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HomeIndustry SectorFilmPriestly Pipelines: Delivering Visual Effects for Priest

Priestly Pipelines: Delivering Visual Effects for Priest

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As founder of The Creative Cartel, FX-wrangler Jenny Fulle finds herself in the role of visual effects producer – one she also found herself in quite often when she was at Sony Imageworks. And she describes that role, somewhat unsurprisingly, as being like the film’s producer, in relation to the director. Only the “director” in this instance would be VFX supervisor.

And the supervisor for Priest – the recent Screen Gems release telling of a grim alternate future where vampires and humans have been at war for centuries, and the eponymous hero, a “priest” for the ruling Church, ventures out of his human enclave to find a niece kidnapped by a vampire clan – is Jonathan Rothbart, late of the Bay Area-based Orphanage.

Below the Line caught up with both Fulle and Rothbart to find out how their intra-state collaboration – taking in both Giants and Dodgers territory – worked.

“Jonathan was great,” Fulle says. “He’s got a really amazing eye.” Since he lives in the Bay Area “he was able to work from home.” Well, sort of. As the process grew more digit-intensive and deadlines loomed, “we had to have him down here three days a week.”

“I was really fortunate to be able to work up in San Francisco during postproduction,” Rothbart adds. “I still had to travel down to LA pretty regularly, but I love being an A List on Southwest now!”

When he wasn’t racking up flyer privileges on Southwest, he and Fulle were using cineSync to sync up what he describes as a “fairly rigid pipeline,” with “12 vendors all over the world in four different time zones.”

“Part of that pipeline was having director Scott Stewart and DP Don Burgess do a first color pass in the DI, which we used to build LUTs for every shot in the movie. This really helps keep continuity between vendors. It was also critical that everyone was seeing the shots as they were being screened for Scott in the DI.”

And there were high expectations for the shots everyone was seeing. “If you’d told me the budget,” Fulle says of the Screen Gems production, for effects that included CG creatures, fully rendered environments, and even moving trains, she would have cheerfully informed you “you were out of your mind.”

“Obviously everyone had high expectations for the VFX in the film,” Rothbart concurs. “Scott comes from a visual effects background and they played an important component to the film. We had a very large shot count for our budget and we definitely had to be creative in distributing the work to get everything we could out of the money we had.

“That’s why we had so many different vendors on the show. We had to target the right facilities for the right price and some can do certain work more cost effective than others. Overall we were very happy with everything everyone produced. We had Blair Clark at Tippett Studio take the lead for the Vampire work. They really nailed the look and feel of the Vampires right away, which was so important as they had to come off real and in the scene.

“A facility out of L.A., Svengali, was the lead on the big environment shots. Like Tippett, we got them involved early and had them play a role in the design of the cities. Spy Post handled all the CG train shots and did an awesome job integrating them with the live-action variety we used on location. For all the work we did, I wanted to get as many live-action elements in camera. I feel it such a huge benefit to have something real in the shot to help seamlessly integrate our CG elements.”

Fulle adds that there were additional houses in the UK and Toronto they used, as well. They went to houses, she says, that specialized in the type of work they needed for each kind of sequence or shot, producing work that could’ve come from a “budget three times higher.”

The film was also in 3D, though Fulle says they “didn’t let the 3D drive us. We went for the look of the film the way the director wanted it.”

And given that she had daily meetings with Stewart “for the last few months” of post, his input was pretty constant.

For Rothbart’s part, he’s pretty happy. Among his favorite shots were fight sequences with the lead Vampire and Paul Bettany’s titular Priest, as partially rendered by Tippett Studio, along with being “pretty psyched about the exploding train shots.”

“They were a mix between live-action plates, a 1/12th scale train model, our CG train and CG FX. Spy Post did an awesome job of taking the elements from the model shoot and turning them into really dynamic shots. I love using multiple approaches to achieve the look,” he asserts.

“You always want to mix up the way you are achieving an effect, otherwise the audience is sophisticated enough to see the CG work and then you have lost them.”

Instead, what was found was a rather seamless pipeline for well-budgeted FX. Fulle and her Creative Cartel are currently deploying it for a Ghost Rider sequel and the Seth McFarlane/Mila Kunis Teddy Bear-themed comedy, Ted.

Whether the bear winds up on an exploding train remains unknown, at press time.

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