CGA: Belgrade Part 2

In part 2 of our coverage from CGA 2018 we talked to Visual Effects Supervisor, Victor Perez about his recent film The Invisible Boy: Second Generation. Perez covered this film as part of his packed talk during day 2 of the conference.

fxguide had previously covered his award winning short film Echo, made with Stiller Studios.

Victor Perez covered his films Echo and The Invisible Boy: Second Generation.

The visual effects of The Invisible Boy: Second Generation extend Italy’s position on the cutting edge of technology in the international independent film scene. The film’s VFX was supervised by Perez and produced by Frame by Frame, a prestigious Italian post-production studio based in Rome. The sophistication of the project required 19 months of work and collaboration between Academy Award director Gabriele Salvatores and Perez. Between pre-production, filming and post-production, a team of more than 60 specialised artists and technicians worked on various new visual effects technologies. The team was from around the world, spanning from Italy, the United Kingdom, Serbia, India and the United States. This first collaboration between Salvatores and Perez resulted in 521 visual effects shots including many fully computer-generated shots that rebuilt some existing locations, such as the Old Port and the Napoleonic Road (both in Trieste, Italy).

The VFX of the film in summary:

  • 19 months post production
  • 521 shots, including 7 fully CG photorealistic shots
  • 21 minutes of VFX screen run time
  • 18,497 survey reference shots
  • 3D scans done in house with a custom rig purpose built for this film
  • First Italian film fully post-produced in ACES workflow, end to end
  • Main Software used was Maya, Zbrush, Mari Houdini, 3D Equalizer and rendered in Arnold.
  • One key shot consumed a quarter of the entire VFX budget.

One shot : A Quarter of the Entire Budget . FRR0010

The Invisible Boy: Second Generation is the first film in Italy (and one of the first within the independent cinema scene) to include a fully CG shot that is one long-take with a close-up of the actor (Mikołaj Chroboczek) fully hand animated and digitally generated.

The VFX team at Frame by Frame had to sculpt the model to the highest detail level possible because the shot is not only extremely close to the face, but also takes place in slow-motion.

The script called for a truck to hit one of the superheroes head on.

The initial idea was to do a classic superhero stopping of the car (see concept art below). But Perez felt this was unrealistic due both to mass and inertia but also out of character in the plot. As the story just needed the car to stop at this point, Perez suggested a funnier and perhaps more realistic solution. A total unheroic full body slam.

The work was done using only hand-done keyframe animation. The entire character animation and facial expression was done without using any motion capture reference. The dynamic camera motion was inspired by Japanese Manga designs.

This kind of digital reproduction of the human face is one of the most complex effects to reproduce in a photorealistic way. There was nowhere to hide as the shot is slow motion and there are no edits. “Everyone runs from doing a slow motion effects shot in a close up”, he explained.  “I said  – hey we can’t compete with Marvel’s The Avengers on volume of shots but maybe we could compete in terms of a single shot and really show the world what we can do.” From the outset, the production was unsure how to film the sequence, so the production team were happy to support Perez’s idea – so long as it did not blow out the VFX budget. As it ended up, this one shot used up a quarter of the entire VFX budget.

The final shot was a total of 509 frames including handles, and it ended up being even more elaborate than Perez first envisaged. The face scanning alone produced some real challenges for the team. The effects company Frame by Frame is a full end to end post production studio, including a comprehensive visual effects department. However, until this production, their pipeline was 3dMax into V-Ray. For this film they decided to move to Maya and rendering in Arnold. This was motivated in part by the requirements of this shot.

The team did not have a complex face scanning or photogrammetry rig so they decided to build one. Tight for money, the team bought (and borrowed) 24x Canon 5D cameras, (and then sold them at half price to the effects crew to save money after the shoot). Even with the high end cameras the team could not get the equipment to photograph in sync.

A key to facial photogrammetry photography is to have all 24 cameras all shoot exactly at the same time. Having failed with a cheap electronic sync rig, and unable to afford to build a high end expensive solution, Perez came upon an old school solution. The team were shooting the actors in a professional photographic studio, so Perez set all the cameras to a very long exposure (seconds long) – he then turned off all the lights to make the studio pitch black. With the shutters open in pitch darkness they then fired a set of flashes. It turns out syncing flashes is relatively easy technology. Once the long exposures finished and thus the shutters all closed, they could turn the light back on. This ended up providing a perfect (lit) face that was synced on all the cameras.

