Trainspotting 2: zeitgeist of 2017 despair

In T2 Trainspotting, Renton, the drug self destroying lad turned 46-year-old failed accountant with heart problems – is back. In the film he updates his iconic speech from the original film over dinner with Simon’s Bulgarian sex worker-cum-ex-communist-bloc-femme-fatale Veronika.

“Choose Facebook,” says middle-aged Renton, “Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn”.

T2 Trainspotting reunites many of the original cast and also most of the behind the scenes creative leads. Director Danny Boyle is very loyal to the team he works with, and this very much includes Union VFX.


Union VFX

The team first got involved in November 2015 when they saw the script. Once on board, they had a series of location surveys to Edinburgh in the month before formal pre-production.

The company did a lot of environment work to accentuate the characters stories. For example, Simon is in this “sort of dead end pub, at the end of the world. It is located in Edinburgh, but we surrounded it with semi working Docks… we made it more derelict, past its prime – like Simon!” comments Union’s VFX supervisor and co-founder Adam Gascoyne.

Original Photography

The same was true of Spud. His community block of units or council housing was made less attractive, almost twice as tall “and decaying, which helps accentuate Spud’s story point.” Spud falls from his block as a metaphor for his overdose, which was achieved by having a CG digi-double falling off a matte painting. For the symbolic catching of Spud, the two lead actors were filmed on wire rigs, Union removed the wires and composited the shots.

Original Photography

The council flats were featured again in the end titles, produced by design firm Tomato. Award-winning VFX specialist, Jon Hollis composited and finished the titles and Union VFX provided the elements of blowing up Spud’s tower block and fed that into Tomato’s design process. The end sequence also featured some stock footage. Tomato had done the original titles for Trainspotting and Director Danny Boyle was keen to have them on the new film.

Original Photography

The film had many ethereal and symbolic vfx shots, in addition to more traditional fix up or set extension environment work. For example, we learn Spud is a master forger and he demonstrates this with a light pen style display.

This is in contrast to more traditional VFX work, such as removing unwanted set pieces and adding rain, when the guys imagine themselves (and their whole apartment) at the centre of Scottish Football glory in the middle of a football field.

Original Photography

Another unusual sequence sees George Best flashed or projected on the side of their moving car at night. These effects characterised Union’s VFX role on the film. Many of these effects are one-offs and relate either to the narrative directly or as a social commentary in a post-modernist non-literal sense.  Why have the guys running away down the street with cartoon faces? It is neither literal nor something the film’s characters are aware of, and yet it informs the audience and adds to the irreverent nature of this film while nodding to the iconic nature of the original.

The final shot of the film is a fully CG render of Renton’s (Ewan McGregor) infinite bedroom, which becomes a tube tunnel. The brief from the director was “the last train leaving the station, in the sense that this was Renton’s last chance,” says Gascoyne. Through the clever use of lighting, the shot moves from a bedroom to a non-literal tube line tunnel. The team did four or five attempts to capture the sense of a tube line without just looking as if the shot had transitioned to an actual filmed tunnel.

While Renton and the wall behind him are photography, his immediate furniture (between him and the camera), were all CG to allow for parallax on the move and because a lot more is revealed as the camera moves. The team played with motion blur to allow the walls to strobe in a way the director really liked.

Original Photography

In Spud’s apartment there are several scenes where imagery is projected on the walls. Some of this was done in camera thanks to the 59 Production projection specialists, such as upside down wildlife. Whereas the railway yard memories sequence was added by Union VFX in post production.

Original Photography

The Director skillfully walks a very complex line, where odd things are never explained and yet the audience is not left wondering why. In the hands of a lesser film maker many of the devices that Union added would take the viewer out of the story. It is perhaps testament to the Director and his long time close working relationship with the visual effects artists at Union headed by Gascoyne that the imagery – as odd and unexpected as it is, seems to not take one out of the story but rather enhances the narrative.

Original Photography

As we reported in August last year, Union is proud to have been the sole visual-effects studio behind these types of prestigious director lead film projects. Danny Boyle likes Union so much he had them help him on the 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies. Boyle and Union’s Adam Gascoyne worked together on the 8 time Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.

“I’ve been working with Danny for the last 20 years on and off,” comments Gascoyne. “Since 127 Hours we have worked on just about everything he’s done.”  Interestingly, for a film with such graphical visual effects, – for Gascoyne it is how Boyle uses the effects “and makes them not in you face” that is appealing. “That’s what I like. They are woven in more. The effects accentuate story points.”

Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) with in camera projection from 59 productions.

For T2 Trainspotting, Union did about 400 shots, but only 350 made the edit of the final film. Most of the work was Nuke compositing, with about a third of these being fix ups and the rest being complex composites. The 3D (such as the digi-double) was rendered in Arnold. The film premiered on the 22nd of January 2017 and Union finished their work “on the 16th, so we were working right up to the wire… it made Christmas quite an interesting time!” joked Gascoyne.

Union are normally on set during filming, able to talk through issues, many of the locations required blue screen windows and other small fixes. The film was shot “on Alexa with four or five other formats including the 4K Flare cameras, they were used for a lot of the close ups. That  is the camera that Anthony (Anthony Dod Mantle DOP) has been working on getting built.. they are a bit like the si2K cameras that Anthony used to film with.”

The use of a wide angle low camera is a signature of the film, “it is part of the look they like to experiment with. It is the same with the saturation and contrast, they have a style”, comments Gascoyne on the stylish award winning cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle and his collaboration with Doyle.

The production used:

  • Alexa XT
  • Arri Alexa Mini
  • Canon C300 Mk2 
  • 2 and 4k Flare cameras from io industries.

Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Jonny Lee Miller (Simon)  both have very successful long running TV shows, so there was only four weeks when all the cast were together. Gascoyne recalls it was quite the occasion when everyone was first reunited, which happened for the scene where the guys remember Simon in the countryside. Carlyle is not in the scene but he turned up for some key PR shots.

RENTON (Ewan McGregor), SPUD (Ewen Bremner), SICK BOY (Jonny Lee Miller) BEGBIE (Robert Carlyle)