Oblique FX completed all of the visual effects for On The Road, Walter Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s renowned novel. The facility delivered 110 shots in all, including matte painting and historical clean-ups to help bring to life 1950s America. As a result, theater audiences are transported seamlessly into the world of the Beat Generation and one of its defining stories.
Produced by MK2 and American Zoetrope, On The Road stars Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart. With racial segregation, the Cold War, McCarthyism and the growth of suburban culture, it was a time of powerful social constraints, crying out for change. Kerouac’s novel, published in 1957, follows a small group of mavericks on their travels across America as they search for meaning and independence in a culture of control and conformity.
“It’s a thrill for us to have worked on a filmic adaptation of this book,” executive producer at Oblique FX, Émilie Dussault said. “Many of us remember reading that novel. It’s a masterpiece of modern literature and wonderfully captures a feeling of freedom and youth.”
Making this world believable for a contemporary audience meant Oblique FX started with the director’s palette of rich earthy tones. The production was shot with hand-held cameras on 2-perf 35 mm stock, giving the picture a feeling of spontaneous authenticity. At the same time, camera jitter added to the complexity of the clean-up and compositing work.
“We had to address distortion and destabilization issues on many shots to match the look of the film,” VFX supervisor at Oblique FX, Alexandre Lafortune said. “To accomplish this, we analyzed the color and the grain extremely carefully so that our digital work accurately mimicked the original celluloid.”
“Our work included clean-up of shots to erase contemporary buildings and modify signs to keep the audience in that period,” Lafortune continued. “For one scene we had to transform the streets of Montreal – where part of the movie was shot – into New York. This required extensive matte painting with lots of Photoshop and rotoscoping.”
Highway center lines were corrected to reflect the paint color used in 1957, which was white, rather than the yellow commonly used today. “The road is a character in the film, constantly changing through summer and winter, seen through a windshield covered in rain and in bright sunshine,” Lafortune explained.
“Even when something looked simple to alter, the way the camera moves or the wet windshield obscuring our view made it quite challenging,” Lafortune said. “We needed time to make it seamless and you can’t cheat on details like these. We had to make the movie accurate to the time and place. That was our biggest challenge.”
In other scenes, as the protagonists drive past hayfields, modern industrial hay bales were transformed into stacks of the traditional square hay bales that were used at the time. Lafortune worked closely with the film’s VFX supervisor, Louis Morin, a frequent collaborator with the team at Oblique FX, including on projects such as Brokeback Mountain, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fountain, Little Manhattan and Source Code.
“We really enjoy working on independent productions like On the Road,” said Benoît Brière, president of Oblique FX. “The focus on the artistic element is inspiring. Projects like these are perfect for a boutique facility like ours.”