Judy is the story of the last years of the life of Judy Garland. Judy was directed by Rupert Goold and stars Renée Zellweger in what will, no doubt, soon be an Oscar-nominated performance. The actress provides a ‘deeply committed’ performance, as one critic noted. Garland herself had a career that spanned 45 years, she attained international stardom as an actress in both musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist, and on the stage. Thirty years after starring in The Wizard of Oz, the beloved actress arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. She is alone and suffering from financial issues. It fell to Peerless VFX to transform London into the late 1960s London that Garland finds herself in. The film was primarily shot in London but with some scenes in the USA including flashbacks to Garland’s youth.
For Judy’s time in London, in addition to removing odd signage, an entire 3D matte painting was made for the scene when she first arrives at her hotel. The tracking shot was shot against green screen and moves from her car into the hotel. Peerless has a long tradition of doing the seamless visual effects that support this story, and while the film was not large in terms of VFX, the team there is very proud of the work and the film in general. This shot required both tracking the camera as it leads her inside and a reconstruction of Piccadilly and various CG vehicles and buses.
Peerless was established in 1976 to service the animation industry. As industry demands changed during the 1990s, Peerless became directly involved in digital imaging technology with the installation of Europe’s first Flame compositing system. The company is creative and artist-led, offering a range of VFX services from initial concept and design through supervision to final execution of shots. The company is led by Visual Effects Supervisor Kent Houston and Director of Visual Effects Tony Willis. Paul Round was the visual effects supervisor on Judy. “Everybody, here really thought we were making something quite special when it was being filmed,” explains Round, adding that “Renée Zellweger is such a fantastic actress, while working on this film, she really became Judy.”
To make the matte painting, photographs were taken in LA and then from those the skyline and exterior was built up, avoiding anything or any buildings that would have been after 1968.
Makeup designer Jeremy Woodhead provided a prosthetic extension to the tip of Renée Zellweger’s nose in order to better match Judy Garland’s profile. Peerless did digital cosmetic work to aid in the match. Zellweger wore dark-gray contact lenses to approximate Garland’s dark brown eyes and a wig which required some digital blending at the hairline in some closeups.
The core team was primarily compositors, ten in all working mostly on Flame and Nuke. In total there were less than 150 shots, and the work was done some time ago, as the film was held back from release for a few months, so it’s premiere could better coincide with various festivals and the general award season.
A digital matte painting was created to turn the Noel Coward Theatre in St. Martin’s Lane, Westminster into the ‘Talk of The Town’ where Garland performed. The actual club she sang at is still standing in London, but look nothing like it did, in 1968.
Zellweger was in Sydney for the premiere and spoke about the intense research done for the film, each night after filming she would study Youtube clips of Garland, or be working with her speech coach to match Garland’s voice. This dedication to accuracy and a sense of correctly honoring the memory of Garland influenced wardrobe, art department and of course the visual effects team. Zellweger dedicated months to singing lessons in the lead up to the principal photography in London. She spent a year training with her vocal coach Eric Vetro before shooting, and then she rehearsed with musical director Matt Dunkley for four months to master her vocals.
The team recreated the lights of Piccadilly Circus to reflect in Judy’s car as she drives to the theatre. The film was shot on anamorphic lenses and mastered in 2.35 : 1. The film also naturally has an extensive Dolby Atmos mix.
Round is now finishing work on a major TV series, “I’m in the middle of supervising a project on Singapore, ” he says. “I was in Malaysia for two months at the start of the year. It’s a six-part TV series about the Japanese invasion of Singapore in the second world war, it involves some great work. It was shot in one block and Peerless is doing our work just as we would on a feature film”. This project will keep Round’s team busy until Xmas he joked.