Ad Astra, the latest spectacular film from director James Gray, is a highly ambitious and visually stunning project about a fearless astronaut trying to connect with both his father and with his own upbringing, set across the vast reaches of space. To realise Gray’s vision, VFX Supervisor Allen Maris had to wrangle 12 different VFX vendors from across the globe. Maris recently sat down with Art of VFX to discuss how tools like cineSync have opened up a universe of possibilities for film-making.
From the interview:
How did you choose the various VFX vendors?
I’ve had good luck working with MPC in the past on many projects and thought the work they did for us on PROMETHEUS was top notch, so I wanted that same quality with our ships and environments. MPC needed to reduce their workload and since we were looking for ways to maximize the budget, we agreed we could give Mr X a portion of their work. I worked with Olaf Wendt on a previous show and knew he and Mr X could do some great CG and environment work, so it was a standout to have them do the Antenna sequence since it was going to be a complex asset and environment. They also picked up some of the exteriors at Neptune, and did the nuclear explosion sims. Method Studios (Atomic Fiction when I awarded) was a stand-out company in my mind. They’ve done some great CG car work, the DEADPOOL stunt scene) and I liked their environment work, so I gave them the entire moon rover chase and they also did the spacewalk to Vesta right before the monkey sequence.
And of course as soon as I read the script, I knew I wanted Weta to do it. We didn’t have a ton of money, so we were able to focus our resources on the animation and getting that right because the rest of the look I knew would quickly fall into place with them. Once we locked animation, their first submission to me was so good, we just had little tweaks to get the look dialled in.
I also knew I would need a company that could handle a good volume of wire and rig removal work at a reasonable price and Bot came highly recommended by colleagues, so I took a chance and awarded them work. I also had 2 comp artists, Michael Shermis from Pixel Pirates, and Brad Gayo, that would help temp up shots during the post-vis phase and then work into doing additional work for final. Once all those pieces were locked in, I started to look at different vendors for all the little miscellaneous things that were different than originally planned or hadn’t been awarded. Soho VFX came in late in the game to do the monorail sequence and all the comfort room shots to add in the moving footage. We ended up with 12 vendors by the time we wrapped up.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with their VFX supervisors?
For the most part, most all the conversations were over the phone or Skype. We would post-vis a scene, send it over to the vendor and then I’d cineSync with them to walk them through the creative brief and what we were looking for. Olaf and Guillaume did attend some in-person reviews on occasion since they were local to LA. Michael and Brad were in my office, so I would do daily reviews with them because it was so easy for them to submit shots and I could drop in to see them when I had a free moment. I would drop by Lola on occasion to work through some of their shots with them. The other vendors were all over the world, so the reviews had to happen virtually. We’d do an internal review, then review with James on anything he needed to look at, then I’d either do frame annotations if anything needed a drawing and then we’d send written notes. Then in our next vendor review, we’d review all the comments to make sure they were understanding the directions. It’s a great benefit that everyone is so used to working remotely so that we can now go after the best company, regardless of where they are.
The rest of the article is at Art of VFX