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PP-V for Vendetta VFX

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Remember, remember the FX of November……digital image with plotArguably, the source material for Warner Bros.’ startling V for Vendetta isn’t the acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, but the nursery rhyme that commemorates Guy Fawkes:Remember remember the fifth of NovemberGunpowder, treason and plot.I see no reason why gunpowder, treasonShould ever be forgot…Fawkes was caught in 1605 with a batch of gunpowder under the Parliament building, intending to blow up King James I during the opening session of the House of Lords. In V for Vendetta, a Guy Fawkes-mask-wearing avenger in a fascistic near-future Britain seeks to blow up various edifices of power and bring down the authorities.Could Mr. Fawkes have ever imagined his visage used in something called a comic book? Or that the cinematic version of that visage would be tweaked repeatedly using the numbers one and zero in something called a computer?That “mask was a DP’s worst nightmare,” says the film’s VFX supervisor, Dan Glass. Glass had just come off work on Batman Begins when he was reunited with many of his cohorts from The Matrix trilogy. The Wachowski brothers, who wrote and directed those earlier adventures of Neo & company, here served as co-writers as well, and James McTeigue moved up from AD duties to the director’s chair for what is being billed as “an uncompromising vision of the future.”Cinematographer Adrian Biddle—who died shortly after the film’s completion—“did fantastic work” on lighting the mask, which stays fixed and on the title character’s face (played by Hugo Weaving) throughout the film. But on medium and wider shots, the mask became “a glaring beacon” of reflection and glare, so a large portion of Glass’s work was to scan the mask, track it, and animate digital shadows.These shadows served not only to restrain the lighthouse-like aspects of the mask, but to abet the “very subtle gestures” Weaving brought to the role, in a kabuki-like acting where he wrangled “so much performance from a static object.”“In the end,” Glass says, “we went with a DI to lighten [scenes and objects], selectively darken, and add mood.” Part of McTeigue being “very keen to keep it a comic book look” meant deploying lots of high key lighting, later abetted by Glass & co.But while V for Vendetta might seem like an FX-laden work, it was far more reliant on costume design and stuntwork than its Matrix-y predecessors. There was “not a lot of preproduction” Glass notes, only 120 FX shots, something director McTeigue stuck to “pretty well,” though, by the end, the number of shots requiring enhancements “grew to just shy of 500.”And not all of those enhancements were digital. Glass also made use of good old-fashioned miniature work.This decision to go with miniatures was explosive. Literally. “From the outset, the biggest things were the explosions,” Glass says. V’s havoc runs toward blowing up the Old Bailey, the government-run propaganda/”news” network’s TV tower, and finally, the Parliament building itself.Glass worked with Jose Granell, who supervised the model building—and destruction—for Cinesite, the Soho-based FX house.“The Old Bailey was built as a single piece,” and Cinesite had already built Big Ben before.When it came to the explosions themselves, Glass was wary: “A lot of miniature pyro [work] can suffer from being too slow-motion. We wanted to keep it raw,” so the big bangs were captured within a 72–150 fps rate.But the use of scale models wasn’t the only thing keeping Vendetta from being less digitally reliant than the source material might suggest: For the film’s finale in front of Parliament, real locations—and numerous real extras—were used.Trafalgar Square was closed and 500 extras—dressed as V-supporting citizens fed up with the Big Brother-like turn their country had taken—filled the streets. But the filmmakers could only shoot “10 minutes at a stretch,” even at nighttime (which ended around 3 or 4 in the morning, owing to the early sunrises of what Glass terms a British summer), after which buses and other traffic rolled through.Glass had done a flyover of the area in a helicopter—only allowed during daylight hours, so he had to go as close to sunrise as possible to photographically capture his “points of a plate,” from which he could create digital doubles of the area, for background use. (Just as numerous human simulacrums were digitally created to stand in behind the real 500 extras up front).But the idea was never to create a completely digital Trafalgar Square—real locations, even if later enhanced, were preferred. “You get so much extra” at a real location, Glass avers. A completely recreated Trafalgar Square—like the Rome of Gladiator, say—would only have been used had additional terrorist bombings occurred in London (the bus and tube bombings occurred during production), and the location been embargoed for the foreseeable future.That left the bloody knife-fight finale to do, and syncing up all the pervasive TV monitors watched throughout the film—many carrying the harangues of the Chancellor, played by John Hurt.When it came to the blades, wielded by V in a showdown with the head of the secret police, each tossed knife was a CG creation as it moved through the air, Glass’s main challenge being to “match shadows” as the glistening metal flew.There were also Matrix-y “trails”—think of the knife world’s version of “bullet time”—left by the blades as they moved through the ether. And when they landed—as per the film’s R rating— there was lots of blood.This was “real” too—in the movie sense. “The stunt double had to slash the (blood) bags” taped to the other actors, after which, Glass had the task of removing said bags from the scene, along with the few visible wires abetting the kicking and chopping.For the TV screens he turned to Double Negative, which oversaw matching the video frame rates to the rest of the production.Unlike V, however, who decidedly worked alone, much of the pleasure for Glass came from “working with a lot of old friends,” who had seen The Matrix films through to completion.That “enabled us all to work out who does what,” in the face of short production schedules and expanding shot lists.And while his next production—a remake of the 70s sci-fi classic Logan’s Run—has the notion of “running out of time” as one of its central themes, Glass reports it’s still “early days” on that film’s preproduction timeline and, for the moment, no dawn flights to reconnoiter Trafalgar Square on behalf of a masked freedom fighter appear to be called for.

Written by Mark London Williams

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