VFX Voice

The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.

Subscribe to the VFX Voice Print Edition

Subscriptions & Single Issues


April 12
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

HOW THE WETA FX TEAM AMPED UP THE ‘WET’ CAR CHASE FOR THE BATMAN

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

After establishing a relationship with director Matt Reeves on the prequel trilogy for The Planet of the Apes, Weta FX veteran Dan Lemmon was moved into the role of Production Visual Effects Supervisor for the next blockbuster helmed by the filmmaker. The Batman takes place during the early days of the Caped Crusader and stars Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro and Andy Serkis. Handling the signature car chase between Batman and Penguin, as well as the Batcave and the memorial service at City Hall, was Weta FX, with key members of the team being Visual Effects Supervisor Anders Langlands, Animation Supervisor Dennis Yoo and Compositing Supervisor Beck Veitch who collaborated on a total of 320 shots.

The workshop, gym equipment and Batmobile areas were practically constructed while the rest of the Batcave was a digital environment.

The workshop, gym equipment and Batmobile areas were practically constructed while the rest of the Batcave was a digital environment.

“[Cinematographer] Greig [Frasier] was putting globs of silicon sealant from a caulking gun onto a plate of glass in front of the lens to create these beautiful abstract lens flares, particularly in the vehicle shots and throughout the chase scenes. Initially, we were mystified as to what they were until Dan explained what Greig was actually doing there.”

—Anders Langlands, Visual Effects Supervisor

“It’s definitely exciting to be able to put your own spin on things,” notes  Langlands. “This is a detective story that is a love letter to all of those old 1970s crime thrillers which I’m a huge fan of personally, like Chinatown, The French Connection, Taxi Driver and the paranoia trilogy [Klute, The Parallax View, All the President’s Men]. Greig Fraser [Dune] is a fantastic cinematographer, and the photography is stunning throughout. That combination of things made it an exciting journey to be part of.”

A CG cape was created to get the billowing effect that director Matt Reeves wanted for the shot.

A CG cape was created to get the billowing effect that director Matt Reeves wanted for the shot.

Greig Fraser shot with two sets of ARRI Large Format Anamorphic lenses, with one being optically pristine and the other detuned so it could not focus on anything outside the center of the frame. He also had a unique approach to the lens filtration that refracted streetlights and car headlights into a spiderweb of light. Comments Langlands, “Greig was putting globs of silicon sealant from a caulking gun onto a plate of glass in front of the lens to create these beautiful abstract lens flares, particularly in the vehicle shots and throughout the chase scenes. Initially, we were mystified as to what they were until Dan explained what Greig was actually doing there. We did talk about generating some elements with effects to create procedural 2D stuff, but in the end decided to do the same thing that Greig did and shoot some elements for ourselves. Beck’s team was able to take those elements and construct a tool that emulated what Greig had achieved in the live action. I was definitely not cursing [Greig]. It was a lot of fun.”

Weta FX referred to its element library to get the necessary explosion effects that were subsequently graded and timed to be consistent with the plate photography.

Weta FX referred to its element library to get the necessary explosion effects that were subsequently graded and timed to be consistent with the plate photography.

“For the compositing team, our challenge was to deconstruct all of the things that happened to the detuned lenses and be able to replicate that for the set extensions and CG shots because it’s so distinctive,” notes Veitch. “We got the chase sequence turned over quite late and had to develop whole new tools and templates for Nuke to be able to implement rain interaction and wheel spray at speed. It was a mixture of simulated effects for hero cars and Eddy templates for background traffic.”

Extensive digital rain had to be created as director Reeves wanted the car chase to feel wet and dangerous the whole time.

Extensive digital rain had to be created as director Reeves wanted the car chase to feel wet and dangerous the whole time.

The torrential rain was the major creative and technical task. “Matt wanted the car chase to feel wet and dangerous the whole time,” states Langlands. “We added digital rain to all of those shots, which is fairly simple, but when you’re flying through it, that’s a lot more complex. We were modeling how they osculate and deform as they fall so you get those motion blur streaks from them. Our effects team was simulating hundreds of millions of raindrops in every shot. Then we were simulating all of the wheel spray coming off of the wheels. In some shots, we had a mix of 3D, but in most shots 2D solutions for all of the raindrops hitting the road surface. Getting the look of that right, making it feel believable, and being efficient enough that we could do it across that huge number of shots was a real challenge.”

Plates were shot on several different locations including the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, England for the car chase.

Plates were shot on several different locations including the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, England for the car chase.

Dennis Yoo figured out the timing, composition and action beats for the car chase was achieved by creating the postvis. “The great part about that was Matt Reeves shot everything,” remarks Yoo. “You add a CG car beside the practical one, then you have something to play off the motion with. It makes everything easier. What people don’t understand is that it’s a chaotic sequence, but there is also artistry in there with the composition and our motion so you understand the direction that you’re going. That was quite a challenge because it’s a mix of cars crashing into each other, but if it was all chaos no one would know what is going on. It was fun to do, and trying to keep that as realistic as possible was also a challenge.”

“For the compositing team, our challenge was to deconstruct all of the things that happened to the detuned lenses and be able to replicate that for the set extensions and CG shots because it’s so distinctive. We got the chase sequence turned over quite late and had to develop whole new tools and templates for Nuke to be able to implement rain interaction and wheel spray at speed. It was a mixture of simulated effects for hero cars and Eddy templates for background traffic.”

—Beck Veitch, Compositing Supervisor

As many as of 11 plates had to be integrated together for the memorial service scene at City Hall.

