Categories: iffi

The mistress of VFX

Janice Rodrigues|NT BUZZ

With the spate of science fiction and fantasy films only increasing, especially in Hollywood, the visual effects play an integral, if not indispensible, role in the making of movies. The big conglomerates are spending millions of dollars on VFX teams that ensure a mesmerising experience for film viewers. One sought after expert attached mainly to the Universal and Marvel Studios is Theresa Elis Rygiel, who was down in Goa to deliver a Masterclass at the 47th International Film Festival of India on Friday.

Having done visual effects for top grossing films including Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lord of the Rings, Fast 5, Furious 7 and the very recent Marvel entrant, the visually appealing Doctor Strange, Theresa provided a treat to those interested in the highly imaginative world of visual effects. Delivering her masterclass with a series of clippings from various movies she has worked on, Theresa made her session of a highly technical subject very interactive with the audience, asking questions after every clipping, breaking each clip down to a step by step procedure.

Starting with scenes from the Tom Cruise starrer Oblivion, Theresa specified that for the scenes where the house is shown high up in the sky above the clouds, the use of projection screens was mandatory. “We used huge projection screens to surround the entire set, on which still shots of the clouds over the Hawaii islands at different times of the day were later projected. We had to keep in mind that there were no gaps between the plates or that the temperatures of each plate remained constant to avoid any break in the image,” said Theresa.

Theresa said that there were things even while shooting of the scenes with heavy emphasis on visual effects, there are things that are real, not all of it is computer generated. “When working on a movie shot, we have to try to shoot the real things as much as possible, and then try to fill in the gaps. Compositing is fabulous but not always effective,” said Theresa. Even if there are stills that have not been used, the VFX team often uses them to patch up missing pictures by using the projection technique.

The clips from ‘Oblivion’ also showed the extent to which cinematographers can shoot, trying to keep things as real as possible. “In the shot where there is a destroyed stadium, the photography was done in Iceland in a volcanic crater that resembled a stadium, only later the images were modified to look like the stadium. And in the next shot, we shot the Empire State Building with 3D camera and using CG (computer graphic) made the surrounding areas barren,” said Theresa.

When asked how long it takes to complete a shot, Theresa said it depended on a lot of factors including creating details, manpower involved, tracking the movement of the objects shot, building the environment, that even for a two second shot, it take a while to complete.

Speaking about the next movie she did, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, Theresa also stressed on the fact that a visual effects team is involved not only in the post production, but also in the pre productions phases. “We work with the script before the shoot, to get an idea of how the sequence will unfold. And after the shoot we work to find out how to put everything together,” she said. For movies like ‘Guardians’ which has characters that are animated, the VFX team relies on the use of puppets and improvising with people crouching or wearing extensions to give the real actors an idea of where the animated characters would be. She then gave insights into the use of green and blue screens while shooting. “We use the green screen for very large areas in the background it is hard to even get lighting on a blue screen. For a scene that needs less emphasis on light use blue screens,” she said.

To the audience’s request, Theresa spoke about the latest movie ‘Doctor Strange’. She said that in order to keep the movie as real as possible, the actors had to do their own stunts, “when the shot showed an explosion, there was a real explosion!” The scene of London in the ‘other dimension’ was shot on set with only as much set needed; the rest (the moving buildings, the mirror images) was later added using CG. To stress on the fact of keeping things real, she also referred to ‘Furious 7’, where for the scene where the cars fall off the aircraft carrying them, “the cars are real, they are actually being thrown out of a moving aircraft. In fact for the eighth movie in the series the makers must’ve destroyed around 300 cars!”

On a concluding note when asked about which of her films proved to be the most challenging, she said she enjoyed working on Doctor Strange, “because of the designing involved.”


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