Milk VFX designed and created visual effects for Ben Wheatley’s recent indie feature film High Rise. The film is adapted from J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel, High-Rise is set in the 1970s, in an ultra-modern high-rise development. The film stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Elizabeth Moss. It was nominated for multiple British Independent Film Awards.
Milk collaborated with Wheatley to support his vision of a fictional futuristic 1970s look and style. The brief included building the main apartment block based on references to the Barbican, with strong emphasis on the Brutalist architectural style.
The team created all the external views of the high-rises and most of their surrounding environment where most of the action takes place including the luxurious penthouse roof gardens.
Five CG tower blocks and their surrounding external environment were built by Milk. The towers needed to be arranged in a circular pattern to represent an open hand and fingers, with the lake in the centre of the palm. Wheatley’s brief required each tower to be built in the Brutalist style in an individual, asymmetrical shape with an external rendered concrete finish.
High-Rise VFX Breakdown from Milk visual effects
Milk’s VFX Supervisor Murray Barber worked closely with Wheatley and production designer Mark Tildesley using their concepts and architectural plans to ensure the design and feel was absolutely right. “Ben’s vision is based on the novel – albeit his own interpretation. I chose not to read the book so that I could focus on Ben’s brief and Amy Jump’s adaptation for the screen” explained Barber.
At the time of the story, four of the five towers are still under construction, requiring Milk to design period cranes, trucks, and construction equipment and ensure that the unfinished buildings conveyed the feeling of a construction site and looked fully authentic. For two key flyover shots Milk also built the car park for the inhabited tower and populated it with period CG cars. The work was modelled in Maya and rendered in Arnold, which excels in this type of accurate exterior lighting setups. The work was tracked in 3D Equalizer and composited in Nuke.
“We also did one shot of Munrow jumping – where he falls down the side of the building (but not the one where he hits the car) ” he explains. The film was shot digitally on the Alexa. In all the team of 32 did about 60 shots in the film over a period of five months.
Part of Milk’s brief was to help convey the concept that the main tower has its own ‘character’. When the film begins the tower has a colourful, utopian feel, which gradually becomes increasingly destructive and sinister – as the fabric of the high-rise community breaks down.
Milk achieved this using lighting; the team bathed the main tower in glorious sunlight, bright blue skies and added lens flares at the start of the film. As the film progresses the power in the building begins to fail- and the lights flicker and go out. Milk gradually adjusted the lighting from this point to become darker and added brooding stormy skies to create an overall atmosphere of foreboding and anarchy.
Said Barber: “High-Rise was a hugely enjoyable project; we were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Ben Wheatley again. We’re currently in production on his forthcoming feature Free Fire which is our third collaboration with him.”
The film is now available for rent on iTunes.