This one shot took 14 months for a team of 6 people to complete. “6 people: a VFX Generalist (CG Supervisor), a modelling/rigging 3D generalist, an Environment Artist, a Senior Effects TD, the Animator, and a Compositor (the Compositing Supervisor ).  I designed the shot, including the virtual cinematography but I don’t count myself!” laughingly recalls Perez.

The rest of the VFX on Invisible Boy

Perez is quick to point out what a collaborative project this film was to work on. “Andrea Vincenti was the real heart of the VFX team. He is a super ‘generalist’ – he knows everything about everything. He is incredibly talented for someone so young,” explained Perez. “Vincenti and many of the team has since moved to MPC in London to work on the Lion King.” Federico Gnoli is credited as the VFX producer, but Perez commented that Gnoli “was first in and last off. He was always on set with me, he knew the team’s skills so well. He was invaluable.”

Frame by Frame was the principle VFX company and also co-producers on the film. The company was very keen to show what their talented team could achieve, and supported Perez in pushing the envelope. Additional visual effects were provided by Crater Studio in Serbia, headed by VFX supervisor Petar Jovovic. Crater and Frame by Frame had a long term relationship of working together for over 12 years. Crater even loaned compositor Zoran Mitrovic to work on the final confrontation scene at Frame by Frame in Italy. VFX studio Edge also joined and did roto on the project. Edge had perviously worked on Perez’s film Echo.

This film was a first in terms of Italian pipelines using ACEScg. While Perez was a huge fan, he needed additional help and the Foundry in the UK provided one of their senior Colour Scientists to advise and consult on the new pipeline from the UK. In all there were 62 artists that worked on the project from 5 countries.

This extraordinary complexity of the work was not simply an aesthetic choice but a support to the storytelling. There was more than 21 minutes of final imagery generated by the visual effects department in the film. The team adopted many techniques and technologies normally only used in Hollywood tentpole movies. For example, in many shots the entire body of the main actor, Ludovico Girardello, was replaced with a CGI model, to make him float in the air. For Galatéa Bellugi, the actress who plays Natasha, a physiological model of the human body was made, complete with nerves, muscles and bones. Perez comments: “I believe this film represents a benchmark of visual effects in the independent cinema, not just for the technology we have used or for the excellent talent of the team, but for how Gabriele Salvatores has been able to express the psyche of the characters through the narrative use of supporting visual effects.”

The complete effects reel is below:


More CGA Belgrade Pics

There were a series of panel discussion with local and overseas artists.While the local community featured strongly, there were also many Serbians who had moved to work in places such as the UK, who returned for the two day conference.

Vladimir Llic, CG Supervisor, presented the brilliant work Pixomondo did on Star Trek Discovery. He discussed the environment work of the Crepuscula village that Captain Georgiou and First Officer Michael Burnham visit, how Gothic cathedrals influenced the Klingon Coffin of Warriors Sarcophagus ship, filming Zero Gravity and much more.

Vladimir Mastilovic, founder of 3Lateral, joined Epic Games Ben Lumsden and fxguide’s Mike Seymour on a panel to discuss Virtual Production. 3lateral is arguably the most successful games and effects company in Serbia. The company has 80 employs and leads the world in advanced facial rigging and animation. 3lateral works all over the world with AAA game companies and is proudly based in Novi Sad, about an hour outside Belgrade. 3Lateral is built around passion for creating characters and creatures. 3lateral has gathered a diverse group of riggers, modellers and programmers, with seemingly incompatible skills, and formed them into a rebellious and disciplined engineering team that is now a world leader.

Fxguide also got to visit local facilities such as MoCap studio Take One (above) and local VFX studios Crater Studios who worked on The Invisible Boy (above).

Above is a frame from a Crater Studios internal Demo piece. Crater was one of the companies fxguide visited.

Street’s outside the conference at night in Belgrade, Serbia.

Serbia is a country that is very old, and has experienced great hardship and issues but its VFX community feels young and energetic. Certainly this relatively new conference is serving the community well in allowing the artists of the region to show their talents and build a tight VFX community.