Ingenuity Studios Delivers Transitions for 'Wander Darkly'
April 2, 2021

Ingenuity Studios Delivers Transitions for 'Wander Darkly'

In writer/director Tara Miele’s film "Wander Darkly," a traumatic car accident leaves couple Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) in a surreal state, and on a disorienting journey through the duality of their shared moments together. 
By reliving earlier memories alongside more recent events, the story moves through non-linear, contrasting situations which evoke an array of emotions at every turn. The glue between these moments are the seamless transitions delivered by primary visual effects house Ingenuity Studios, with 120 shots completed for the film, with work beginning at pre-production.

"There is a certain cleverness to the smooth but revelatory transitions we created to propel the story along, in support of creative camera work,” said David Lebensfeld, owner and VFX supervisor at Ingenuity Studios. “We fool the eye a bit when the audience thinks they're looking at water rushing onto a garage floor and suddenly they're seeing the middle of the ocean, or when a singular street light blossoms into the LACMA Urban Light installation and its group of hundreds of antique street lamps. We also executed a pivotal car crash transition that gave the viewer a first-person point of view that was jarring in its realism. Overall, these transitions serve as smooth visual bridges from place to place -- even if some of those destinations are completely chaotic.”

The Complications of Water

“The garage transition was one of the most complex transitions of ‘Wander Darkly.’ The plates were simple, but it certainly took a lot of finesse to complete. We shot at the garage location, by looking at the ground, we approximated the cadence of the wave coming in, tilting up to the alley opposite the garage. When doing pickups sometime later, we shot the boat on the water using the same idea, kind of like a hand-operated motion control, looking at the water, tilting up to the boat,” Lebensfeld says.

He continues: “One of the most difficult aspects of the transition was that we were going from a static tilt up, to a boat travelling at about 15mph from left to right. First, we stabilized the tilt from the boat plate, reprojected it onto a sphere in Nuke, and then created a new camera that would allow for better control of the transition timing. The boat plate was then retimed, to create a static frame for us to do the tilt on, then we ramped into the boat being full motion just as the garage plate leaves the bottom of the frame.”

Just the Right Lighting

“This was one of my favorite shots in the film. In order to execute the LACMA transition, we created an off-state for the light at the beginning of the transition. We couldn't control the lights at the LACMA location since they are all part of a standing installation,” explains Lebensfeld.

“Earlier in production, we shot a similar light with a similar move that we were able to use as an element to help us create the A-side of the transition. As we were putting the transition together, we ultimately decided that the A-plate would be better to extract elements from and rebuild an A-side entirely using a single light from the LACMA installation. We painted out all of the other lights, and the light pollution from its neighbors. When we boom up towards the light, we transition between our off-state and on-state creating a flicker. Using some clever masks and some foreground elements, we then fed in the rest of the installation as we boomed past our hero light.”

Another notable transition begins with a scene set at a Los Angeles rooftop at night which transforms right before the audience’s eyes when the camera tilts up at a group of trees with the sun rising behind them, and then tilts down, leaving us into the middle of a thick wooded forest in the daytime. 

Lebensfeld adds, “It is important to point out that the transitions almost play a supporting role in the film. In most cases, they were spelled out in Tara's script, so our early conversations were largely technical. While in pre-production, we took a more holistic view on how to put all of the pieces together. Tara was steadfast from day one that the transitions acted as a window into the journey that Adrienne (Sienna Miller) was going on, via her stream of non-linear, scattered recollections.”

“We worked on this film throughout the course of a year, always in close contact with Tara as she planned for the best way to achieve a certain look or emotional impact. This is the second film that we've worked with Tara on, and we really believe in her voice as a storyteller with much more to say. She is incredibly passionate about this personal film, and really about the power of film." 

Ingenuity Studios leveraged Nuke for all compositing and projection work; SynthEyes as the primary package for camera tracking; V-Ray for Houdini as the primary rendering package; Maya for modeling and animation; and Houdini, the studio’s package for effects and scenes, to complete this project.

“Wander Darkly” premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 25, 2020 and was released by Lionsgate last December. It launched on DVD on Feb. 9, 2021.