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September 19
2023

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

GROUNDING ONE PIECE FOR LIVE-ACTION WHILE STILL HONORING THE MANGA

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Netflix.

Extra detail was added to Monkey D. Luffy to avoid him looking like plastic rather than rubber.

Extra detail was added to Monkey D. Luffy to avoid him looking like plastic rather than rubber.

While Monkey D. Luffy aims to become the king of the pirates, the manga infused with his contagious optimism and enthusiasm reigns supreme as the all-time best seller with 516.6 million copies sold since Eiichiro Oda created One Piece in 1997. The story that revolves around a treasure-hunt frenzy caused by the execution of Pirate King Gol D. Roger, which sees participants from around the world engage in questionable antics to ensure victory over the competition. The franchise has obtained longevity in other mediums with the ongoing anime television series consisting of over 1,000 episodes, and now Netflix has released a live-action version created by Steven Maeda and Matt Owens that stars Iñaki Godoy, Mackenyu, Emily Rudd, Jacob Romero Gibson, Taz Skylar, Vincent Regan and Morgan Davies. Placed in charge of making the fantasy elements a cinematic reality for the eight episodes of the first season were Visual Effects Supervisor Victor Scalise and Visual Effects Producer Scott Ramsey who previously collaborated together on Cowboy Bebop.

Colton Osorio as Young Luffy and Peter Gadiot as Shanks have conversation with the Lord of the Coast.

Colton Osorio as Young Luffy and Peter Gadiot as Shanks have conversation with the Lord of the Coast.

While a guiding principle is that visual effects have to be grounded in order to be believable, there is a cartoony aesthetic to the source material and its animated spinoffs that fans expect to be honored. “It’s truly a fine balance because if you make it too cartoony the fans might love it, but then the general audience might think it’s too much,” Scalise notes. “When we first came on everybody said, ‘We didn’t want him [Monkey D. Luffy] to be like Plastic Man.’ Originally, the punches were going to be stiff, fast and straight, and when we started applying them to shots, they felt lifeless. We started putting little bends and wiggles and an extra weight on the fist to get wrinkles, and it brought the effect to life. It’s tough because when a rubber arm has motion blur there is no detail or texture when it’s punching fast. We went in and put a lot of extra hair on his arm. That was probably one of our biggest challenges, of how do you take an animated character and make them feel real but still honor the manga. It’s funny because the further you push it, the cooler stuff comes out of it too.”

The actual skies were retained for the ocean scenes with ships.

The actual skies were retained for the ocean scenes with ships.

Paired with ARRI ALEXA LF cameras were Hawk MHX Hybrid Anamorphic lenses that produce a signature fisheye effect and extreme facial closeups for the show. “That was a challenge and a half!” laughs Ramsey. “When we got down to Cape Town we found out about the lenses. The biggest challenge was, ‘Do we have enough set to fit into this?’ Because they did morph out the sides quite a bit and our sets were only built out to certain areas, so there was quite a lot of set extensions. It increased the budget quite a bit because you’re always on a lens that is roughly a 25mm if not wider. Also, the warping on the sides was challenging.” The wide angle-lensing created an extra layer of visual effects work. “When you’re trying to roto and track, you don’t have straight lines,” Scalise states. “There’s a natural blur inherent in the lenses that now you’re rotoscoping a blurred edge and tracking sharping objects that go to the edge of the frame and get soft.” Atmospherics were aided by the choice of lenses. “If there is a light anywhere near the edge of frame there is a flare in that shot,” Scalise observes. “Sometimes you don’t see it until you look at the color channels and hidden in the blue channel is a lens flare,” Scalise remarks. “We were able to add a lot of glare halation to get layers, which give a sense of depth and a cheated atmospheric perspective.”

A digital double had to be made of Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward), as he has the ability to disassemble, have his parts fly around and reassemble himself.

A digital double had to be made of Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward), as he has the ability to disassemble, have his parts fly around and reassemble himself.

