Take a trip: the VFX of 22 Jump Street

It may be a comedy, but 22 Jump Street ramps up the action and effects to feature truck chases, huge crowds, a helicopter crash and even an unexpected octopus encounter. fxguide talks to visual effects supervisor Edwin Rivera about some of the work that made up the 600-odd VFX shots in the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller sequel.

In pursuit

Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) return from their successful 21 Jump Street programme to pursue a group of drug dealers. But their efforts to infiltrate the gang fail and result in a wayward port-side truck chase in which the duo ride atop a tractor-trailer.

Watch part of the truck sequence in this clip.

Production filmed background plates and second unit stunts at the port of New Orleans, with additional shots captured on greenscreen. “Given the nature of the sequence,” explains Rivera, “we couldn’t have Jonah strapped to the top of a tractor-trailer going 50 miles an hour and getting hit and bounced around. So we shot that on a greenscreen that was about 120 feet wide by about 40 feet high on an exterior stage in New Orleans.”

On-set for the truck sequence.

The truck was rigged by special effects supervisor Matt Kutcher on a gimbal so that it could be rotated to any angle that would match what had been shot on location. Pixel Magic then undertook compositing duties to integrate those actor plates into the scenes, also adding in a CG gantry crane, CG netting and CG windshield cracks on the truck. For an earlier sequence, Pixel Magic even augmented a practical octopus with CG tentacles in a scene that sets off the truck pursuit.

College life

Schmidt and Jenko then head to college in an attempt to find the source of a new drug called ‘WHYPHY’. Here, Jenko is soon recruited into the college football team. For shots of vast crowds at football games, Rivera utilized between 250 and 500 extras sitting in a stand to extend the spectators to around 20,000 screaming fans. “They were two and a half D crowds created by Shade VFX,” says Rivera. “We shot about 54 different people from four different camera angles going through the exact same emotions timed at the exact same moments, and used that to procedurally populate the stands.”

Watch some of the on-set filming action for a football match.

Meanwhile, the pair inadvertently consume some WHYPHY and enter good, and bad, drug trips. “That was a huge challenge in itself,” outlines Rivera. “It’s a blank canvas – what is a bad drug trip and what is a good drug trip? There were some on-set pieces that helped set the mood but the entire floor and background was covered in blue. Sony Pictures Imageworks was responsible for creating these very different worlds and then mixing them together at the end.”

Schmidt and Jenko lead a chase around college campus in a helmet car.

Eventually the pair realize that the drug dealers they had encountered earlier are behind the sale of WHYPHY on campus – and engage in another chase, but this time in a college football helmet car. “SPIN was key in putting that scene together in terms of visual effects,” says Rivera. “There’s a lot of little things you wind up having to deal with. The Hummer crashing through the ATM kiosk required that the actual ATM not be installed because it would drive right through the windshield of the car, and endanger the stuntmen. So they had a poster that looked like an ATM, and of course once you hit it, it looked like a poster of an ATM. So they helped the flesh that out.”

Spring Break

The film movies to Puerto Mexico when Schmidt and Jenko re-combine to finally catch up with the drug dealers. Another car chase and on-foot pursuit ensues amidst Spring Break crowds – generated mostly in CG by Pixel Magic over plates filmed in Puerto Rico. “They were responsible for making 2500 people look like 10,000,” states Rivera. “I shot a bunch of extras and I’d peel them off two at a time and would shoot them dancing for a minute and a half and then also standing there static in T-poses to use for animation reference and textures. Then Pixel Magic used their mocap stage to create animations and fill out the beach.”

B-roll from the Spring Break shoot.

Rodeo FX contributed to the Spring Break scenes too by assisting with sky replacement and extensions. “One of the challenges of working in Puerto Rico,” notes Rivera, “was that on any given day, at any given hour, it would either be sunny, cloudy or raining. It set up challenge for us lighting and continuity wise. Rodeo FX were able to take stills we’d taken from sunnier environments and make a continuous pallet of sunny skies or cloudy skies that meant you were not taken out of the movie by different looks.”

Schmidt and Jenko catch up with the drug dealers as they attempt to escape via helicopter. The pair jump to safety over the ocean but not before throwing a grenade into the chopper and causing it to explode. For the explosion, the filmmakers relied on both a practical and digital solution. “It was always envisaged that it be a CG helicopter explosion,” explains Rivera, “but the thinking was that maybe we could get hold of an actual helicopter and blow that up and use that in conjunction with a CG skin and combine the two so we could get the benefits of practical fire and explosions.”

Directors and the main actors on the set of 22 Jump Street.
Directors and the main actors on the set of 22 Jump Street.

“Rodeo FX used a practical hull plate as a starting point,” adds Rivera, “and covered it with a CG model texture that mimicked the hero helicopter. Then with stunt work they were able to put together a sequence with the stuntmen hanging from the helicopter and cut to Jonah and Channing hanging from a helicopter on stage.”

More Jump Streets?

Audiences who stay for the end credits (minor spoilers ahead) are rewarded with a spectacular tongue-in-cheek preview of possible Jump Street sequels featuring Jenko and Schmidt, such as 23 Jump Street: Medical School or 31 Jump Street: Ninja Academy. This montage was handled by Alma Mater, with the VFX team delivering a handful of greenscreen comps.

Ultimately, Rivera says he’s proud of being part of a film that’s a comedy first, with effects second. “I think people are going to go see it for the fact that it’s going to be a really funny movie and not for the amazing visual effects. Those, frankly, are the projects that excite me the most – the kind that when you say you’ve worked on them people say, ‘Oh really, were there any visual effects in that movie?’ Those are sometimes the hardest to pull off.”

All images and clips © 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Take a trip: the VFX of <em>22 Jump Street</em>”

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