September 22, 2006

Framestore CFC Contributes to the Visual Effects, Quality of The Queen

London - The Queen, which opened in the UK on September 15 and in the US on September 30, is a witty and sensitive look behind the scenes of the interaction between Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), following the death of Princess Diana. 
Already receiving acclaim from critics wherever it is screened, The Queen collected three major awards at the recent Venice Film Festival, including Best Actress for Helen Mirren.   
Directed by Stephen Frears, written by Peter Morgan, and with cinematography by Affonso Beato, The Queen was produced by Andy Harries, Christine Langan, and Tracey Seaward. Framestore CFC created the film's digital VFX and its Digital Mastergrade.  
In examining the tensions between what was a private tragedy for the Royal family and the public's demand for a more overt display of mourning, The Queen is an illuminating, deeply affecting, and dramatic glimpse into what happens in the corridors of power when tragedy strikes. In the immediate aftermath of the Princess' passing, the tightly contained, tradition-bound world of the Queen is abruptly brought into conflict with the slick modernity of the country's brand new, image-conscious Prime  Minister.  
The Queen is an intimate film, written and shot in a direct style requiring none of the "gee-whiz" end of the digital VFX spectrum. The 64 shots supplied by the Framestore CFC team, headed by VFX supervisor Mark Nelmes, were often cosmetic and practical enhancements of  existing footage. The Naval College at Greenwich, standing in for Buckingham Palace, was digitally cleaned up and had the color of its gravel changed to the correct shade of red. A couple of shots of Balmoral were painted in, and numerous shots of  television screens involved digitally inserted material. The single trickiest element tackled by the team was the stag that the Queen encounters during a brief period of isolation in the Scottish Highlands. The scene is a highly charged, symbolically significant moment in the film, and the stag had to look just right. Nelmes attended the one-day shoot in Auchtermuchty, Scotland, where the creature was shot (sometimes with a blue screen). In addition, one re-racked shot of the beast required some digital extension of its antlers. 
The film was graded by colorist Asa Shoul over two weeks, spent largely in the company of cinematographer Affonso Beato, with periodic visits from director Stephen Frears. In addition to the smooth blending in of effects shots, Shoul had to work with an unusually high proportion of archive footage -- the means by which both the audience and the  characters in the film watch some of the story elements unfolding. The quality of the available material varied, and Shoul worked with VFX supervisor Nelmes, who created mattes for Shoul which looked like the scan  lines on a television, which Shoul superimposed over most of the TV screens, and which had the effect of evening out the image quality.  
Another important element of Frears' and  Beato's approach to the material were the different ways in which the two camps  -- the Royals and the Blairs -- were shot. As a visual metaphor for their starkly contrasting styles, the Blairs' footage was shot with a handheld Super 16mm camera, while the Royal family were filmed in 35mm, with the camera frequently moving slowly or locked off. This technique works well without belaboring its point, and was complemented in the grade by a slight desaturation of the 35mm footage and a corresponding sharpening of the 16mm material.
Production designer Alan MacDonald sitting in on several grading sessions, supervising color tweaks and looks given  to everything  from the Queen's dress to the curtains in Balmoral, all to ensure a sense of  complete verisimilitude inside the Royal home.