fxpodcast #363: Poor Things

Poor Things tells the story of a woman brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist.  She runs off with a lawyer on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. As she is free from the normal societal prejudices of her times, she grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

The film stars Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, and Willem Dafoe and is directed by ‎Yorgos Lanthimos. In this week’s fxpodcast we talk to Union VFX about working with miniatures, LED volumes, and how to fit the neck of a goose onto the body of a goat (or the head of a pig on the body of a chicken!)

Creating the beautiful and surreal world of Poor Things relied on a wide variety of complex and technical VFX that were both subtle and more obvious. The surreal world was exquisitely crafted by the vision of the director in partnership with the Production Designer and the VFX team who were involved in the film from the earliest stages of pre-production.

Making of Video from Union:

From the use of miniatures and rear-projection screens to fully realized standing sets, the film embraces authentic artificiality like an old Hollywood production, blending this classical sensibility with the film’s more fantastical, science-fiction-driven aesthetic, resulting in truly revolutionary results.
The sheer size, scope, and breadth of the production is apparent from the opening scene. The film begins in a beautifully crafted but largely self-contained mansion set that expands to increasingly gargantuan scales throughout the film as Bella Baxter furthers her journey of discovery, both internally and externally.

This journey takes in the exquisite worlds of London, Paris, Lisbon, and Alexandria. Many of these places, that look like works of art in their own right, and they function serendipitously within the story and fabric of the film.
Poor Things was shot on film, in a combination of colour and black and white which, along with fisheye lenses, added layers of complexity and challenges for the VFX team. In many of the environments, the VFX had to exactly match the quality of the film in the strange and unreal world, as they explain in this week’s podcast in depth.

Emma Stone and Jerrod Carmichael in PoorThings. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

LED Volume.

The production used 11 giant (70m x 90m) wrap-around LED screens to project some of the film’s fantastical environments virtually during filming. The Union VFX team created CG ocean simulations and renders designed to work as 50-second clips at 24K. There were 11 accompanying DMP skies with added cloud movement, additional stylistic moving atmospheric effects, and a panning London city street loop. The LED volume comprised 2,400 InfiniLED 2.6mm LED panels arranged in a 197’x33′ semicircle, with NovaStar Technology processors fed by 4x AV Stumpfl Pixera One servers. The wall’s resolution was 23,040×3,840 pixels, running at 10-bit color and 24 fps.

The skies and ocean simulations had to work with the scale miniatures, as well as at normal scale.
These skies had to have a fluid quality about them and looked stylised and surreal. The VFX team worked closely with the art department to create a distinct look and feel from the early stages of pre-production, referencing the fluid art and films of Chris Parks.

This method of real backdrops was used to hark back to the cinematography of the golden age of cinema so the actors had something to act against. This approach also gave beautiful reflections, contextual lighting, and a more impressive final result.

To make the VFX work even more complex, as discussed in the podcast, The London environment was shot with an 8mm lens and was particularly stylised. The movement in the sky had to reflect the ocean with water displacement and undulation. Tower Bridge was another miniature. Plates were shot so the actress could jump off the bridge into the inky water. The team then built this shot seamlessly from the component parts. The London rooftops referenced the 1950s filmmaking, so signs of life were added to reflect the period.

The film is already creating Oscar buzz and has established itself as one of the most original films of the year.

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