When The Purge hit theaters in 2013, its inventive premise made for a hit with more than just hardcore horror fans. In The Purge‘s grisly universe, the United States makes crime legal for one night a year, allowing citizens to act out their darkest urges with the aim of keeping them buttoned up throughout the remaining 364 days. It’s devilishly alluring stuff – as enticing as it is unsettling.
With The Purge attaining cult status a sequel was more than likely. And now, following 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, the series is back once again with The Purge: Election Year, cementing its status as a trilogy.
While the films are anything but politically correct, the third entry digs deep into the American political system: there’s a government-led Purge-night plot to kill a presidential candidate, who also happens to be an advocate for abolishing the grotesque anniversary.
As you’d expect, mayhem and murder ensue, but it was intricate VFX trickery that brought this over-the-top carnage to life.
From bullet squibs to explosions, Blumhouse Productions turned to VFX Legion to create the visceral visuals. With experience on past horror productions like Sinister 2, Insidious: Chapter 3 and Ouija, Legion is something of a staple studio in the horror wheelhouse. However, with Blumhouse’s editorial team in New York and VFX Legion’s workforce working remotely from locations scattered all across the world, a reliable communication solution was needed to ensure consistency within the chaos.
It was cineSync that brought this into focus, keeping The Purge crew on track from shot to shot – and bullet hit to bullet hit.
The Purge has developed its own distinct look over the years, and it was important that was maintained in the series’ grisly third entry.
Legion worked closely with the editorial team to develop a visual aesthetic that rung true to The Purge’s roots. From this the team went on to deliver a variety of digital effects, including blood hits, squib effects, bullet ricochets, gruesome headshots, and, naturally, exploding people. Legion’s artists also built a fully digital helicopter asset that was shared with other studios.
This wasn’t Legion’s first shot at the franchise: the global team had delivered clean-up work on The Purge: Anarchy, including scrapping billboards and addressing clearance concerns. For the third-entry, however, Blumhouse wanted to take Legion’s talents to the next level.
“This one is a completely different beast,” says James Hattin, creative director at VFX Legion. “It’s a bigger scope, and definitely more creative. The work demanded much more – the volume was really cranked up on this one.”
Hattin’s team tackled 136 shots over the course of five months. Around 15-20 artists were working on the project at any one time, including a Houdini artist who was brought in specifically to create dynamic 3D blood spatters that matched the practical photography – the results of which are near identical to the real thing.
“We created very specific blood hits that would match the practical, on-set squibs,” explains Hattin. “We did a one-to-one comparison where we put a blood hit on the left and the real one on the right, and you couldn’t tell the difference between the two.”
Ultimately, much of VFX Legion’s work on Election Year involved making the ultra-violent shots as realistic as possible, rather than adding elaborate effects. In some cases that meant developing digital blood, in another it meant creating a fully CG van asset so believable that it even fooled the editorial team.
“There’s a lot of fun, invisible stuff that no one’s going to see; even when people get hit and blood sprays out, they’ll think it’s real,” affirms Hattin. “We got to have a lot of fun on the project, doing stuff that really pushed our gore skills into new and interesting places.”
Totally in sync
Even the smallest blood squib is the end result of a careful creative process. The amount, direction, viscosity, spread and more of the blood has to be considered each time. Push it too far one way and you’re not giving the film the visceral impact it needs; too far the other and you’re in the realm of walking blood bags.
In order to ensure that each shot matched the director’s vision, the Legion team and the editorial team utilized cineSync. This enabled fluid review sessions between Legion’s home team in Los Angeles, the director and editor in New York.
And – thanks to the benefits of cineSync Pro – Legion could also tap into cineSync’s Shotgun integration, calling clips into the discussion directly from the project management solution.
“If there were shots we wanted to talk about, we could quickly locate them in Shotgun, add them to the list, bring them up and discuss them, draw on them, and do all the things that cineSync is great at,” says Hattin.
Alongside Zoom video conferencing, everyone involved could use cineSync’s feature-rich review suite to bridge the cross-country gap, collaborating and providing feedback in seamless real-time.
“cineSync is so interactive, and worked better than some of the review functionality built directly into other tools,” says Hattin. “It doesn’t rely on just getting notes handed to you at some random time – you actually get to sit and deal face to face using a video conference and a playlist, and can go over things right there and then. That immediacy is absolutely necessary when dealing across a nation-wide time difference on such specific details.”
And cineSync plays an important role as an internal tool at Legion, too. With the team spread across the world – and artists as far flung from the central LA headquarters as Canada, Colorado and Pennsylvania – tools that can efficiently enable face-to-face collaboration despite the gulfs of physical distance are vital.
“Thankfully, cineSync is one of the best tools of its kind,” states Hattin. “It does exactly what it was built for: taking the physical divide between collaborators and erasing it with digital magic. We can analyze footage in real-time and suggest changes right on the video screen. When you’re working with a model such as ours, with some artists working literally on the other side of the planet, you need that kind of functionality.
“cineSync can make a challenging project like The Purge a little less challenging. In an industry where every little helps, that’s really a huge thing.”
VFX Legion: http://www.vfxlegion.com/
Official Site, The Purge: Election Year: http://www.thepurgeelectionyear.com/