“When we first came on everybody said, ‘We didn’t want [Monkey D. Luffy] to be like Plastic Man.’ Originally, the punches were going to be stiff, fast and straight, and when we started applying them to shots, they felt lifeless. We started putting little bends and wiggles and an extra weight on the fist to get wrinkles, and it brought the effect to life. … That was probably one of our biggest challenges, of how do you take an animated character and make them feel real but still honor the manga. It’s funny because the further you push it, the cooler stuff comes out of it too.”

—Victor Scalise, Visual Effects Supervisor

The extensive water simulations were created by Goodbye Kansas Studios and Rising Sun Pictures.

The extensive water simulations were created by Goodbye Kansas Studios and Rising Sun Pictures.

Glare halation was added to give a sense of depth to the shots.

Glare halation was added to give a sense of depth to the shots.

All eight episodes were cut before sending off the work to the vendors. “That allowed us to get the whole series filled,” Ramsey explains. “Episode 101 through to 108, we know exactly how the story is going to progress and the ups and downs,  so by the time we get to Episode 108 it is a great finale, and that had to go through the showrunners, Netflix and Tomorrow Studios.” The visual effects work for 2,334 shots was broken down in accordance to the strengths of Goodbye Kansas Studios, Framestore, Ingenuity Studios, Rising Sun Pictures, Barnstorm VFX, Eyeline Studios, Scanline VFX, Mr. Wolf, Refuge, CoSA VFX, Incessant Rain and NetFX. “The good thing is that we have worked with a lot of our vendors for awhile now,” Scalise remarks. “Even when it comes to a shared shot, they have already talked to each other before, so the handoffs are good. It creates a lot of logistical complications, as well as sometimes the assets aren’t truly one-to-one, so there is extra work on both sides.”

Ships were shot in the parking lot at Cape Town Film Studios, which meant that the water had to be created digitally.

Ships were shot in the parking lot at Cape Town Film Studios, which meant that the water had to be created digitally.

“The problem is when you have the real ships parked in a parking lot. Rising Sun Pictures did an amazing job with the ships. When we put their model next to the real one, I bet that most people will pick the real one as being CG. The Going Merry was a full ship build placed on a tractor trailer so it could drive around slowly. Then we had half of Miss Love Duck constructed, which was repurposed into Garp’s warship. There was also a salvage ship and Maui’s sloop. We had CG versions of all of them.”

—Victor Scalise, Visual Effects Supervisor

The wide-angle lenses greatly increased the amount of digital set extensions in shots.

The wide-angle lenses greatly increased the amount of digital set extensions in shots.

Much of the action unfolds on the ocean with the pirate ships battling each other while trying to evade the law-enforcing Marines. “The problem is when you have the real ships parked in a parking lot,” Scalise notes. “Rising Sun Pictures did an amazing job with the ships. When we put their model next to the real one, I bet that most people will pick the real one as being CG. The Going Merry was a full ship build placed on a tractor trailer so it could drive around slowly. Then we had half of Miss Love Duck constructed, which was repurposed into Garp’s warship. There was also a salvage ship and Maui’s sloop. We had CG versions of all of them.” The water simulations were expanded upon in certain cases. “We actually shot the Lord of the Coast in the tank without planning on replacing the water except for the shots where the creature was going to interact with it,” Scalise reveals. “Once we got to the sequence, we went, ‘Screw it. Let’s completely replace the water in all of the shots so we can have much more control over continuity.’ When you look at the creature going into the water and how the water is interacting, it looks real.”

The Going Merry was a complete practical ship build that was placed on a tractor trailer so it could move.

The Going Merry was a complete practical ship build that was placed on a tractor trailer so it could move.

Much of the action unfolds on the ocean with the pirate ships battling each other while trying to evade the law-enforcing Marines.

Much of the action unfolds on the ocean with the pirate ships battling each other while trying to evade the law-enforcing Marines.

Real skies were captured rather than rely on huge bluescreens and compositing them in later in post-production. “It’s funny – some of the shots of the real skies feel as if they were composited!” Scalise laughs. “To save cost, we kept a lot of the natural skies for when we were on the boats. The amount of bluescreen to cover the boats with these lenses was almost impossible to get the sky. We decided early on not to use a lot of bluescreen and to place it on the horizon.” A classic size and scale problem is avoiding ships looking like miniatures out in the open water. “Size and scale turned out well,” Ramsey reflects. “The only point where it came into play was when we were doing Garp throwing the cannonball back at Luffy. They had parked the practical Going Merry, and it was shot over Garp’s shoulder, but when we got into post the shot didn’t feel like the distance that was wanted. We roto’d Garp out of that scene and replaced it with a 3D Going Merry.”

