The Physical Nature of VFX
January 6, 2015

The Physical Nature of VFX

The feature The Theory of Everything is not a visual effects film, but that does not mean that it is devoid of VFX work.
Union VFX served as sole visual effects vendor on The Theory of Everything, a James Marsh-directed film produced by Working Title Films that premiered in the UK January 1, 2015. 

“This is our first project with James Marsh, and we worked very closely with him to develop a visual interpretation of Hawking’s theories. We tried to come up with a look and feel for the period and wanted the visions to be very subtle in keeping with the context of the film,” says Adam Gascoyne, lead visual effects supervisor and co-founder of Union VFX.

The film centers on the relationship between Jane Wilde Hawking and her ex-husband, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who found great success in physics despite battling a motor neuron disease that eventually confined him to a wheelchair.  

Union completed 160 VFX shots, from design and pre-visualization to final execution. A highlight of the work was the end titles, which included a two-minute journey through space, flying past several nebulae created in Side Effects’ Houdini and then into a black hole and through the nervous system of the body.

The monitor Hawking uses to communicate was also re-designed by Union in post, and the timings of the text were adjusted for dramatic effect to make it clearer for the viewer. Some crowd replication and car greenscreen work was also done. 

Union’s collaborative approach to developing and scoping VFX possibilities in the development stage alongside the production team and director shows clear examples where shots have been successfully set up to specifically facilitate the VFX potential. 
“Simple things, like reversing the motion of cream being added to coffee using Houdini fluid simulations, the animation of embers flying out of the fire, and the explosion of the pupil representing Hawking’s heat radiation theory, have had considerable visual impact on an already compelling story. It’s creatively much more exciting and gives significantly more bang for your buck to factor in the VFX in the development process rather than try and fix it in post,” added Gascoyne. 

Union VFX is also working with Working Title Films on Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic, based on the book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by Irish sports journalist David Walsh.