom is not an effects-driven film, the visual effects play a key part in telling the story. The film is another nod to the era of French New Wave cinema that Anderson so openly admires. Departing from his recent track record of family tragicomedies like Darjeerling and The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact and run away together into the wilderness. It is told through the eyes of the young boy and is set on the fantastical island of New Penzance, off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965. It stars Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman.

The film’s 1960s look was initially expertly crafted on set by the production design team. The visual effects department at LOOK was then given the task of matching that aesthetic and keeping the necessary level of realism. The artists on Moonrise Kingdom were led by VFX Supervisor Dan Schrecker. In total the team completed over 200 shots on the film.

Dan has been at LOOK Effects since 2008, when he joined up to supervise work on the US version of the hit television series Life on Mars. He works out of the Brooklyn, New York, office, which has grown from three people back when he started to about 20 people today. The team there has completed work on films such as Black Swan and Limitless. Before joining LOOK Effects, Dan owned and operated Amoeba Proteus, a boutique shop in New York that was formed to complete VFX shots for Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream.

Getting Practical

Dan explains: “On the surface, the Moonrise Kingdom project wasn’t much different than any other picture. However, Wes has a really unique style and extreme attention to detail. He isn’t too keen on digital effects so it was important to ground things in practical elements. To do this we actually used miniatures, shot elements and avoided CG as much as we could. This put the emphasis on compositing, and NUKE was our tool of choice.”

While the team’s direct contact with Anderson was fairly limited, they worked very closely with Jeremy Dawson, the film’s producer and editor, Andrew Weisblum. The two of them acted as the team’s main conduits to Wes.

“As there wasn’t a lot of CG on the show, as I said, it was mainly a compositing job. The big challenges came around incorporating all of the different sources we collected into a cohesive whole, especially as certain sequences evolved during the post process. While Wes isn’t a big fan of digital creation, he is fully aware of what is possible and turned to us to help augment the shot materials so he could achieve what he was going for.”

A good example to highlight this is a miniature tent that was built for the big flood sequence towards the end of the film. Dan comments: “Once completed, Wes decided that he liked the look of the miniature tent more than the full scale practical one that was shot during principle photography. As a result we ended up completely replacing the full size tent for a number of shots.”

Dan and the team used NUKE exclusively on the project. “NUKE was very good at helping us make sure sequences were consistent,” says Dan. “It’s easy to put work side-by-side using the wipe in the viewer, and to share settings because of the node-based system. Manipulating matte work was easy for sky replacements over hair and people because of this. In addition, working in a node-based software allowed for easier organisation and copying of files for use with similar shots in a sequence.”

Some of the main features of NUKE used on Moonrise Kingdom were keying nodes such as IBK and Keylight, grid and spline warp, camera tracker, and time remapping.”

Rising to the Challenge

“Since the movie was filmed on rather grainy 16mm camera, pulling a key was a bit of a challenge,” notes Dan. “The most troublesome shots were the ones with practical rain in front of green screen. That gave us a lot of headaches while trying to get good-looking edges. Only by combining several keying nodes and techniques in NUKE did we achieve a successful result.”

Another one of the trickiest shots was a wire removal on a moving dolly shot. “NUKE’s ability to project a dozen cleaned up frames as 3D cards shortened the time artists had to spend by many hours.”

The artists at LOOK Effects rate NUKE as a much more efficient and enjoyable program compared to others. They also think that The Foundry has done a great job of swiftly becoming the industry standard in high-end post production studios. Dan concludes: “I am impressed with the speed of development and I am looking forward to new features that will make NUKE even more fun to work in.” Following its work on Moonrise Kingdom, LOOK Effects are currently finishing up work on Warm Bodies, a zombie movie directed by Jonathan Levine. They are also gearing up to start work on Darren Aronosfky’s Noah. “That should keep us busy for the next year or so!” says Dan.

Images © 2012 Focus Features. Courtesy LOOK Effects.