Atomic Fiction (recently acquired by Method Studios) was the lead vendor on Welcome to Marwen, the latest feature from director Robert Zemeckis. VFX Supervisor Kevin Baillie was based out of Atomic Fiction’s Montreal offices for post production, while Zemeckis was in California. Effective communication was key to ensuring Atomic Fiction could create and execute Zemeckis’ singular vision.
In a recent chat with Art of VFX, Baillie describes how it all came together…
How was this new collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis?
Every collaboration with Bob Zemeckis is fantastic. He is a consummate team player, and once he finds a team that he’s comfortable with, he trusts them implicitly. He leans on VFX to bring in our expertise and listens to our input, and he does that across every department. He’s a great listener and aggregates all that feedback in making his decisions, creating better results as a team than any one person could ever achieve on their own.
How did you use your experience on his previous movie for this new one?
I’ve worked with Bob for more than a decade, since A CHRISTMAS CAROL, so I’m pretty familiar with the way he goes about designing environments and characters. There are certain stylizations he prefers so we steered our character design with that in mind. I had the great pleasure of working with makeup designer Bill Corso to help guide the doll design process, and leverage Bill’s incredible ability to create doll faces that had a beautiful aesthetic, were very doll like, and would still resonate with Bob’s particular design sensibilities. Also, as I mentioned previously, Bob trusts his collaborators. When we ran into an issue during post production, we’d talk it through and I could say ‘I’ll show you the fixed version in a week’ and he wouldn’t worry about it. When a director is familiar with and trusts the VFX Supervisor, it streamlines the creative process. Bob knew that once he shared his feedback, we’d nail it and there didn’t need to be five review sessions in the meantime. That ultimately served as a tremendous asset in streamlining the process of getting this very challenging film out the door!
How was the work split amongst vendors?
Atomic Fiction (now Method Studios) handled 509 of the film’s 655 VFX shots. We created the digital Marwen world and the CG doll versions of 17 characters. Framestore handled 82 VFX shots, focused on the opening sequences of Hogie crash-landing a P-40, and Method Studios handled 64 VFX shots, focused on performance blending, the “drunk effect” in Mark’s flashbacks, and turning sequences shot in Vancouver into New York City. Creation Consultants, led by Dave Asling, fabricated all miniatures, including 24 hero dolls comprising 17 characters, plus backup duplicates of the leads and a set of stunt dolls, the town of Marwen – 14 buildings around a courtyard with a fountain –the P-40 aircraft and a DeLorean built out of Legos. Profile Studios handled the mocap stage setup and virtual production workflow, and Day For Nite assisted with previs and postvis.
Can you tell us how you choose the various VFX vendors?
We wanted most of the work to be done at Atomic Fiction because Bob is familiar with the team and we all work well together. We also enlisted Framestore and Method Studios to help with some pieces because we knew they were more capable; Framestore did the film’s opening scenes up until the women rescue Hogie the first time, and Method did a lot of performance blends and turned Vancouver into New York for shots. All the vendors ended up being amazing, and I’m very thankful for their tireless efforts on the film!
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with their VFX supervisors?
Framestore Montreal is fairly close to Atomic Fiction, so I could easily meet with their VFX supervisor, Romain Arnoux, whenever I felt like it was going to help the process. As we were narrowing down our methodology, we invited Romain and his team to Atomic Fiction and walked them through our approach. My personal opinion is that consistency of VFX is very important in filmmaking, more so than protecting some proprietary process, so we were very transparent. Christian Kaestner also jumped in at the end of the show; he’s an old friend and I loved working with him. Method VFX Supervisor Sean Konrad is incredibly smart and talented. He would always address every note and would provide additional suggestions to make shots even better; we often ended up going with his suggestions. Working with Sean, VFX Producer Sheena Johnson and the rest of the Method Vancouver team was a big part of what made me really excited to join Method through the acquisition of Atomic Fiction.
How did you proceed to follow the vendors work?
We conducted some meetings in person but did the majority of reviews over cineSync with Shotgun serving as the central hub for tracking notes. Bob and his incredible editorial team are located just outside of Santa Barbara, California, so we did most of our reviews with him remotely as well. These logistics, which got pretty dang complicated from time to time, were masterfully orchestrated by our VFX Production Manager, Francesca Mancini, with support from a small but very talented production-side team.
The rest of the article is available at Art of VFX