In Matthew Vaughn's WWI-based prequel to the hugely popular Kingsman films,
The King’s Man gives us the long-awaited origin story of the intelligence agency, as a collection of history's worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, and one man must race against time to stop them.
Led by Oscar-winning VFX Supervisor Chris Lawrence, who previously worked with the filmmakers on Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the team at Framestore brought note-perfect VFX to the action-packed spy flick, which stars Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, and Harris Dickinson.
The Kingsman films are renowned for their distinct over-the-top action sequences and comic timing, and this was no exception. During the shoot, there was a drive to film as practically as possible, capturing the action in-camera with the use of bluescreens and greenscreens.
“It was very stunt-led,” explains Lawrence, who was on set for the UK-based shoot. “Stunt Director Brad Allen, who trained with Jackie Chan, opted for a physical production strategy with minimal sets, with the knowledge that they'd be augmented with VFX.” This is where Framestore came in.
Celebrated for creating seamless invisible environments, Framestore received reference material from the shoot to help them create digital worlds in which the filmmakers could base their action. A helicopter array shoot in the French Alps provided the artists with a huge amount of photogrammetry to use when building the Baltic mountain landscape in flawless CG, while also adding their own creative flair.
One example, the Lair of the Flock environment, was loosely based on a particular mountain, but for the sake of the story the team needed to make it look more imposing against its backdrop as well as adding snow – a lot of snow – to it. “It’s a complete digital environment and was quite an undertaking,” says Lawrence. “It was about 1km high and some of the time it had to be seen less than a millimeter, a pixel, away, which was a challenge for our asset builders,” says Lawrence.
The Kingsman films are full of unforgettable characters, as well, and when the team learned that the story required goats, which needed to be directed and interact with the cast, they realized they’d have to be built digitally. VFX Supervisor Chris Eckardt, from Framestore’s LA studio, put together a small production team to capture footage of a Markhor goat with an Alexa camera at the LA zoo. The team used footage of the goat in the enclosure to animate on top of, then create a rendered version of the animal.
“We wanted to make them look completely photoreal,” says Lawrence. “When we showed that to Matthew Vaughn and said, ‘Hey look, that’s our goat!’ and he asked, ‘What goat?’ they then had total trust in us.”
A close-up of the main character, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) as he spins around in the air, struggling to get a grip of his parachute, required a digi double to seamlessly blend with the live-action footage of Fiennes. A shoot using 4D Max’s full-body capture technology, mixed with a motion-capture session, gave the animators a good base to work from before animating the eyes and mouth to match Fiennes’ original performance.
“Apparently they showed Ralph the finished shot and he said that he couldn’t remember having shot it!” adds Lawrence. “That was a huge compliment.”
A team of over 250 Framestore artists delivered 349 shots for The King’s Man, which was released globally at the end of 2021.
The King’s Man is based on the comic book "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.