The FX masters at Luma Pictures spent countless hours perfecting their visual effects for the upcoming movie In Time—but you probably won’t even notice them.
That’s on purpose.
The Santa Monica-based company had already honed its skills at so-called “invisible effects” in four previous movies with In Time’s cinematographer Roger Deakins, including True Grit, A Serious Man, Burn After Reading and No Country For Old Men. In each, Luma Pictures’ job was less to create eye-popping, sensory-overloading images than to nip and tuck at the films’ sets, seamlessly molding their worlds to fit the artistic vision of their creators.
Although Luma Pictures and Deakins’ working relationship goes way back, In Time was the first time the FX house has partnered with writer/director Andrew Niccol. To make sure they were operating on the same page, Luma’s VFX Supervisor Justin Johnson was on set for more than three weeks to gauge Niccol’s ideas about what the film should look like.
“He had a special look in mind for the futuristic world that the characters inhabit on In Time,” Johnson says. “We put a lot of time and effort into working with him to make sure our work matched his vision.”
In pursuit of that vision, Luma created set extensions for several building interiors and exteriors, the removal and replacement of structural features and matte painting work. Possibly their most impressive work was on the surreal cityscape of “the Wasteland,” which in the movie is a moonscape of decrepit buildings, broken roads and wild plants. In real life, it was Los Angeles.
That shot, says Johnson, “took up most of our focus during the project. It’s hard to wash out the distinctive look and feel of the city. So we put a lot of time into digitally taking out the signature palms, billboards, road signs, and so on.” The topper: digitally extending the background of the city to wash out the ocean, making the Wasteland landlocked. “That took a good amount of attention,” Johnson adds.
Sometimes, Luma was forced to change course in the middle of their work. At one point, they were working to construct set extensions on a physical base that was to be a tollbooth gateway, the barrier between the higher and lower social classes in In Time’s dystopia. In the end, though, Luma got the order to create the entire gateway from scratch. To do that, they built a (digital) concrete structure, plus animated signs and cement barricades. Finally, they had to blow up their own creation, using Maya to animate the chunks of debris, smoke and dust that go flying as a limo crashes through the gate.
In all, Luma produced sixty-five shots for the film. According to Executive VFX Supervisor Payam Shohadai, it doesn’t matter if most of them don’t seem obvious to the casual moviegoer. “‘Invisible effects’ bring a special kind of satisfaction to the role we play. Our contributions to In Time will help audiences immerse themselves into the film and keep them rooted in the reality of the world Andrew Niccol has invented.”
Interview to VFX Supervisor Justin Johnson
by Luis Montemayor
Article written by Daniel Hertz
Thanks to Brian McWilliams for making this article possible.