VFX in Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Marc Loftus
September 2, 2018

VFX in Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Rodeo FX worked on 70 shots featured in the new Columbia Pictures film Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Directed by Stefano Sollima, the film continues the story started in Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film  Sicario. In the new release, a black ops team – helmed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) – attempts to instigate a civil war among Mexico’s violent cartels. 

According to Rodeo FX’s VFX supervisor Alexandre Lafortune and producer Melanie La Rue, the studio was tasked with creating a range of visuals that spanned classic muzzle flashes and bullet hits, to blood and gore enhancement, to full-CG environments. They also created numerous military assets, including Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees. But the studio’s most intense work involved a two-minute-long sequence that appears early in the film.

The studio was brought in quite early in the production, with work beginning in January 2017 and wrapping up last September.

“From beginning to end, including production, we had roughly 100 people working on this production,” says La Rue, “from asset builds to delivery of shots. We had a pretty good size production crew that helped move everything forward throughout nine months.”

The Rodeo FX pipeline included Pixologic’s ZBrush for modeling, Autodesk’s Maya for animation and lighting, and Side Effects’ Houdini for effects, such as explosions and smoke. Foundry’s Nuke was used for compositing, and Autodesk’s Arnold was used for rendering. 

Lafortune refers to the film’s biggest scene as the Massive Mart shot – a two-minute-long continuous shot in which a group of terrorists set off a series of explosions in a large store. He says the sequence represents 350 days of work for the studio, including 125 for rotoscoping, 70 for effects, 20 for matte paintings, and 70 for compositing.

“This is one of the biggest shots we worked on, because it was so long,” Lafortune says. “We received motion-control camera [footage] – five plates that we had to align and match together.” 

This included matching light interactions that represented explosions, creating digital products that flew off the shelves, and adding smoke effects. “Everything is moving,” says Lafortune. “There is one [explosion] we see upfront near the camera, but after that, it’s items on the shelf with shock waves. We don’t see the people. It was a witness camera to the action.”

“It was the one of first shots that we turned over and the last shot we delivered,” notes La Rue. “[We wanted] to have as much time as possible.”

“I think we all got surprised about it,” says Lafortune of the sequence. “I was not expecting that much work on it, but it was due to the length of the shot. The work of aligning five plates together, and a lot of data, all the rendering.”

The studio’s work also involved less obvious visual effects, including a Mexico/US border crossing where they had to generate all the buildings surrounding the border and add cars to populate the set.

“It is invisible in terms of effects,” says Lafortune of the sequence. “This is what that kind of movie is all about – not seeing what we have done. This is where we did our best.”