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HomeAwardsContender - Visual Effects Artist Paul Franklin, Inception

Contender – Visual Effects Artist Paul Franklin, Inception

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Paul Franklin

Chris Nolan was keen to ground the world of Inception in observed reality,” said visual effects supervisor Paul J. Franklin, who oversaw realities both observed and created for the director’s two recent Batman installments (with some Harry Potter episodes in between).

Nolan has a certain reputation for wanting as many practical or mechanical effects as possible – truck crashes should ideally, involve real trucks, etc. But even the director knew that when doing a film about dreamscapes, and the people who manipulate them, there was no practical way to fold up Paris around the story’s protagonists, or blow up corner cafes with flying shrapnel leaving the main cast unscathed.

But regardless of where dreams took the story, Nolan “wanted to represent all this with the clarity of photorealism – no matter how surreal they were.”

Franklin notes that the director (and he) worked with the stunt and art departments, and DP Wally Pfister (himself a long-time Nolan collaborator on Batman films and The Prestige), wondering how much they could do that was not only photorealistic, but actually happening.

Among those sequences was the well-regarded hotel sequence, one of the dreams-within-a-dream in the film’s climactic sequence. For inspiration, the director looked to the zero gravity scenes in 2001, and worked with a moving set, a 90 foot-long rotating corridor, meaning most of the scene’s visual effects were achieved “in camera,” while digital effects were saved “for where they were needed.”

That included cleaning up the rotating hotel – riggings, etc. – to “sell the effect.” But more prominently, that meant the aforementioned Paris sequence, where Ellen Page’s character, Ariadne, “folds the city,” and the exploding cafe.

For the latter, there was still a practical side – nitrogen cannons blasted out debris at high speed, (slowed down on film), but more harmful shrapnel, like “masonry, glass, and metal were added with CG.” You then “combine all this to get a maelstrom of destruction.”

“Even if we shot something that was entirely digital,” he continues, “it was based on something we photographed ourselves.”

Originally, Franklin was anticipating a much smaller film, on a scale with Blair Witch Project. Keeping to that aesthetic, he said that “Chris and Wally shot very quickly,” with a lot of handheld shots, which made later compositing an interesting challenge. To match shots, there was a lot of hand rotoscoping, combining footage with mattes.

The work with Nolan continued steadily through post, with the director mostly stateside, and Franklin working out of Double Negative’s offices in London. Franklin would videoconference with Nolan “everyday at 4:00.” (It was something the director “insists on.”)

Franklin reckons they missed all of two days in what was a four-and-a-half month posting process, on a job that began with Franklin in Southern California, having come over for his effects team’s Dark Knight nomination, and standing, subsequently, in Disneyland with his kids.

The phone rang, and it was Nolan, and so the collaboration on Inception began. “Reality,” Franklin emphasizes, remained “the jumping off point” for the project.

But in the time from that phone call until now, it’s been quite the spectacular leap.

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