Los Angeles-based visual effects house Method Studios recently served as the lead vendor on Summit Entertainment’s Divergent, which has grossed over $175 million at the worldwide box office since its March 21 release.
Method’s crew was led by visual effects supervisor Matt Dessero. Overall, Method completed 381 shots, creating a variety of complex environments, set extensions, digital doubles and CG characters throughout the movie, which is set in Chicago of the future. Jim Berney was the production’s visual effects supervisor, with Greg Baxter producing.
“Divergent required exclusively invisible and seamless effects work, particularly the scene in the Mirror Room,” Berney said. “It was a huge technical and creative challenge that took an immense amount of planning and finesse. Matt Dessero and the team at Method really impressed me and I have to say, I love the final result. I wouldn’t change a pixel. They nailed it.”
“It definitely was our most complex sequence,” said Dessero. “As Tris wakes up, she steps towards a mirror wall but something is not quite right. She looks to the left and a wall that was solid is now floor to floor mirror. She turns back one more time only to reveal that the entire room is now floor to floor mirror; her reflections travelling to infinity, thus setting the tone for this scene.”
“The photorealism of the Mirror Room was realized by capturing as many close reflections as possible on film,” Dessero explained. “This was accomplished by setting up six Alexa cameras on a greenscreen stage. The resulting imagery was then tiled and placed on cards and reflected into the scene. Full CG rotomation of Tris was required for the distant Tris reflections which allowed us to give more complexity to the lighting design.
“As Tris exits the simulation, the sequence which was shot with a real dog culminates with a full CG dog. This sequence of several dozen shots was challenging both on set and in post, and ultimately very gratifying to see accomplished and one of which we are very proud.”
Several exterior scenes of the destroyed city were completed using various techniques from projected matte paintings to full CG. Wind turbines and cabling are added throughout the city. Some shots contain over 500 turbines and hundreds of digital extras were created. A digital vegetation system was created to replace the flowing blue water in the river and Lake Michigan with trickles of brown water, dry grass and swampland.
For a menacing 130-foot fence that surrounds the city, a 30 foot cement fence was shot on location to which Method added 100 foot tall metal towers and guard shacks. Method also created numerous versions of Chicago’s famed elevated train, with CG tracks and futuristic train cars. For one particular action-packed sequence where Tris and others arrive at the Dauntless Compound, a variety of brick buildings were created including the roofs and a huge glass atrium, with digital doubles jumping from train cars to rooftops which augmented the leaps of real stunt people.
An attacking flock of birds testing Tris during a fear simulation drill were entirely CG. The underwater tank sequence was shot on a stage in a water tank. Method added a spider web of cracks to the glass and augmented the large plates of exploding cracked glass in the wide shots.
Method also built assets which were shared with other VFX vendors and included digital doubles, turbines, trees and lake beds.