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March 09


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Trading the sea for land are filmmaker Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks who had previously collaborated on the ship hijacking thriller Captain Phillips and have reunited for the Western News of the World where an American Civil War veteran travels the frontier reading newspapers to townspeople. Hired to produce a sand storm, recreate San Antonio and Dallas, and execute a wagon falling off a cliff was Visual Effects Supervisor Roni Rodrigues (The Fantastic Flitcrofts).


News of the World is the first time that Rodrigues worked on the behalf of a Hollywood studio. “Initially, I was going to be working for Outpost VFX,” explains Rodrigues. “I went to New Mexico for shooting, and after I started talking to Paul Greengrass about ideas for different shots, they invited me to join the client-side team. What I liked about it the most is that I had more creative flexibility to discuss all of the ideas directly with the director. I also had relationships with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski [The Martian], production designer David Crank and editor William Goldenberg [Argo]. I felt that every idea had a meaning and reason behind it. We never wanted the visual effects to look like visual effects. It is almost like a documentary.

Previs was created to convey a sense of size, scale and perspective for some sequences. “After wrapping the shooting in New Mexico using all of the previs that we created to help Paul, we had daily conversations and meetings where we would test things,” states Rodrigues. “Sometimes I would quickly composite a shot as a concept and would send it to [editor] William Goldenberg who would place it in his timeline and have a feeling of how that composition was contributing to the story.  We had good communication between Paul, William and I. For most of the time, we were bouncing ideas and brainstorming.”


Outpost VFX was the sole vendor and there were over 600 visual effects shots. “Having only one visual effects company played in the favor of the film because the visual effects supervisor at Outpost VFX was Ian Fellows,” notes Rodrigues. “Ian and I have worked together several times before, so we were able to have a tight communication which allowed us to not lose time in a shot. We were always on the same page.” Postvis was produced by Host VFX and modified on a daily basis by an in-house team of five digital artists. “Once we found a good composition and feeling for the shot, we would send it to Outpost VFX which in turn made the shot photoreal.”

All of the buildings in San Antonio and Dallas were based on historical photographs and maps. “Every sign, set extension and church is based on a real one,” states Rodrigues. “We wanted to bring those little details to the film.”

Roni Rodrigues, Visual Effects Supervisor

I felt that every idea had a meaning and reason behind it. We never wanted the visual effects to look like visual effects. It is almost like a documentary.

—Roni Rodrigues, Visual Effects Supervisor

The whole sequence of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) returning to his home in San Antonio was shot in the parking lot. “My first concern was that we had this parking lot with one little shed, which is supposed to be the entrance of this massive cathedral, and a couple of people crossing the road. The camera was high and wide. The shot was supposed to have not only the whole city, but also a whole market on the left-hand side with cattle walking around and people dealing with each other. We had two bluescreens and a street of dirt on the ground to simulate the road. There were so many contributions from the other departments during the shooting that in the end we were able to take all of the data to Outpost VFX. We had a matte painting adding some photoreal textures on top of the CG to give it a photoreal feeling. Outpost VFX was able to put together a beautiful city.”

Captain Kidd loses control of the wagon which subsequently falls off a cliff.  “For security reasons, we shot the wagon on a flat surface in New Mexico with the actors and stunt performers,” states Rodrigues. “We worked with the special effects team to create a system where they could control the wagon rolling down.  The camera was positioned during the shooting in a specific angle to allow us to cheat the perspective as much as we could. We managed to place the footage of wagon in that cheated perspective and then added the cliff on the right-hand side.  I collected photogrammetry of the real horses, so our CG doubles matched perfectly.
Initially, that scene was too gory for a family friendly film, so a talented group of effects artists came up with a photoreal cloud of dust and debris to cover as much of the horses as possible.”

Amongs the digital environment enhancements were herds of cattle and a river situated beside a town that was a mixture of physical CG buildings.

