Rebuilding the past for J. Edgar
Geoffrey Hancock, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios Vancouver
Ollie Rankin, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios Vancouver
How did Method Studios get involved in J. Edgar?
Geoffrey Hancock: When Method Studios Vancouver was initially contacted by visual effects supervisor Michael Owens regarding "J. Edgar," we were very excited about the opportunity to team up with Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions on another film. Owens asked us to begin thinking about how we could leverage our set extension experience from films like "Changeling" and "Angels & Demons" while utilizing the advances to our crowd system which were put in place for "Invictus". From the beginning Owens expected that we would need to create a handful of virtual, fully CG shots in post production.
Ollie Rankin: On the surface this project seemed to have a lot in common with the two previous Clint Eastwood films we had worked on with Michael Owens as supervisor, so it was really gratifying that they again asked us to be involved. That said, the vfx work on both "Changeling" and "Invictus" tended to be quite repetitive in nature, with much reuse of assets and methodologies throughout. By contrast, "J. Edgar" had a lot more one-off locations and shot content and the vfx requirements were much more varied, so assets and techniques often needed to be very specific and custom to a single shot or sequence.
How many shots did you do for the movie?
GH: By the end of production we had completed 146 shots throughout the film in 41 scenes. At the peak of production we occupied over 17TB of disk space (2,634,464 files and frames). The production timeline was tightly packed into 7 months between January and August 2011. We increased our render farm during production to a total of 2780 cores on 340 Linux and Mac machines.
OR: We had around 45 artists working on this project, a technical support team of 6 as well as a production team of about the same size and, unusually for a project of this scale, 2 visual effects supervisors. (During production Geoff was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix part way into the project, and being the dfx supervisor on the project I was asked to step up and fill in for Geoff. When it became clear Geoff wouldn’t fully recover in time to resume responsibility I continued in the role working closely with Michael Owens.)
For this shot Method Studios added bullet and glass effects on the car. © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. Images courtesy Method Studios Vancouver.
In which sequences did you work?
GH: We worked on many sequences doing anachronistic period cleanup, effects enhancement, set extensions including digital crowds, matte paintings, CG traffic and virtual full CG shots. The first shot of the film in front of the Department of Justice needed to have the street wiped clean of modern people, traffic and street signs, which where all added back in a 1960's style. Another rewarding scene was a conversion between Hoover and Tolson on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, which was shot at a location with a much less smaller building. At first we thought we would add the iconic Capitol Building dome to the existing building. Eventually we rotoscoped the actors and replaced the entire building to help show the grandeur and scale of Washington DC, as well as creating a digital matte painting of the park across the street filled with CG pedestrians and vehicle traffic. One of our favorite scenes was the New York premiere of a film on Broadway at night in the 1930's. For this we worked closely with Michael Owens to design a virtual shot that would set the scene in a bustling entertainment district. Following the premiere Hoover and his guests exist the theatre and drive away; here we inserted the practical theatre front and car into our Broadway environment complete with animated neon signs, klieg lights, period traffic and throngs of digital movie goers.
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