Montreal-based VFX studio Rodeo FX completed more than 160 visual effects shots for Luc Besson‘s new thriller Lucy. This was the company’s first collaboration with the French writer/director, who is behind some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history (La femme Nikita, The 5th Element).
“Luc stands as one of the great action movie directors,” said Rodeo FX’s president and founder Sébastien Moreau. “He is a visionary auteur who writes the most exciting action scenes while directing stylish and visually rich movies.”
Working in 4K resolution, Rodeo FX participated in the creation of a number of sequences in the movie, including a breath-taking car chase through the busy streets of Paris. Led by VFX supervisor François Dumoulin, the Rodeo FX team designed the colorful light rays emitted by the various mobile devices and crafted Lucy‘s supernatural x-ray vision. The artists also created extensive matte paintings and CG set extensions for the city of Taipei, and modeled and animated various CG weapons.
In the car chase sequence, Lucy, who doesn’t have a permit and has never taken the wheel before, fearlessly pilots a car through the streets of Paris, creating massive pileups along the way.
“The car chase was first storyboarded. Luc Besson then had this great idea of capturing on video the major crashes using miniature cars, moving the toys himself over his desk,” explained Dumoulin, who was on set for the shoot. “Rodeo FX generated a 3D previs, and VFX supervisor Nicholas Brooks and stunt coordinator Michel Julienne (who also worked on the Taxi and Transporter movie series) supervised the shoot. Everything was done according to plan. But Besson wanted more cars, more action and more crashes, which meant adding CG cars and enhancing a total of 70 car shots.”
Rodeo artists modeled, animated, textured and integrated the CG cars in the streets of Paris using various shooting elements. “The Lidar scan of the streets and locations provided by 4dMax was essential for positioning and integrating the CG cars in their environment,” explained CG supervisor Mikael Damant-Sirois. “The 3D spatial data capture allowed for realistic driving, as the CG cars were actually anchored to the streets, reacting to every single bump of the road, just as if it was there for real.”
Numerous photos taken by Rodeo’s VFX DP Robert Bock were extremely useful for the compositing of the 3D cars. The reference pictures and HDRI’s helped make the integration imperceptible, as they provided essential information for the lighting and also the reflections on the cars.
Creating the mobile rays sequence and Lucy’s supernatural x-rays vision involved considerable conceptual and design work. Rodeo’s motion graphics team was given the task of defining a look that would illustrate the signals emitted by mobile devices. The effect needed to be visible in extreme wide shots and in close-up shots as well. Lucy’s x-ray vision needed to be organic and fluid, and ended up being quite complex. Added during postproduction, this shot had to carry the idea that Lucy had the ability to see through walls. Production shot additional actors on greenscreen, Rodeo extrapolated background elements, and a number of motion graphics were designed and assembled in order to create this very unique vision.
Rodeo FX was also called on to enhance an urban landscape. The team customized the city of Taipei, seen through the huge bay windows in the scene where Lucy meets the leader of the triad in his luxurious suite. This sequence was shot on greenscreen and Lidar scans were used once again to position the window in space, and also to create the reflections of the room.
Rodeo FX’ work also involved creating and integrating various CG elements (knives, guns, car pieces, etc.), removing numerous rigs and cables, and doing multiple greenscreen integrations. Industrial Light and Magic and French studio Digital Factory also contributed to the visual effects of Lucy.
Produced by EuropaCorp and distributed by Universal Pictures, Lucy opened last week and will also be presented in some IMAX theaters starting Aug. 8. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character along with Morgan Freeman.