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Let’s go for the VFX “Free Guy” from Digital Domain

what if Grand Theft Auto was made into a live-action movie and a background character became sentient? Filmmaker Shawn Levy (Night at the museum) and actor Ryan Reynolds came up with a script in free guy, their new film about a bank teller who discovers he’s a background player in an open-world video game, which to date has grossed over $ 332 million worldwide. Swen Gillberg (Captain America: Civil War), who gained extensive MCU VFX experience working at Digital Domain, where he began his career as a digital artist. As one of the vendors hired for the project, Digital Domain provided 89 digital environments, 347 visual effects shots, and 87 gameplay shots. “Our number of shots wouldn’t make you think we had so many different things to do, but it looked like one character or one item per shot,” notes Liz Bernard, Animation Supervisor, Digital Domain. “People liked it because there wasn’t a lot of repetitive work.

As has been the case on countless VFX projects, the pandemic has forced a production lockdown. For Digital Domain, it was right in the middle of animation production. “We had a slow week [getting everyone setup to work remotely from home] and then boom! let’s start right away, ”Bernard remembers. “It was a good thing to have a busy production like this to distract us all during those scary few weeks at the start.” The animation team has been busy creating 258 individual platforms. “It was for everything from tanks and helicopters and police cars to Ryan Reynolds and Channing Tatum,” she adds. “We had 53 characters on this show.” Noting that Digital Domain has a base platform for bipedal characters, she continues, “We were riffing on the Genman platform for all humanoid characters. We have something similar for cars with integrated suspension and tire crushing as well as a platform for helicopters. The warps had to look pretty ready to go because we didn’t do a ton of character effects like fabric simulations on top of it.

Levy’s tenure was for visual effects based on realistic physics. “They wanted to establish the appearance of Free city, the game, by the visuals rather than by the style of the action ”, explains Bernard. “We explored a number of types of video games to determine what the gameplay should look like. We thought about doing something like Fortnite, which would have meant a different style of animation, but stopped on Grand Theft Auto with more colors. Because we ended up there, the filmmakers wanted to make sure everything still felt realistic; That said, we enhanced some of the action with some fun stunts that weren’t on their own realistic but were fun to animate. I learned the wrestling movement known as the piledriver during the Dude fight. The challenge was to keep all the moves physics based but still fun. We had such a great reference from Ryan Reynolds and Channing Tatum. A lot of the motion capture actors that we used for the background stunts were really in this show. We had a fantastic performance and just had to add it from there. “

Environmental constructions have been built for both an actual city and a video game city. “We did the first four-minute shot where BadAss [Channing Tatum] comes to whistle by the free guy logo, parachute into his car and drive through Free City, where chaos and car crashes are happening everywhere, ”says Bernard. “It was shot in Boston and they took all these network footage with drones. We were trying to put big sections together, and in the process, we realized that some things needed to be replaced as pieces of synthesis. It was quite a business, especially towards the end, as car crashes get crazier and crazier. Pedestrians were in the path where we wanted a car to crash into a light pole so they had to be repainted and extra people added elsewhere.

“The gameplay stuff was quite a challenge because we had so many different assets, and we also had to animate something that was then going to be collapsed and pasted onto a screen at an angle, maybe with a person walking in front of it. this one, “Bernard continues.” You had to keep all of that in mind to make sure the story unfolded well. “Much of the work was on establishing the aesthetic.” He did. Took a long time to develop what the shaders should look like and how the skin should appear on the same character in this world, “Bernard said while noting” the style of punchering some comedic bits in the animation which was a lot of fun to do.

It goes without saying that comedy is always about good timing. “Shawn Levy did such a good job shooting performances, even background characters, so we had a great benchmark,” says Bernard. “In a lot of cases our gameplay shots were meant to be recreations of a scene that had already happened in the realistic version of the game. In some cases it was just predictions where we then had to refine the game. ‘animation. A classic in particular Looney Tunes character provided ample inspiration. According to Bernard, “In the montage of Ryan being constantly beaten up for trying to do good but failing, a character hits his motorcycle, causing him to fly, roll over in the air, crash into a booth. newspaper and slowly slide down. It was a very Wile E. Coyote moment. It was great to animate that!

With so much activity in the background, it was important to avoid visual confusion. “A good part of the time was devoted to setting up animation compositions,” explains Bernard. “We would take the renderings of our animation in full screen and a small group of people would scale them down, put them on screen and roughly fit them into the shot so we could make sure that if Ryan Reynolds was delivering an important line,” no one was walking in front of him at that time. We had to incorporate graphic times [by another vendor] in our animation to make sure they understood what the shot would look like at the end, even if it wasn’t just the end pieces. “

At the end of production of the plan, a line spoken by Channing Tatum had to be changed. “We didn’t have a very good reference to him delivering the line,” says Bernard. “We did our best to animate it, but it wasn’t quite working because we hadn’t developed the platform to speak a lot in other shots. We ended up doing a first animation pass then Charlatan [proprietary facial manipulation system] things superimposed on the animation. It’s an interesting black box that involves machine learning. Basically you take a fully CG character, animate the performance you want, pump all the training data into the Charlatan system, it spits out the same performance, and you take some elements of that performance and layer it on the animation to get it. a more realistic look. Then we had to make it feel more like the gameplay we were doing for other parts of the series. Some parts of the face had to have a simpler texture than if we were trying to make a realistic version.

The stunts were bigger and more ridiculous in the gameplay scenes, such as the morph building. “One of the first tasks was the construction sequence, which allowed Digital Domain to test Guy’s digital lookalike, played by Ryan Reynolds,” notes Bernard. “We had some good glimpses from our team in Los Angeles which the client really liked. But there were still some continuity issues that arose in the edit, and we had to animate all these different pieces. There were platforms which passed, a staircase which was constructed as the figures were running up it, porta pots which flew around and coils of wire; we were trying to interestingly manipulate all sorts of things that you would find on a construction site, as well as provide a path for the characters to get up into the building. The director made a good choice by putting it in a construction site because everything was concrete gray. You have Guy in his blue shirt, the pink bunny, and the cop in black, so it was easy to know where the characters were even though the environment was complex.

Bernard concludes, “There’s an Easter egg photo of Ryan Reynolds getting his family jewels kicked by his wife Blake Lively. We had references from them and we animated them as close to the reference as possible, which was really fun. Ryan is a traveling cartoon, so there was no need to improve that!

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer best known for composing in-depth filmmakers and film profiles for VFX voice, Animation review, and british filmmaker.