Camera tricks assisted in creating the impression that Monkey D. Luffy has the ability to stretch his limbs.

Camera tricks assisted in creating the impression that Monkey D. Luffy has the ability to stretch his limbs.

Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy battles a group of Marines.

Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy battles a group of Marines.

“Size and scale turned out well. The only point where it came into play was when we were doing Garp throwing the cannonball back at Luffy. They had parked the practical Going Merry, and it was shot over Garp’s shoulder, but when we got into post the shot didn’t feel like the distance that was wanted. We roto’d Garp out of that scene and replaced it with a 3D Going Merry.”

—Scott Ramsey, Visual Effects Producer

Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) discovers the Going Merry while visiting a shipbuilding yard.

Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) discovers the Going Merry while visiting a shipbuilding yard.

Italy influenced the world-building, as Loguetown was based on Sorrento and Shells Town on Positano, Italy. “We had plans going in to modify real-world locations so we weren’t going into full CG builds of environments for some of the bigger ones,” Scalise remarks. “We able to shoot other parts of the Amalfi Coast and turn that into different islands.” A signature massive aquatic creature is Lord of the Coast, created by Goodbye Kansas Studios. “We did it the traditional way in that once we had the look of the concept, we went into modeling and did all of the turntables,” Scalise states. “Overall, we liked the early concept art, which is in the show. The amount of detail into the muscle work and all of the different layers of animation where, if you look at it closely, there are a lot of moving things to the slime on the skin. The biggest thing that we went back and forth on was, originally, a bit of red was put into the fins and pulling that out was our biggest note.”

Admiral Garp utilizes a telepathic species of snail known as a Den Den Mushi to be able to vocally and visually communicate across the world.

Admiral Garp utilizes a telepathic species of snail known as a Den Den Mushi to be able to vocally and visually communicate across the world.

Admiral Garp utilizes a telepathic species of snail known as a Den Den Mushi to be able to vocally and visually communicate across the world.

A digital double had to be produced for Buggy the Clown, as he can literally cause every part of his body to dissemble, fly around and reassemble. “I love that scene between Buggy and Luffy because almost every shot is a visual effect and their onscreen relationship was great,” Scalise remarks. “It’s a funny, dark, scary scene. One my favorite creatures that we built is the News Coo by Framestore. It was originally built for only three shots; however, when everybody saw it, anytime we could possibly figure out a place to sneak it in, we added it to another half dozen shots.” Ramsey favors the naval battle in Episode 105 between Garp and Luffy. “It was entirely shot at Cape Town Film Studios without water. Every shot is probably a visual effects shot. We brought in Rising Sun Pictures because they can do great ship models and CG water. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and kicks off Episode 105 really well.”

All eight episodes of the first season were cut before sending off the work to the vendors, with 2,334 visual effects shots created in total.

All eight episodes of the first season were cut before sending off the work to the vendors, with 2,334 visual effects shots created in total.

“[The naval battle in Episode 105] was entirely shot at Cape Town Film Studios without water. Every shot is probably a visual effects shot. We brought in Rising Sun Pictures because they can do great ship models and CG water. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and kicks off Episode 105 really well.”

—Victor Scalise, Visual Effects Supervisor

Italy influenced the world-building, as Loguetown was based on Sorrento and Shells Town on Positano.

Italy influenced the world-building, as Loguetown was based on Sorrento and Shells Town on Positano.

Scalise concludes, “Everybody’s hope is that this [live adaption of One Piece] opens up the world to people because of the positive message of ‘do what you feel that you’re supposed to do versus what people are telling you what you should do.’  That relates to a lot of people and gives them an optimism, which this world probably needs right now.”

Watch a featurette on the making of One Piece Season 1 and some of the VFX work involved in the live-action adaption of the manga gemstone. Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EIfmn5Gk9A


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