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August 14
2018

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Creating the Size-Shifting Car Chase in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

By IAN FAILES

A highlight of Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp is a sweeping car chase with vehicles – and superheroes – changing scale as they race through the streets of San Francisco. Despite the many familiar landmarks, most of the live action for this sequence was not filmed in San Francisco at all, but in Atlanta. This meant that in addition to an array of CG cars, characters and even a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser, there was a significant amount of digital re-working of the plate photography to make it appear as if the scene was taking place in the Bay Area city.

Leading the charge for this sequence, supervised by overall Visual Effects Supervisor Stephane Ceretti and Visual Effects Producer Susan Pickett, was DNEG, which also had to make the characters and vehicles oscillate between macro and normal scale, and sometimes even larger forms. VFX Voice caught up with DNEG Visual Effects Supervisor Alessandro Ongaro to find out how this stand-out Marvel chase scene was achieved.

Watch a clip from the car chase.

“Without visual effects, we couldn’t have told the story.”

—Alessandro Ongaro, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

To help imagine the main beats of the car chase and how parts of it could be filmed, the filmmakers brought on The Third Floor to previs scenes. “It gave us a clear understanding of the challenges and the scope of the sequence,” says Ongaro. “In particular, the fact that we knew that we were going to shoot most of the sequence in Atlanta, but the sequence takes place in San Francisco, meant that the previs really gave us a good idea of the amount of environment work that we had to do.”

Although most of the scenes were filmed in Atlanta, “We spent about 10 days in San Francisco [conducting a significant reference shoot],” notes Ongaro. “We began by drawing out paths on real maps of the streets, and then going out to those locations with a team from DNEG and Clear Angle to do Lidar and photography. Our Lidar of one street, Lombard Street, which is the curvy one, was down to the millimeter resolution, because we knew we had a lot to do there.

Plate photography for the giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser shot.

The final shot involved CG Pez dispenser and augmentation of the background plate to introduce San Francisco architecture.

“The fact that we knew that we were going to shoot most of the sequence in Atlanta, and the sequence takes place in San Francisco, meant that the previs really gave us a good idea of the amount of environment work that we had to do.”

—Alessandro Ongaro, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

“The idea was to build some modular parts of the city,” adds Ongaro. “When you think about San Francisco, there are a lot of electric poles in the streets and Victorian houses that really give that look of San Francisco. We built some street furniture, even mail boxes and street signs. I think we created something like 130 unique environments for the chase.”

Punctuating the chase were several low or ‘at-ground’ macro shots of miniature cars as they sped along the road, the result of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and occasionally Luis (Michael Peña) employing shrinking technology to evade their foes. For those shots, production relied on a Frazier lens which has the ability to bend and acquire macro-like photography. “This special lens allowed us to go very close to the ground,” explains Ongaro. “We used a pretty wide lens, between 20-35mm, with basically almost infinite focus, which is not the macro look, but it did give us a good idea of how things look from down on the ground.”

DNEG’s digital miniature van and cobblestone destruction.

“Getting the simulation right, getting the speed, the weight, the size right – it was very challenging, because you do the simulation and then you look at it and say, ‘Yeah, but this doesn’t feel like we’re one centimeter tall.’”

—Alessandro Ongaro, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

Ultimately, DNEG would produce much of the macro imagery synthetically, but would use these Frazier lens shots for reference and for re-projections onto CG geometry. One of the signature macro scenes sees a van driven by Wasp and Luis shrink, go underneath several vehicles, and then get restored to full size in order to flip a black SUV down one of San Francisco’s steep streets. “The black SUV flip down the hill was actually shot practically,” describes Ongaro. “It was pulled by a cable, but it also looked a little like it was being pulled, so we started with a full CG car, and then in mid-air we transitioned to the plate.”

For the shrinking and expanding effects in that flip shot and other scenes, DNEG originally referenced the ‘disco shrink’ effect devised for the first Ant-Man film, which had an echo-like look to a character or object as it reduced or grew in size. In the end, this look was not followed for the sequel, and instead artists played with displacing leaves, dust or hair to suggest the shrinking or growing force. The actual effect takes place over only three to four frames.

Plate photography of a flatbed truck that Ant-Man has to stop, and ultimately uses to ride.

The final shot.

Sometimes, DNEG’s miniature cars encountered large-scale destruction, or what appeared to their drivers as destruction in the form of falling cobblestones and other debris. “DNEG is good at doing destruction and smoke and all these kinds of things,” explains Ongaro, “but you don’t really have many references of macro lenses on the ground and stuff breaking in front of them. So getting the simulation right, getting the speed, the weight, the size right – it was very challenging, because you do the simulation and then you look at it and say, ‘Yeah, but this doesn’t feel like we’re one centimeter tall.’ There was a lot of back and forth to get the look and the weight and the size and the amount of debris right.”

Not everything was in miniature for the chase, however. In one particular shot, Ant-Man is hanging onto the wiper blades of a flatbed truck and then suddenly grows over-sized to become a giant, eventually pushing against the truck to stop it and then later using it like a scooter to dash around the streets. “They built a truck with a hydraulic system that could be remotely controlled to move the suspension to give the impression of Ant-Man’s weight shifting on it,” says Ongaro. “We took those plates and we keyframe-animated Ant-Man on top of that.”

A shot featuring Ghost on a motorbike was filmed in Atlanta.

DNEG performed significant digital work to transform Atlanta plates into San Francisco environments.

“The idea was to build some modular parts of the city. When you think about San Francisco, there are a lot of electric poles in the streets and Victorian houses that really give that look of San Francisco. We built some street furniture, even mail boxes and street signs. I think we created something like 130 unique environments for the chase.”

—Alessandro Ongaro, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

“The amazing thing about this car chase,” concludes Ongaro, “was that it had a lot of shots with a cool factor. I mean, there’s also shots of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) phasing through cars to do flying kicks, there’s flying ants, and then there’s the giant Hello Kitty Pez shot. Without visual effects, we couldn’t have told the story.”


Read about Double Negative’s chase scene VFX work on Deadpool 2 here.

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