You may think that creating the world of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For entirely in the computer – creating 2,282 shots, 65 full CG locations and 1,572 assets in an eight-month production period – would be enough for most companies. But as the exclusive stereo VFX partner on the film, Prime Focus World (PFW) had an extra challenge – to deliver the film in 3D.
PFW Senior Stereo Supervisor Justin Jones flew to Austin, Texas early in production to meet with director Robert Rodriguez and discuss his vision for the stereo.
“Robert told me something really important in our first meeting,” said Justin. “He said that it had been nearly ten years since the original, and of course there were going to be huge advances in the VFX for the sequel… but the real difference was going to be the 3D. He said, ‘Let’s be bold and give them an eye popping 3D experience. We don't want them ever wondering why they bothered to wear these glasses.’ And he wanted the audience to say to their friends, ‘Did you see it in 3D – because that’s the only way to see it’. I was so happy to hear that.”
No stranger to 3D filmmaking, Rodriguez knew that the key to producing a superior stereo film was to plan the 3D from the start. With Cameron Pace Group advising on-set, he had already shot the live action performances of the actors against green-screen using native stereo cameras.
“The stereo cameras had been really well set up,” said Justin. “Robert knows how to make a 3D movie, and he was all about the stereo from the beginning; and it definitely shows in what he shot. He’s very in tune with the medium – how to use it to tell a story, how to create a cool experience for the audience. It certainly made my job easier. ”
Justin’s first task on receipt of the stereo plates was to work through each scene with the PFW VFX Supervisors and concept artists to design what was going into each frame – with 3D in mind, of course. This early involvement extended to all aspects of the process – from the positioning of the CG cameras during layout for the best 3D effect, to the choice of patterns on the wallpaper of the virtual sets to ensure they worked well in stereo.
“With the notable exception of Gravity, I don’t think we’ve ever had a show where we had the stereo team so heavily involved from the beginning,” said Justin. “The benefits were huge. We were able to work with the VFX team to manage the stereo requirements, easing the pressure that they were under to deliver the huge number of shots they were working on. We identified early on in the process which shots we would need full stereo camera renders for – the rest they could render mono, knowing that the stereo team was best placed to handle the 3D requirement.”
PFW took a truly hybrid approach to the stereo work on Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. The basis for each shot was the original stereo photography of the performances against green-screen; the world of Sin City was then created around the characters by PFW. One of the technical challenges of the show arose in seamlessly combining these two elements; blending the native photography with the computer generated environments to ensure that the contact points - where the characters interact with the environment - worked in stereo.
Another challenge was ensuring that the characters and the environments matched in terms of volume, layout and scale. When working with natively filmed stereo, filmmakers are usually locked into the stereo captured on set. Using the proprietary tools of its ‘Hybrid Stereo Pipeline’, developed for use on shows such as Transformers: Age of Extinction, PFW was able reduce or increase the volume in the native photography of the characters as required, to produce the best looking stereo for the scene.
“Our hybrid approach to this show was the only way to go,” said Justin. “We had the best of both worlds: the native photography looks beautiful, with fantastic levels of detail; and we also retained full control over the stereo in the environments because we were creating them from scratch. Also, due to our proprietary toolset, we were able to adjust the stereo in the native capture when we needed to – adding volume to match other cameras used in the film, compressing the stereo in elements that had been miniaturized – giving us full control to design the best possible stereo experience.”
There was also plenty of opportunity to create some incredible 3D moments in the film.
“Robert wanted to make a 3D movie that stood out, and he was really open to ideas, as well as coming to the table with lots of ideas of his own,” said Justin. “Having a director who is so involved in the process was great and really allowed us to put his and Frank Miller’s vision directly on screen without interpretation. He was willing to take big risks, and this film definitely does that. There were many cool things we were able to do that most films can’t get away with creatively.”
One such sequence was the scene in which Ava (Eva Green) dives into the swimming pool. The team kept the shot flat, with no 3D at all as she dives into the water. As she hits the surface of the pool a wave of water ripples towards camera in 3D, creating a stereo moment that catches the audience completely off-guard. In the next shot, stylised CG bubbles, rendered in stereo, create depth and place Ava in the pool.
Another 3D moment sees Ava talking to Dwight (Josh Brolin) in a bar, as Justin Jones recounts. “In this scene in Frank Miller’s graphic novel, there is all this graphic smoke floating around the frame. Robert really wanted to capture this feel, and as soon as we talked about it I knew it would be a great stereo moment, because it would help create the perfect atmosphere for the scene.”
PFW’s teams in Vancouver and Mumbai delivered the stereo VFX work on Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, with creative supervision out of Vancouver and the bulk of the 2,282 shots completed in Mumbai. The size of the stereo teams in each location was tailored to mirror the size of the VFX teams, allowing shots to be handled in the same location to maximise efficiency. PFW stereographer James Rees travelled from Vancouver to Mumbai to work with Jimmy Philip, PFW’s Mumbai-based stereographer to help manage the vast requirement. All shots were then delivered to Justin Jones in Vancouver for internal approval prior to client review.
“There were a number of benefits to keeping all the stereo VFX work within one company,” said Justin. “Our stereo artists could work closely with the VFX compositors. The VFX supervisors could walk into my office and ask me questions about the stereo for a shot directly. If we had been working with a number of different VFX vendors it would have slowed the process down. The stereo team also had access to all the VFX elements – if we needed something we could just log into the file server, grab what we needed and have one of our team render it.”
The fact that the stereo for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For was considered from the very start of the project shines through in the final movie – from Rodriguez’s native photography which was composed in and for stereo, to PFW’s concept design, layout and effects work which was all created with stereo in mind.
“The native photography that Robert captured looks spectacular,” summarised Justin. “Add to this the control that we brought to the depth in the environments, and to the look of the native capture when we needed to, and you have the best of all worlds. I’m extremely proud of our work on this movie, and I think it brings the world of Sin City to life for the audience in the most exciting way possible.”
RELEASE: August 22, 2014
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Studios / Distributors: The Weinstein Company
Show VFX Supervisor: Stefen Fangmeier
PFW Creative Director: Merzin Tavaria
PFW VFX Supervisor: Jon Cowley
Associate VFX Supervisors: Tim McGovern / Joshua Saeta
Senior Stereo Supervisor: Justin Jones
Art Director: Jelmer Boskma
Show VFX Producer: Pat Sandston
Head of Production (Vancouver): Rohan Desai
Head of Production (Mumbai): Stephen Mascarenhas
VFX Producer (Vancouver): Darren Bell
VFX Producer (Mumbai): Shome Das Gupta
Head of Global Production: Anshul Doshi
Chief Strategy Officer: Bobby Jaffe
Chief Executive Officer: Namit Malhotra