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HomeCraftsPostproductionSupervisor Series-Frazer Churchill-Children of Men

Supervisor Series-Frazer Churchill-Children of Men


It’s not every film that can reference the gritty, hand-held Battle of Algiers, and transfer that sensibility into the realm of a science-fiction thriller. But Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, based on the P.D. James book and set in a near future where human fertility has run dry and a human species wracked by terrorism and despotism simply waits for the lights to go out, manages to do just that.Cuarón and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki “would always talk about Battle of Algiers,” according to visual effects supervisor Frazer Churchill, working out of London-based digital house Double Negative.The 1960s’ classic from the late director Gillo Pontecorvo uses a documentary style to recount the Algerian revolt against French colonialism—and is so highly regarded, the film was studied in the Pentagon for insight about the situation in Iraq.But in the near-future world of Cuarón’s film, everyplace has now become Mosul and Karkuk; violence is random, and emotions are numbed in reaction. “That was a stylistic choice,” Churchill asserts. “The FX are used to create these sequences when you weren’t allowed to look away.”That didn’t mean they wanted the fascinating whirligig world of Ridley Scott’s Philip K. Dick-based Blade Runner—a “near future” classic in its own right—but rather the world of “Gaza, Fallujah,” where “society’s broken down.”Specifically, “the idea is that it’s 2027, and we’ve had years of technological advances,” followed by more years of everything “breaking down,” as people get increasingly listless in the absence of new babies.The “not looking away,” then, means that while the world to come is more broken down, the fascination comes not from bright, steely futuristic baubles, but from the terror of bombs-going-off-at-any-moment in the sectarian London of the film’s setting, where, Churchill adds, “nothing’s been cleaned in seven or eight years.”But eyes also stay riveted to the screen in a state of sheer horror and suspense, at some seeming “single take” sequences, where edit breaks and camera moves are undetectable.One involves some of the lead characters in an ambush in a car, which occupies seven minutes of screen time, but took “two months planning to make this look seamless.”That “seamlessness” involved a camera seemingly running from inside the car during the whole sequence, which portrays a non-eventful ride turning in a maelstrom of bullets, blood and mortality.There were, according to Churchill, lots of video tests to work things out in advance, and later, lots of assembling—”a line cut building up over several weeks”—on a Mac armed with Final Cut Pro.The opening scenes in the film are also designed to replicate a “single take,” and Churchill notes the various techniques—like actor Clive Owen’s reflection in a window as he’s walking along, to keep him in the shot—designed to make everything feel like a seamless whole.But even for the non “single-take” sequences, Churchill kept busy, often taking a video camera and scouting locales and shots for scenes throughout the film, and despite the gritty docu-feel of the movie, he allows, “there were a number of greenscreen shots” in the finished film, including a final verite-style shootout in a bombed-out neighborhood that really owes a visual debt to Algiers.The final battle, he says, used another technique. “We’d block out action,” so that it looked a lot more “free form” than it actually was.Churchill underscores, too, that the greenscreens were because Cuarón “wanted to do these long shots, hand held, without resorting to the usual (visual) language for these shots.” In other words, make it look like grit and reality, and not effects: the “antithesis of big effects shows where you have dragons and dinosaurs.”Greenscreens were used for shots outside the rolling windows of a bus full of prisoners, as well as all rubble-strewn views from the building in the movie’s last battle.But besides greenscreens, other techniques honed in dragon and dinosaur-type films also came into play—like matte paintings, used for a set where London’s Battersea power station doubles as a government headquarters where the last of the world’s great art is being stored and saved, (though for what, and who, no one can say). Thus, the painters got to work “creating more sympathetic light.”So, the techniques Churchill used ran the gamut, from paint on paper to digits under the command of Maya and Photoshop software packages. But some of what he needed just required getting out on the town, since so many scenes required a sense of local London geography—and its future.In one sequence, after being briefly kidnapped, Owen’s character “gets dropped off in (a neighborhood) called Whitechapel.” Churchill’s task there was to “make signs look broken and dilapidated,” create newspaper headlines for background shots, and generally re-cast that area as an “overspill of an area called the Docklands,” a very London-specific skill set being deployed, and “a side of effects I love doing.”But Churchill not only worked closely with local geography, but other crew members during the production phase, as well. “I’ve never had such a close relationship with the camera operator before,” he says—in this case, George Richmond. “We ended up working very closely with him. We’d work out transitions together, before Alfonso arrived on the set.”At that point, Cuarón’s “very single-minded vision” took over. And Churchill stood ready to give him the future he had in mind.

Written by Mark London Williams

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