Best known as the in-demand screenwriter behind big movie properties such as Drive (2011), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and the forthcoming 47 Ronin (2013), Hossein Amini makes his directorial debut with the new Working Title / StudioCanal movie The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.
Adapted by Amini from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, this period film is set in the early 1960’s, and follows the story of charismatic businessman Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) and his glamorous young wife Colette (Dunst), an attractive American couple holidaying in Greece. Whilst sightseeing at the Acropolis, they are approached by Rydal (Isaac), a young, Greek-speaking American who is working as a tour guide (and scamming the tourists on the side). Drawn in by the glamour of the MacFarlands’ lifestyle - and his ill-fated attraction to Colette - Rydal soon learns that all is not as it seems with the couple, as he rapidly becomes embroiled in their dark secrets. Unable to extricate himself from the worsening situation, Rydal finds himself on the run with the couple as their worlds fall apart around them.
Prime Focus World is proud to be the exclusive VFX partner for The Two Faces of January, delivering a wide-range of creative VFX work to realize the authentic period settings for the movie, and support the storytelling aims of the director.
Commenting on his working relationship with writer / director Hossein Amini, PFW VFX supervisor Stuart Lashley said: “There was no client-side VFX supervisor on this show, so I had the pleasure of working directly with Hossein. He is a very ‘hands-on’ director, and this film is very close to his heart. We worked hard to ensure that every single detail was exactly right – it was a very collaborative and enjoyable relationship.”
Stuart was involved during production as the on-set VFX supervisor on location in Istanbul, Athens and Crete, and was able to collect a range of reference materials that would prove invaluable during the VFX process. He also worked closely with production designer Michael Carlin, who provided historical reference material of Mediterranean countries in the 1960’s, to help ensure that the detail was as accurate as possible. It was especially gratifying that Carlin remained involved after the shoot had wrapped, to help Stuart lock down a completely authentic period look for the scenes that PFW was creating.
One of the main sequences requiring PFW’s attention occurs at the start of the movie, when the MacFarlands are sightseeing in Athens at the Acropolis. There were a number of challenges for PFW to address – including the fact that the site looks very different today than it did in the 1960’s.
“Authenticity was key to the success of our work on The Two Faces of January,” said Stuart Lashley. “Our work on the Acropolis is a good example. The site has undergone extensive renovation since 1975, and some of the monuments have been repaired with new marble. It is also currently covered in scaffolding. Our work involved digitally restoring the site, including the Parthenon, to its ‘pre-restoration’ state, using re-projection and matte painting techniques to make it look exactly as it did in the 1960’s.”
Arguably the biggest shot that PFW undertook in The Two Faces of January was the huge establishing shot of Istanbul. This wide shot of the cityscape, including the Galata Bridge, required a huge amount of clean-up, and the addition of CG cars and other traffic, as well as fully digital people and boats, to create an authentically 1960’s feel for the shot.
“A number of the shots we undertook on The Two Faces of January were very complicated, but the Galata Bridge shot was probably the most involved,” said Stuart. “There was also a fair amount of interior work required on the scenes shot at Knossos, including the creation of a more cavernous interior environment, and lots of green screen environment work for the scenes on the various boats that the characters find themselves on.”
Aside from these big keystone shots, most of PFW’s work on The Two Faces of January was invisible effects work, including background painting to remove modern features from scenes, digital matte painting to recreate authentically sixties cityscapes, environment effects and enhancements such as the addition of CG rain, and gunshots and muzzle flashes.
“Another interesting challenge arose during production,” continued Stuart. “A creative decision had been made early in production to use Hawk vintage anamorphic lenses, which helped to give the movie its classic sixties look. In terms of our technical approach during post, however, this required lots of extra work to match the unique characteristics of the lenses. We had extreme deformations, soft edges and other optical aberrations to deal with, and we had to carefully match these artifacts in our shots to maintain the look of the film.”
As the filmmakers’ exclusive VFX partner, Prime Focus World delivered 76 VFX shots for The Two Faces of January from its London studio, with roto support provided by the PFW facility in Mumbai.
“It is very gratifying to be working with a UK-based director on a UK-financed film here in London,” said Matthew Bristowe, SVP Production, Prime Focus World. “The Two Faces of January marks a welcome extension of our work with Working Title here in the UK, having also recently completed work for them on Richard Curtis’ About Time. I look forward to many more projects with the Working Title and StudioCanal teams.”
“Our work on this movie succeeds if the viewer does not notice it,” concluded Stuart Lashley. “It was a great experience to work so closely with Hossein - a collaborative, hands-on director, who placed his trust in both myself and the Prime Focus team. This is one of the most subtle, story-driven movies we have worked on, and I am very proud of the seamless effects work and the feel for a different era that we have created.”
RELEASE: Feb 11, 2014 (Berlin Film Festival)
May 2, 2014 (UK)
Director: Hossein Amini
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robin Slovo, Tom Sternberg
Studio / Distributor: StudioCanal
VFX Supervisor: Stuart Lashley
VFX Producer: Rachel Wheeler
CG Supervisor: Lee Sullivan
2D Supervisor: Salvador Zalvidea
PFW Scope of Work: VFX, 76 shots
Exclusive VFX Partner
PFW Lead Facility: London
PFW Associate Team(s): Mumbai
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