Chris Townsend, legendary VFX Supervisor and battle-hardened survivor of four previous tours with Marvel (including Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy 2), recently suited up again to take on his biggest challenge yet – Captain Marvel.
On a film in which 2412 finished VFX shots from 14 vendors made it into the final cut, the amount of co-ordination required was immense. Luckily, Townsend was able to rely on a very experienced team – and of course cineSync helped.
He recently sat down with Art of VFX to discuss how it all came together.
From the interview:
How did you get involved on this show?
I was finishing up on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2. heard that Brie Larson was attached to do CAPTAIN MARVEL, and threw my hat in the ring, saying that I’d love to do it. Once Anna and Ryan, the directors, had been brought on board, I met them, and was offered the job.
How was the collaboration with directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck?
This was Anna and Ryan’s first real exposure to large scale VFX, so it was a really steep learning curve. When I first started, Damien Carr, the VFX Producer, and I, sat with them and over the course of a few hours went through the entire VFX process, from initial storyboards and previs to shooting through to final post production with many examples of what challenges we’d faced, and how we overcame them; a VFX 101, if you will. They asked many questions, and you could see immediately that even though this wasn’t really their world, they were eager to learn. And they did, very quickly. They’re both very smart people, and took to the process very well.
What was their expectations and approach about the visual effects?
At first, they didn’t really know what to expect of us, and how to best use us. VFX is a very powerful tool in the film maker’s toolbox; there’s much that we can do to fix, augment or totally create from scratch, but just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. There was an analog, almost indie vibe with the film that the directors were very keen on maintaining, and so they were always questioning how much we should be doing in VFX.
Can you tell us how you choose the various VFX vendors?
Casting VFX vendors is as crucial as is casting the movie with actors. We always try and go to the company whose strengths are specific to the sequence’s needs, whether animation, world building, simulation, compositing, or design. I’ve worked with many of the companies before, which really helps with the shorthand that means we often get to where we need sooner.
How did you split the work amongst these vendors?
Because of the way Marvel works and their schedules, we often split the work up far more than other big films. We like not to give any vendor, regardless of size, more than about 400 shots; this allows us to have a lot of things across the film, coming up to the required levels all at the same time. In the end we had 14 different companies, as well as a small in-house team, working on the shots. They were: Industrial Light and Magic, Trixter, Animal Logic, Lola Visual Effects, Framestore, Digital Domain, Rising Sun Pictures, Scanline VFX, Luma Pictures, RISE, SSVFX, Cantina Creative, Exceptional Minds, DNEG and Elastic did the end title sequence.
The vendors are all around the world. How did you proceed to follow their work?
Reviewing every shot, from 14 companies in multiple time zones requires a very disciplined and well designed system, and having a very strong production team, on the Marvel side, is imperative. Katie Stetson, our Production Manager, led a team of amazing coordinators (Harrison Goldstein, Cole Darby, Kat Peterson, Sarah Cave and Rachel Sokoloski) who were helped by a team of assistants and VFX Editors that ensured that Janelle Croshaw Ralla, our additional VFX Supervisor and I, were able to review every single shot, give notes, then present to the Directors and Studio Creatives. We work mainly in cineSync, which enables us to work efficiently and specifically, and we use Skype so that we can have some face to face discussions, which is incredibly useful. We often started cineSyncs with companies in Germany and Ireland, then Canada, then the United States, finishing the day with Australia!
The rest of the very informative interview, which also details much of the work that went to creating the film – including the “youthening” of Samuel L Jackson and the creation of a CG cat character – can be found at Art of VFX