Crafting Miniature Worlds for 'Downsizing'
January 30, 2018

Crafting Miniature Worlds for 'Downsizing'

Filmmaker Alexander Payne (Sideways) puts climate change, mobility and immigration under the microscope in his latest feature film, Downsizing

Starring Matt Damon, the film sees scientists discover a method for shrinking people to pocket-size as part of a grand design to limit humanity’s footprint and save the world. Soon, a thriving parallel “small” economy has evolved, complete with lifestyle choices and luxury communities. Framestore was involved in the challenge to create this miniature world.

VFX Supervisor Stephane Nazé led the work with a team of 40 artists in Framestore’s Montréal facility, contributing to over 110 shots of VFX work in postproduction. “Alexander and Jamie [E. Price, production VFX supervisor] were clear from the very beginning that any effects had to be ‘transparent,’” explains Nazé. “They were there to support the story, but secondary to the acting.”

Framestore’s main challenge was to work within the length of the shots, at an average of 400 frames per shot. The work included building the external environment of “Leisureland.” the miniature world Paul (Matt Damon) moves to, as seen from Dusan’s (Christoph Waltz) apartment. The team crafted CG boats, which had to react with the water in the marina whilst keeping to the sense of scale needed to make the miniature world believable. 

“We ran a lot of tests to define the scale and reaction of the water,” explains Nazé. “The difficulty was finding the correct adjustment between the movement and the frequency of the water, so that we didn’t break the balance between those two worlds: the human and the miniature.” The team decided to replace the water shot at the marina location with CG water, to art direct the waves, and then add the 2D details of crowd and vehicles in Leisureland. “Most of our shots were based in the evening light,” says Nazé, “so it helped to find compositing solutions.”

The team was also required to build a large CG rose, which the characters hold and carry. A real rose was scanned to capture the intricate detail of the petals. The lighting team had to “art direct” most of the shots to achieve the look of the “perfect” rose. “The goal was to catch the maximum of iridescence,” explains Nazé. “We boosted it in part, for example, by adding more light shining in from the back.”

Downsizing’s storyline brought a unique but fun visual challenge to the VFX team, especially when working with such an acclaimed storyteller as Payne. “The best thing about the project was being able to collaborate with the client,” adds Nazé. “The postproduction on a film is always a big adventure, but our client was very supportive and as a result, the work came out great.”