Modus FX has opened a new previs division at its production facility north of Montreal. Since Modus first got involved with previs with its work on the 2011 sci-fi thriller Source Code, the company has been refining its tools and techniques to launch this new service offering.
“What we’ve added are excellent tools for planning, inspiration and communication,” said Yanick Wilisky, VP production at Modus. “This now allows us to offer artistic solutions to filmmakers before shooting begins, saving them valuable time and resources once they’re on set.”
The process begins differently for each project, often with the writing itself.
“Previs is great because it connects us with the creative aspect of the writing,” Wilisky explained. “We start from text and ideas, figuring out how we want to tell the story and in what order.”
The previs crew at Modus visualizes how the shots could be done, then communicates that to the production team. They suggest camera angles, as well as the distance of the camera from the actors, making it easier for the director to determine the sequence of shots and how to film them. The timing and number of shots is all worked out in previs, so the director can accurately schedule each day’s shooting.
“On films, we have preproduction meetings with the heads of all departments at the production office,” said Wilisky. “We show them the previs setups, which help clarify for everyone how to organize the filming. Even the actors are able to block out what they are going to need to do in each shot.”
Another innovation is that shots can be designed so that the camera is moving instead of the actors, using previs data to drive motion-control camera rigs. The process saves valuable production time because filming occurs in a studio instead of on location.
“We can have an actor sitting on a motorcycle on a static rig with a greenscreen behind him,” Wilisky said. “The camera will move, mimicking what we set up in previs, making the motorcycle look like it’s going 100 mph. Or, for a shot of the devastating effects of an earthquake, we reversed the normal process, moving a camera around stationary actors. It meant we didn’t have to build an expensive on-set rig and shoot for days.”
Modus is also extending and developing the role of concept art for visual effects work by bringing an illustrator on set for preproduction and production work. Working at tremendous speed, concept artist Nicolas Cloutier delivers sketches and visual ideas to help the director craft scenes, design CG and practical elements and set the ambiance for different sequences. Cloutier’s images are then passed on to the VFX team for development, ensuring optimum efficiency in the realization of the director’s vision.
“At Modus we use sketching to help filmmakers clarify their ideas,” Cloutier explained. “On set, the VFX supervisor takes a picture and then I sketch the image to see what we can do with the shot, for example, to rough in a set extension or to visualize CG characters.”
Cloutier’s sketches provide a direct connection to postproduction, serving as a reference for the VFX team, as well as a starting point for their work. The illustrations serve other purposes as well, such as bidding on jobs – both to present ideas to the client, and to help Modus cost out new projects.
“Nicolas is a very gifted artist, but the thing that most amazes people is how fast he can work,” said Wilisky. “This is great for directors and producers because it allows us to test ideas for shots during development, while we’re checking out locations and even camera positions.”
“What I love about previs is the way it bridges the preproduction world to postproduction, allowing VFX artists to be closer to the reality of the filmmaker,” said Wilisky . “It has always been our goal at Modus to integrate everything we do with production. With these previs solutions, we just moved a whole lot closer.”