BY VINCENT FREI | ART OF VFX | APRIL 23, 2014 | ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Jesper Kjolsrud (VFX Supervisor) & Bernhard Kimbacher (Compositing Supervisor) – Image Engine
In 2011, Jesper Kjolsrud had explained in details the work of Image Engine for THE THING. He then supervised the effects R.I.P.D. As one of Image Engine’s longest serving crewmembers, Bernhard Kimbacher has contributed to many of the company’s projects, including DISTRICT 9; THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE; THE THING; BATTLESHIP and ELYSIUM. He joined Jesper on set in New Mexico as Plate Supervisor for LONE SURVIVOR and was also the Compositing Supervisor.
How did Image Engine get involved on this show?
The team had worked with Visual Effects Producer Petra Holtorf on Peter Berg’s previous film BATTLESHIP, and also with Holtorf on THE THING.
Bernhard: I personally got involved on very short notice on the project. I was just finishing up on ELYSIUM when I was asked if I could go to Albuquerque for this shoot. This gave me just a couple of weeks to get up to speed on the script and the scope of work we were expecting, before I headed down for a 3 month shoot around New Mexico.
How was your collaboration with director Peter Berg?
Bernhard: This was the second Peter Berg project I worked on. The first one was BATTLESHIP. Though those two movies are as far apart on the VFX spectrum as possible, they share one aspect of how Pete approached VFX both on BATTLESHIP and LONE SURVIVOR: The mix of giving very clear direction yet leaving room to play with different ideas. This enables us to execute the work very efficiently, yet we could add our own spin to the work, making it an overall very rewarding experience.
Jesper: I didn’t know Pete before I met him a very early morning about to scout locations in Albuquerque. The vfx producer (and co-producer of the film) Petra Holtorf kindly introduced me as being from the company that made the Thug-sequence on his recent BATTLESHIP movie. It was a brief conversation with a generous nod towards our work then we were off.
Pete has worked with his crew for many years. It’s a well-oiled machine and I was the new guy. I learned very quickly how much trust he puts in the people around him to take the responsibility of their expertise. You have to know your stuff or you’re in for it, because you are meant to be the expert in your field and help the process of making a film. As unnerving as that might sound, I really respect it and wish more directors had that relationship with their crew. You know you have a job to do. You’ve been given your marching orders but you still have to cross the finishing line, and to cross it with pride and honour is what Pete is all about. And it’s so refreshing!
What was his approach to the visual effects?
Jesper: Like everyone else on his crew, Pete relied on us each of us to ‘make it happen’. With his background, he knows how filmmaking works and I thought he was incredibly knowledgeable about all the different needs and qualities of each department and he made the most of it. It was an absolute joy and privilege to join that incredible crew.
What was your role on this project?
Jesper: I was one of two VFX Supervisors with the other one being Grady Cofer of ILM.
Bernhard: I was Plate Supervisor during principal photography and then 2D Supervisor in post.
What are the sequences done by Image Engine? Bernhard: We completed shots all throughout the movie; the only sequence not done by Image Engine was the Chinook crash, which was executed by ILM.
Can you describe to us your daily work on-set and then in post?
Jesper: I only did the prep and the first week of the shoot and the last few days when we had a lot of blue screen work. Bernie (Bernhard) covered the rest. For the first part of the shoot the location was a ski hill in Santa Fe. We were working at around 12,000 ft, which took a bit getting used to. Just walking around with our gear, even though we kept it to a minimum, was quite a test but you get more used to it after a few days.
On the mountain, Bernie and I took the opportunity to capture a huge amount of stitches, HDRI’s and reference stills. We tried to cover each location in case we would need to bridge them with sequences shot in completely different locations. We would hang out with the film unit when we knew they were shooting something that would require work in post. We had two very talented local data wranglers, Michael Chochol and Bryan Jones who between them would cover any cameras, split themselves between units and alert Bernie and I over radio if something needing our attention was about to happen and more importantly, letting us know when lunch was called.
Bernhard: The general approach to filming this movie was very much guerrilla style. I think this minimalistic approach helped give the film a great feel of authenticity. For the crew it meant a lot of physical work, especially while shooting at altitude on challenging terrain. We had to do a fair amount of hiking to get to different sets and even more so to get reference photos for VFX from locations that the film crew would never get to. I remember hiking up to the top of the Santa Fe ski resort just shy of 13000 feet at 4am very vividly!
We had a few sequences we knew would require work, and getting the necessary information was fairly straightforward. The challenging bit was the many unknowns of the movie during shooting. Once you need to cover for multiple scenarios things start to be far less straightforward. During post most of my time was spent reviewing work together with Jesper and giving feedback to artists as well as working with our VFX Producer Victoria Mowlam to make sure we stayed on track. The little time that was left I spent doing rounds on the floor or working on some pipeline enhancements or templates to speed up the work.
How did you create the beautiful matte-paintings?
Jesper: With three very talented matte-painters. Gillian George, Mitchell Stuart and Michael Steward.
Bernhard: For the most part the number one directive on the matte paintings was to be authentic, and make it look 100% real. This is where the vast amount of reference photos we took on set came into play. Together with some stock photos of mountain ranges from Afghanistan and Pakistan this was the base for all our matte paintings. The only matte painting that allowed for a bit more artistic freedom was Murphy’s death sequence. Pete really wanted to infuse an emotional element into the matte painting, which we achieved by a low backlit painting where we also pushed all elements, such as depth haze and lens flares, to the limit of realism.
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