Christopher Townsend, Production VFX Supervisor on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is no stranger to the Marvel Universe, having previously supervised the VFX on Captain America, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s also no stranger to cineSync, using it on every film since 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
In a recent interview with Art of VFX, Townsend talked extensively about how various sequences were created, how assets were shared and how the communication between the various vendors and the production team worked.
From the interview:
How did you approach a show with so many VFX shots?
We take it one sequence at a time, breaking those up into individual shots. You have to have an overview, but at the same time have to break the film into bite sized pieces; looking at a film which is over 2 hour long, and only has about 60 non VFX shots, and over 2300 VFX shots, from character work to huge environments, from makeup fixes to virtual set rebuilds, can be overwhelming at first. But when approached as many many individual creative challenges, then it becomes more manageable.
Can you tell us how you choose the various VFX vendors?
We pick VFX vendors because of their strengths, from their character work, environment work, simulation work, and their capacity and working styles. Ultimately, we look for the best companies that can work as our partners, creating the most beautiful imagery.
How did you split the work amongst these vendors?
Splitting the work is always tricky, particularly on this one. Our two main CG characters, Rocket and Groot appear throughout the film, in many different sequences. Because of that, we realized very early on that not one single VFX company could do the all the character work. We assessed the script, broke it down and determined that the best approach was to split it among four different vendors, so that we could share the work load. Framestore, who created Rocket for the first film, took that model and rebuilt him from the ground up, paying particular attention to the facial structure, so that he could annunciate more clearly and be more expressive. They also created Baby Groot, then created character asset packages and shared those with Weta Digital, Method Studios and Trixter; Framestore worked closely with the other companies, taking input as to how best to share the characters, and everyone was very pleased with the results, being able to quickly bring them into very different pipelines, and getting them working very quickly.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with their VFX supervisors?
I always rely on very strong supervisorial teams at the different companies, both the VFX Supervisor and Animation Supervisor, along with the CG and Sequence Supervisors. I often work with the same teams again and again, on different films, as we all need a shorthand. I need to have trust in them all, and I always welcome their ideas and input creatively. My job is to act as a conduit to the other film makers, the Director and the Producers, so I need to guide the VFX companies, to get the Director what he or she wants.
The vendors are all around the world. How did you proceed to follow their work?
It takes a really great production team to make things run smoothly, when dealing with so many companies in so many time zones. We try and assign a coordinator to one or two different companies, and it’s their responsibility to act as the day to day production liaison, making sure that we distribute the information efficiently, and have the shots back, ready for review. I’m in cineSync sessions, video and phone conferencing most of my day, reviewing the work from around the world and giving notes.
The rest of the article, which goes into quite a bit of detail on various sequences, can be found at Art of VFX and is well worth a read.
Another article at Below The Line gives a little more detail on Townsend’s cineSync review process:
After returning from filming at the end of June of 2016, Townsend supervised effects shots which were in progress until all vendors delivered their final shots at the end of March, 2017.
“We were in post even while we’re shooting,” he said of the process which begins early in production. “We continued to turn stuff over as soon as we had cut scenes. You have to wear multiple hats. I work with 12-15 people at Marvel, led by Damien Carr [credited as visual effects associate producer for Marvel Studios]; he made sure it went smoothly with our visual effects editorial team: send [shots] out to our vendors and they start sending stuff back—reviewing their work.”
Through the nine months of post-production, Townsend described his main task as ‘constantly communicating.’
“cineSync allows us to draw on the screen and work remotely with companies in Germany, England, LA, Canada, New Zealand,” he conveyed. “We are working [with] time zones all over the map. The production team tells me where I have to go. It’s not a linear process—it’s different levels of a shot within a sequence, trying to imagine how it looks at a finished level. We show the work at Marvel, get notes. That goes on and on for over 2000 shots.”