Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a 2022 American mystery film that follows master detective Benoit Blanc as he investigates a murder at tech billionaire Miles Bron’s mansion on a private island in Greece. Miles has invited five friends, including Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint, Connecticut governor Claire Debella, controversial fashion designer and model Birdie Jay, men’s rights streamer Duke Cody, and ousted Alpha co-founder Cassandra “Andi” Brand, to play a murder mystery game.
Before dinner, Miles shows off his valuable glass sculptures and the Mona Lisa on loan from the Louvre. Blanc warns Miles that his guests have motives to kill him, and after an argument, Andi storms off. Duke dies after drinking from Miles’s glass, and the group suspects Andi of attempting to poison Miles. The police are summoned but will not arrive until morning. And so the mystery plays out…
The film features an ensemble cast that includes Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista. It is a standalone sequel to the 2019 film Knives Out and is written and directed by Rian Johnson.
We spoke to Sameer Malik, VFX Supervisor, and Philipp Wolf, Executive Producer, at DNEG about the visual effects work in creating the island and its namesake Glass Onion building.
FXG: What was the total shot count, and how long were you on the project?
Sameer: We had a shot count of 510. We worked on the project for nearly 9 months, starting in November 2021.
Glass Onion Structure
FXGUIDE: What was the rendering solution for the actual Glass Onion structure and could you discuss the technical challenges for rendering?
Sameer: We used Clarisse for rending, and we had a really high rendering time to process the Glass Onion and island foliage. Full credit goes to our CG Supervisor Aleksandr Oplanchuk, Lighting Supervisor Alexey Mazurenko, and Head of Department Gurbachan Singh – they were heavily involved in fast-tracking the process without compromising on realism.
Philipp: From a production perspective the biggest challenge was to render such a reflective and refractive structure and ensure it properly sits in the different light situations of the provided plates.
FXG: How about the lighting of the Glass Onion during the day vs the night, interior vs exterior shots?
Sameer: The lighting was heavily based on the final lookdev and glass IOR values. Once we found the right look, the lighting team took all the onset HDRI reference images and lit the shots. We used some creative freedom to relight the daytime shots to get more reflections and added some additional lighting to the nighttime shots to showcase the base of the Glass Onion and the smaller shallot structures.
FXG: Was there valid and useful lighting reference from on set – or were the elements much more a collection of compositing and CG solutions?
Sameer: We had a lot of onset data, like the HDRIs and some drone footage, but nothing which showed us how this kind of glass structure would react to the environment. It was purely done using lookdev lighting and then in comp to make it look realistic.
FXG: What was the reference for the Island?
Sameer: Giles Harding shot beautiful onset references from the Greek island where the principal photography was done. That helped us a lot when it came to designing the major assets in the production, including the final island.
FXG: Did it change from pre to post?
Sameer: In some areas, we tweaked the main island and the islands surrounding it, so that during the poolside sequences it feels like they are on an exclusive, private island.
FXG: I assume no green screen and you used roto was that correct?
Sameer: We had a lot of bluescreen shots, like the Manhattan balcony and doorway, all the daytime and nighttime interior Glass Onion shots, the two floors of the atrium, and the roof extension. We also had extensive use of roto extraction for the characters, to remove or reduce the sound stage reflection and replace the actual environment reflection.
FXG: What was the destruction pipeline?
Sameer: Our initial brief was that the Glass Onion structure should explode like a balloon, with a large burst of glass and fire. The villa goes up in flames, there are billows of fire and debris. The discussions we had with Rian about this element were that it needed to be similar to a gas explosion as opposed to a bomb, with a gaseous fireball that rolls, expanding upwards, and then dissipates.
The scenes were shot at dusk with no fire elements, so we had to create the light interaction, fire sims, fire jets, and main explosion from scratch. We worked with Giles on multiple references and showcased a lot of fire sims before agreeing on the final explosion that you see in the film.
Philipp: For the fire elements, Production was able to add interactive light to the villa. We ended up replacing big parts of the original villa for more control of the interactive light and shadows.
FXG: Did you have a clear shot blocking and previz on how this would work or did you have to build the villa technically not exactly knowing which angles or aspects would be featured?
Sameer: Initially, we didn’t have a clear picture of all the shots so we built the entire villa in CG so that it could be used in any situation.
FXG: I assume there was also minor fix-up and general VFX work away from the environments? Were there any particularly surprising VFX problems to be solved?
Sameer: We also created the Alpha Cosmos aerospace factory, and the windows and door extension for Lionel’s office to show that he’s working there. We recreated the Porsche Spyder in full CG to showcase Miles driving the car, and Blanc’s apartment balcony and corridor extension.
Philipp: To add to Sameer’s list, we also did the autostereogram on the puzzle box, which was an oddly complicated effect to pull off.
We were also involved in some of the easter eggs of the film – the glass statues rising out of the water, placing some of the artwork in the atrium, and even designing some of the sculptures ourselves.
DNEG was founded in 1998, and the company has become one of the world’s leading providers of visual effects services for the film, television, and advertising industries. The company has worked on many blockbuster films, including the Harry Potter series, Interstellar, Inception, and Blade Runner 2049. DNEG’s VFX services include concept design, pre-visualization, on-set supervision, 3D animation, compositing, and finishing. The company has won numerous awards for its work, including multiple Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects.
Note: All images Courtesy of DNEG © 2022 Netflix, Inc.