The sandstorm was divided into two parts as it was shot in different locations.“The first part is when Captain Kidd sees a small trail of dust on the horizon that he mistakenly takes for horses,” explains Rodrigues. “After climbing a little hill, Captain Kidd sees a giant sandstorm approaching quickly. It consists of four to five shots of particle simulations in Houdini. For the second part where he gets swarmed by the sandstorm, the special effects team had some giant fans in the desert to blow soft particles in front of the camera. In visual effects, we made a progressive dissipation of the sandstorm. We worked closely with the editor to make the shots the exactly right length for the sequence.”

Modern day elements had to be painted out to recreate the frontier that existed in 1870. “We had the normal getting rid of passing cars and electrical polls,” remarks Rodrigues. “The scene where Captain Kidd is approached by a gang was shot in an open space but Paul wanted a more menacing feeling. A whole forest was added around the entire gang. After a certain point you don’t see lights anymore, only the thick bushes and trees. There were several shots where Paul wanted us to go an extra mile to add extra bushes and trees to make sure that we were creating the right tone for the film.” The skies also had to be augmented. “We had a lot of contrails especially in New Mexico that required clean-up.”

One of the heaviest simulations to produce was the sandstorm.

There were a lot of face replacements but no digital doubles. “We shot a lot of sequences with stunts because of security and safety,” reveals Rodrigues. “I would body track the stunt performer on set and flew myself to L.A. for one day of shooting with Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. We positioned three different cameras to shoot her face from different angles. I had Helena perform various actions and facial expressions. I brought that back to the studio. We did have a LiDAR scan of the actors which allowed us to get the facial geometry, and we projected back the information from the cameras. Putting the face of a child onto the neck of an adult was not easy. Helena is a 10-year-old girl, but her stunt performer was a short adult so the whole shape of the neck was completely different. There was a lot of painting and warping of the joints of the neck to fit the face replacement perfectly.”

Along with the San Antonio sequence, Rodrigues enjoys the moment called ‘Johanna Calling’. “At a certain point during the night, Johanna [Helena Zengel] runs away from Captain Kidd and sees some Kiowas walking across the river. She climbs this steep muddy cliff and screams at them as they are walking away. It’s raining and there is this beautiful lightning. We shot Helena at the studios in the U.K., shot some plates in New Mexico, but it was in the parking lot of the studio base – we built this beautiful CG river.

The landscape on the horizon was digitally altered, and CG set extensions make the town appear to be a bustling settlement.
From the beginning, we wanted to make the river a character of the film. It was an overflowing river, so it needed to be aggressive and dangerous. The whole environment was to feel dangerous for a 10-year-old girl. Every single rock put into the riverbed affected the simulation. I was showing Paul how the river was reacting. Then we added these beautiful cliffs and got a lot of footage of Kiowas walking as an on-set element. The rain and lightning were faraway. It is a poetic scene.”


Practical rain had to be replaced when a particular sequence had to be reshot. “A major task was adding the rain interaction on people’s heads, hands and jackets,” remarks Rodrigues. “Then we have a scene where everyone goes into a barn, so we had to keep the continuity. There was a lot of visual effects work to add wet patches on their jackets. We were careful to keep the continuity in this film.”

“Captain Kidd sees a small trail of dust on the horizon that he mistakenly takes for horses. After climbing a little hill, Captain Kidd sees a giant sandstorm approaching quickly. It consists of four to five shots of particle simulations in Houdini. For the second part where he gets swarmed by the sandstorm, the special effects team had some giant fans in the desert to blow soft particles in front of the camera.”

—Roni Rodrigues, Visual Effects Supervisor

Second stories were added to the buildings digitally in order to make them more imposing structures.

The biggest challenge was the coronavirus which caused the visual effects work to be done remotely. “The whole workflow had to be reorganized to be able to present the shots to William Goldenberg in L.A. and Paul Greengrass in the U.K. Outpost VFX had to send all of their artists home. It was important to keep all of the security protocols for the footage. It was a lot of work by the client and vendor sides to readjust themselves.”

Invisible effects include adding brush, hills and vegetation digitally to make environments cinematic.

An atmospheric that perambulates throughout the movie is dust, which results in a muted color palette.

A flat road is altered to make it appear at a higher altitude in order to create a wide vista.

Every sign, set extension and church is based on historical photographs.

Outpost VFX was the sole visual effects vendor and created over 600 shots.

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