Union Acts 'In Cold Pursuit'
July 13, 2019

Union Acts 'In Cold Pursuit'

Welcome to Kehoe, it’s -10 degrees and counting at this glitzy ski resort in the Rocky Mountains. The local police aren’t used to much action until the son of unassuming town snowplough driver, Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson), is murdered at the order of Viking (Tom Bateman), a flamboyant drug lord.

Fueled by rage and armed with heavy machinery, Nels sets out to dismantle the cartel one man at a time, but his understanding of murder comes mainly from what he read in a crime novel. 

As the bodies pile up, his actions ignite a turf war between Viking and his long-standing rival White Bull (Tom Jackson), a soulful Native-American mafia boss, that will quickly escalate and turn the small town’s bright white slopes blood-red.

Union was the sole VFX house on the project and worked closely with director Hans Petter Moland and production designer Jørgen Stangbye Larsen to create this snowy, revenge thriller.

Beautiful Fortress Mountain, Alberta – high in the Canadian Rockies – doubled for the remote ski resort of Keyhoe. Despite a stunning location we extended the surrounding town and mountains to make Kehoe’s setting even more remote and dramatic removing ski slopes etc. using 2.5D digital matte-painting techniques. The studio also added the hotel, which required several environments from different angles.

Throughout Union had a lot of snow to contend with. Weather conditions were variable, and the artists had their work cut out augmenting falling and lying snow that had to marry seamlessly with what had been captured in camera to create the wild environment. The snow is everywhere, interacting with headlights, muzzle flashes, shadows, objects (some real, some CG), moving vehicles and more, and the director knew his snow!

Union used different combinations of  DMP, element shot snow, particles in Nuke and snow simulations in Houdini to achieve a believable results on a shot by shot basis.

One of the key locations was Nel’s cabin on the outskirts of keyhoe. A partial set was created using shipping containers with ground level dressed by the art department, but the remainder of the cabin was created by the Union team.  

After the end of filming, the director wanted some new views of the cabin for the final cut. To achieve this, Union shot a plate from a good angle, built a fully CG version of the cabin and utilized DMP and FX techniques to bed it into the snowy location.

DMP was also used extensively to create snow on the ground and enhanced mountain backgrounds for the airport, the route into Vancouver and the view of Keyhoe from the hills.

Nels’ revenge killing spree necessitates a plan to dispose of the bodies and he settles on wrapping the bodies in chicken wire and throwing them off a waterfall.

Filmed at a dry location, Union had to create the river and the dramatic waterfall it runs into.  The water was created using Houdini mixed with some elements. Additional splashes and snow and interact with the bodies which become fully CG as they are thrown in and journey over the waterfall edge. The facility also used pouring salt to add realism to the waterfall and added Nel, the car and headlights to the wide shots.

Towards the film’s climax Nel speeds his snowplough into a jeep throwing it off the road. The stunt was done for real, but in order to have more control over the outcome became a CG takeover which allowed the director to choreograph its landing and dramatic slide towards the camera. The team rebuilt the jeep in Maya and animated it’s roll and crash as well as replacing the face of the stunt driver with the actor..

All the roads in the chase also required DMP snow on their surfaces as well as higher surrounding snow banks and additional snow being displaced by both the snowplough and the jeep.

The project also required a lot of gore. Very little was shot physically allowing the action to take place as naturally as possible and the bullet entry and exits added afterwards. Perhaps the most complex of these was the sequence where someone was shot against some wedding dresses, so the artists needed to see the blood follow him as he slid down their fronts. The group used a combination of manual labour and smart vectors in Nuke to achieve this dramatic effect.

In total, Union worked on 264 shots, which also included lots of driving greenscreens, an intricate ceiling extension, day for night grades, monitor inserts and an awful lot of snow.

VFX Supervisor Simon Hughes comments: “This was an exciting project for Union. It was great working with Hans Petter to bring this action packed adventure to life. Environments and gore are somewhat of a specialty at Union and the plot allowed for some ambitious FX work as well.” 

Cold Pursuit is produced and distributed by StudioCanal.