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Phosphene Delivers Visual Effects for Young Adult

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Patrick Wilson plays Buddy Slade and Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary in Young Adult, from Paramount Pictures and Mandate Pictures. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures).
Under the direction of creative director/VFX supervisor John Bair and VFX producer Vivian Connolly, New York-based visual effects house Phosphene recently delivered over 80 complex shots for Young Adult, a dark new comedy-drama, starring Academy-Award winning actress Charlize Theron (Monster, The Road), Golden Globe nominee Patrick Wilson (Angels in America, Morning Glory) and Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille, The King of Queens).

The film reunites the Academy Award-nominated director of Juno Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking) and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. Distributed worldwide by Paramount Pictures for Mandate Pictures, Young Adult began a limited release Dec. 9, and a wide release Dec. 16.

Phosphene served as the sole VFX vendor on the film. “The most complex VFX sequence in the film involves Patton Oswalt’s leg. In an intimate scene with Charlize Theron, his severely deformed limb, the result of a brutal high school beating, is exposed. Because of the sensitive nature of the reveal, the leg absolutely had to feel 100% real.” explained Connolly.

During production, Bair and Phosphene’s lead digital artist Aaron Raff were on set to place tracking markers on Patton’s leg. “We began design tests early on to determine the look of the leg,” explained Raff. “Extensive medical research allowed us to make sure the deformity was as medically accurate as possible. In post, we stabilized and isolated Patton’s leg movement and began applying medically appropriate scarring and texture to the skin. Using warping tools, we redefined the outline of the leg to properly portray the loss of muscle and bone density, maintaining the disfigured shape from every angle as both the actor and the hand held camera moved freely throughout the scene. Because the shot was close up and intimate, the leg had to move realistically as Patton rolled around on the bed. Since we shrunk the limb quite a bit, we also had to recreate everything that was under his leg as he moved on the bed’s surface including ruffled blankets and other items.”

“The effect that Phosphene created is a classic example of an unsung hero,” said Young Adult’s postproduction supervisor Luca Borghese. “The work is so good that the audience immediately accepts Matt’s injury as real, rather than an exceptional piece of digital artistry.”

One very lengthy sequence shot in a sports bar – a pivotal scene between the Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson characters – needed to feel absolutely true. The scene is massive, a technical gorilla, requiring a great deal of greenscreen replacement. Green screens outside the panoramic windows and a half-dozen television monitors needed to be composited, requiring heavy rotoscoping and tracking.

“We decided the best approach was to use the Flame for this scene because it was over 50 shots that had to be turned around quite quickly and continuity was of the utmost importance. Under the circumstances, being able to pull quick keys and have quick reviews for continuity checks made the process much easier,” explained Bair.

In another sequence, Theron drives her car hard into a parking spot and has a comical fender bender, which required a lot of cleanup and rig removal to make it feel authentic.

“The film provided us with an amazing opportunity to work directly with Jason Reitman and his editor Dana Glauberman,” said Connolly. “They both had a remarkably clear vision about what they wanted, which meant we could really jump right into getting the execution of their vision just right. Jason was very involved with the visual effects, and always focused on staying with the realism and truth of the scene, which applied to VFX as much as to any other aspect of the film.”

“From the very first VFX that Vivian and her crew from Phosphene presented to us on Young Adult, I was beyond impressed,” added Glauberman. “Not only is their attention to detail and quick turnaround amazing, but their professionalism and understanding of what the director is looking for makes you feel like you’re in good hands.”

The Phosphene creative team, led by Bair and Connolly, included lead digital artist Raff; digital compositors Scott Winston and Connie Conrad; Flame artist Peter Amante, and compositing intern Andrew Yates.

Phosphene relied on The Foundry’s Nuke, Adobe After Effects CS5, and Autodesk Flame to execute the project. Deluxe (New York) was responsible for the digital intermediate and lab processing.

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