Philadelphia-based DIVE recently delivered 145 shots as lead VFX house and DI facility for director Brad Parker‘s Chernobyl Diaries, which premiered nationally May 25. Led by VFX supervisor Mark Forker, DIVE’s work on the dark thriller included environmental changes, 3-D set extensions, and CG radiation effects. The film was shot mostly via handheld camera in Serbia with additional time in Budapest. It was imperative to Parker that DIVE recreate the post-nuclear disaster area as authentically as possible.
“Mark and his team at DIVE did a phenomenal job on the film,” Parker said. “He and I go way back and we’ve worked together on many projects, so he was my first choice to handle Chernobyl Diaries. I knew I could trust DIVE to do great work, and Mark’s presence on set in Serbia and Budapest was invaluable.”
Directed by Parker and produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) and Brian Witten (Final Destination), Chernobyl Diaries features a group of friends who embark on an “extreme tour” to Pripyat, the town previously populated by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor workers and their families. The friends gets more than they bargained for when they realize that they are not alone.
DIVE’s main task was to tie the Serbian locations to the film’s historical markers in the Ukraine. One challenge was the set extension of a Ferris wheel. Tracking the wheel was complicated because it appears in scenes shot without cranes or tripods to stabilize the camera.
“Production design completed approximately one-eighth of a practical piece of the Pripyat Ferris wheel as planned and DIVE’s task was to create the rest – either wholly, in slivers, or suggestions of it – throughout the film,” Forker said. “It was so important to nail the extension. The wheel is an iconic image of the abandoned city itself and it helped to ground the film in its location.”
“It was essential that viewers believe the film is taking place in the city of Pripyat,” Parker said. “Mark and his team were crucial to creating that realism and they succeeded.”
DIVE also needed to manipulate the environment to reflect the mood of the film. The team subtly dimmed the skies and removed light sources. Both interior and exterior shots were also darkened to highlight the desolation of Pripyat, making the city as dark, foreboding and isolating as possible.
DIVE next added the effects of radiation sickness on the inhabitants of Pripyat and its visitors. The actors were originally shot wearing prosthetic makeup. DIVE was tasked with continually altering the lighting on the actors to heighten their haunting qualities. Radiation sickness was added to two of the principal actors leading up to the film’s climax, which included a gradual facial degradation accomplished by incorporating burnt and peeling skin textures. Finally, mutated CG fish were added to a scene and patches were added to dogs to make their radiation sickness appear to be more advanced.
Since DIVE was also the DI house for the project these types of color adjustments went very smoothly between the VFX and DI departments. “Doing the DI and the VFX all under one roof has proven very efficient and economical for our clients,” Forker said. “On this project it was particularly beneficial because of the tight schedule.”