Academy Award-nominated filmmaker James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari tells the story of a determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive professional Carroll Shelby and his lead British driver, Ken Miles. The team is tasked by Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca to building the Ford GT40 racing car and defeat the perennially dominant Ferrari racing team at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. The film stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Lead team driver Ken Miles.
Ford v Ferrari was filmed in the summer and early fall of 2018 in Southern California. Halon did the Previs and Postvis for the film which ended up with over 1000 visual effects shots. Zack Wong, was the Halon Postvis Supervisor for the film, working with Previs Supervisor Clint Reagan.
Halon was founded in 2003 by Daniel Gregoire as a full-service visualization company. Halon has its main headquarters in Santa Monica and operations in Vancouver and London.
Fxguide: How did Halon approach modeling the various elements needed for the film?
ZW: The track sets came from the art department. It was designed to be period accurate. The vehicle assets were purchased and modified to fit our specifications. Everything was eventually funneled into the Unreal Engine, where we modified the materials, lit, and set dressed the environments for our final renders.
Fxguide: What was the output – was it just clips or did you hand on to VFX or Production files from UE4 or exports from UE4 to Maya somehow?
ZW: We produced shots as footage to be edited into sequences. We provided techvis for all the shots so they would know how the recreate the camera moves onset, (see the video at the end of this story).
Fxguide: How far do you go in UE4 – for example, depth of field, etc? Could you discuss the interesting shader for you used for the imagery?
ZW: For the previs stage of production, we were using a stylized look as our final output. We worked very closely with James Mangold to fine-tune this look and adapted our materials to fully achieve the desired look. The reasoning was working alongside production and storyboards in the building of the edit, and they didn’t want the visuals of rendered shots to be jarring when intercut with storyboards.
In the postvis process, we wanted to provide footage that wouldn’t stand out as overly CG or would bump against surrounding footage in the cut. We aimed to make our contributions as seamless as possible; we even recreated the anamorphic bokeh and film grain to match the look of the rest of the film.
Fxguide: What sort of cameras (lensing) did you end up exploring?
ZW: We worked with Jim to set up the shots and build the sequences. Once the shots were effective in telling the story we wanted to tell, we did a techvis pass with a camera car to make sure the cameras were based in reality, and they would know how to shoot the sequence on set.
Fxguide: Was the DOP involved in the Previs?
ZW: The DP was around later in the previs process and not directly involved.
Fxguide: Was there a visual reference or work of the director that influenced your suggested paths for blocking and framing?
ZW: We’ve worked closely with Jim on a number of his past projects, including Logan, so we had a sense of his style going into this production.
Fxguide: Was the visual output rendered in UE4 or did you use any special render options?
ZW: We just used standard Unreal rendering options. Even the stylized post-process look of the previs was just rendered out of a regular build of Unreal.
Fxguide: In producing the output clips, were they rendered in real-time or did you crank up any settings and render out of real-time?
ZW: We were able to work in our scenes in real-time. We easily managed to throw quite a bit at the engine renders in terms of vehicles, effects, and lighting.
Fxguide: Did you discover any tricks or aspects that you found really helped communicate speed effectively?
ZW: We designed all the shots to be at accurate speeds, given their specific location on the track. Other than that, we tried to feature different foreground and background elements to ground the shots in the environment.
Fxguide: At this stage how historically accurate did your work have to be, given this is a real story?
ZW: Historical accuracy was essential to the story, and we worked to recreate the visuals of the time. Referencing photos and videos from that time was used to try and be as faithful to the look as possible. In terms of storytelling, keeping the continuity of which cars were still on the track over the course of the race was very important to the continuity of the sequences. Also, in the postvis process, we had to remove or alter the modernity inevitably captured in-camera.
Fxguide: Could you explain a bit more about the postvis?
ZW: For postvis, we were tasked with helping to fill out shots with additional cars and environments to aid in carrying out the story of each sequence. In the postvis process, we completed 125 shots; most of the shots were in the Le Mans, Daytona, and Willow Spring races. We continued the use of our Unreal pipeline through postvis, taking the tracked cameras for each plate and adding additional vehicles and environments which were rendered out of Unreal to composite them back into the original plates.
The film’s final visual effects were supervised by Olivier Dumont. With a strong design-forward creative sensibility, Dumont has worked on dozens of features as VFX Supervisor for Method Studios as well as on the production side of feature films. Dumont had previously collaborated with filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, James Gunn, Terrence Malick, and Lana and Lilly Wachowski. Dumont has been with Method since 2008 and has led Method teams as VFX Supervisor on features including Guardians of the Galaxy, The Tree of Life, Cloud Atlas, Insurgent, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In addition to Method, Rising Sun Pictures produced 223 visual effects shots for the film, the majority for an 8-minute sequence depicting the first “24 Hours of Daytona” race in 1966. RSP artists created a historically-accurate, digital replica of the famous speedway and filled it with cheering fans. The team also created 3D replicas of cars that took part in the race and used them to supplement race vehicles in the production footage. Again relying on historical photography, artists produced digital models that conformed to their real-world counterparts, down to the decals that adorned their exteriors, and composited them into scenes in line with their positions in the actual race
The Director of Photography was Phedon Papamichael, ASC/GSC, an Academy Award-nominated European cinematographer. Ford v Ferrari marks his fifth collaboration with director James Mangold.