Image Engine Handles Lone Survivor’s Covert Visual Effects

Image Engine provided more than 270 shots for Universal Pictures and Emmett/Furla Films’ Lone Survivor, it was announced today. The film, based on The New York Times bestselling true story of heroism, courage and survival, is currently in theaters.

Directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor required a considerable scope of invisible visual effects to help tell this incredible story. This ranged from environment matte paintings and digital set extensions to computer-generated aircraft and digital gunfire.

To help the filmmakers relate the essential experience of Operation Red Wings, Image Engine added digital bullet hits, muzzle flashes and rocket-propelled grenades with smoke trails to the gun-battle scenes. These scenes were all achieved through a combination of visual effects and practical special effects.

Down to the last detail, the desert environments had to be rigorously authentic. Work ranged from building full environments to seamlessly tying together shots filmed in diverse locations. “We were creating environments that portrayed the vastness of the mountain ranges found in Afghanistan, which also had to tie in with all the non-VFX shots that were shot in a number of different locations in New Mexico,” explained Jesper Kjölsrud, Visual Effects Supervisor for Image Engine. “We bridged this gap by using a lot of reference photography that we acquired on set, alongside hi-res photography of locations in Afghanistan in our matte paintings.”

The aerial shots on the army base were heavily augmented. 3D renders of a full Army base—complete with buildings, vehicles, airplanes, helicopters and extensive matte painting work—were carefully composited to tie the key scene together.

Computer generated aircraft, which include military Apache and Chinook helicopters, as well as the larger C-130 Hercules military transport vehicle, are also featured in the film. A highly experienced crew at Image Engine worked on the vehicles to achieve the naturalistic look and motion. A large number of high dynamic range images (HDRI) were generated on set at different locations and different times of day to seamlessly integrate the CG assets into a variety of shots. “We also had real helicopters in the shots, which meant we had to match them very closely. There was very little margin for error in our work, because we’d often cut from a real helicopter straight to a digital one,” added Kjölsrud.

Throughout all the work, the focus for the visual effects of Lone Survivor was on achieving truly authentic results in service of the narrative.

“It all comes downs to a lot of hard work from the dedicated crew, who have a lot of experience creating photorealistic effects,” said Steve Garrad, Visual Effects Executive Producer for Image Engine. “This project demonstrates Image Engine’s commitment to creating high-end supporting visual effects alongside our VFX-driven projects.”

About Lone Survivor

Based on The New York Times bestselling true story of heroism, courage and survival, Lone Survivor tells the incredible tale of four Navy SEALs on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level al-Qaeda operative who are ambushed by the enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan. Faced with an impossible moral decision, the small band is isolated from help and surrounded by a much larger force of Taliban ready for war. As they confront unthinkable odds together, the four men find reserves of strength and resilience as they stay in the fight to the finish.