As many as of 11 plates had to be integrated together for the memorial service scene at City Hall.

“[Director] Matt [Reeves] wanted the car chase to feel wet and dangerous the whole time. We added digital rain to all of those shots, which is fairly simple, but when you’re flying through it, that’s a lot more complex. … Our effects team was simulating hundreds of millions of raindrops in every shot. Then we were simulating all of the wheel spray coming off of the wheels. In some shots, we had a mix of 3D, but in most shots 2D solutions for all of the raindrops hitting the road surface. Getting the look of that right, making it feel believable, and being efficient enough that we could do it across that huge number of shots was a real challenge.”

—Anders Langlands, Visual Effects Supervisor

The Batmobile had to be photorealistic. “I worked on a movie that was all vehicles,” continues Yoo, “so we grabbed some of that tech, [and in doing so] the ground contacts and using the actual LiDAR from set to dynamically move the wheels for us allowed for more realism to be built into the rig. We reference for everything so we could look at the actual vehicle to understand what it was doing and then mimic that even though we’re changing the motion.” Batman had to come across as skilled driver. “The Batmobile was bouncing off the trucks, and the Batmobile looks like its causing all of this mayhem. We didn’t want it to look like that at all. Matt was adamant about Penguin starting that whole pile-up, and the Batmobile was [more] in there riding the wave than causing more havoc,” adds Langlands.

Distinct lens flares created by cinematographer Greig Fraser required customized tools by Weta FX to digitally recreate them.

Distinct lens flares created by cinematographer Greig Fraser required customized tools by Weta FX to digitally recreate them.

A dramatic upside-down shot is taken from the perspective of Penguin as Batman walks towards Penguin’s overturned vehicle. “That was a funny one because I saw someone on Twitter saying, ‘It’s the most beautiful shot without any CG,’ not realizing that Batman is mostly CG in that shot,” reveals Langlands. “They had a rain machine going, but when you get a big piece of material like a cape wet, it just wants to bunch up and hang down. Matt wanted to have it billowing out in the wind as he’s walking up, so we had to do a digital cape with a cloth simulation. In the plate there is a huge fireball behind him, and because we’re putting a dark object in front of something that is causing a lens flare we had to take the CG Batman and track it to the live-action Batman in composting to patch bits of him.” Rain was not the only problematic natural element. “We raided our element library for every explosion that we had historically,” remarks Veitch. “That was a challenge to get their temperatures matching, because it was on a whole lot of different film stocks and digital formats. Then timing all of those so they came through and exploded at the right time, and patching when we needed to – that was a complex composite.”

“What people don’t understand is that [the car chase] is a chaotic sequence, but there is also artistry in there with the composition and our motion so you understand the direction that you’re going. That was quite a challenge because it’s a mix of cars crashing into each other, but if it was all chaos no one would know what is going on. It was fun to do, and trying to keep that as realistic as possible was also a challenge.”

—Anders Langlands, Visual Effects Supervisor

Situated in an abandoned neo-gothic subway situated underneath the Wayne Tower is the Batcave, which is a huge environment with the workshop, exercise equipment and Batmobile areas being practically built. “Initially there was suppose to be a bat colony which was suppose to be assimilated, but it kept building up more and more,” states Yoo. “It didn’t help that the environment was so big, so we had to cheat because they wanted bats in the foreground, but that foreground didn’t make any sense compared to the environment. We were having scale issues by having the bats quite close to the camera, which didn’t make sense for the bats that were further back.” Darkness prevails in the setting. “We’re adding little kicks and pings off of the superstructure in order to get texture in the background, which is fun because you’re placing little light sources around the place out of focus,” notes Langlands. “That ends up becoming like putting splashes of paint on the canvas.” The shots were simple to composite. “I enjoyed them,” states Veitch, “because we were playing around with a lot of proprietary defocus tools, and being able to compose the focus in those shots and try to make them look authentic. Those lenses are quite incredible and they gave us a lot of reference shots.”

Director Matt Reeves discusses a shot with Robert Pattinson while on the set of The Batman, which was inspired by the crime thrillers of the 1970s.

Director Matt Reeves discusses a shot with Robert Pattinson while on the set of The Batman, which was inspired by the crime thrillers of the 1970s.

Crashing the memorial service for the mayor at City Hall is a SUV, at the behest of the Riddler, portrayed by Paul Dano. “We were combining anywhere between four to 11 plates,” remarks Veitch. “We had small crowds because of COVID, and then there was the careening car which was a safety issue. There were about eight plates for the top-down shots. The shots of the car coming towards the camera involved compositing takes of who they wanted – the Riddler at the top in the mezzanine area, the car coming forward, smoke and dust coming off it, and trying to retain all of that. Very tricky shot.” Careful research went into matching the different plates with each other. “We had to figure out what section of the plate we had to use within those shots,” adds Veitch. “There was a massive amount of paint and roto to do before our compositing team even touched it. Then it’s making sure that we can retain as much of the plate as possible, and then adding atmospherics where we needed to help us cover up edges or replace atmospherics that we had to lose. It is quite incredible how much smearing and lensing artifacts you get with the detuned lensing that we had to match up. It was a lot of work on those shots even without the CG.”


Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

THE RISE AND FUTURE OF HIGH-END <b>EPISODIC VFX</b>
01 June 2022
Film
THE RISE AND FUTURE OF HIGH-END EPISODIC VFX
Episodics ascend to memorable longform cinematic experiences.
UNCOMPLICATING HOW TO BUILD COMPLEX <b>VFX ASSETS</b>
01 June 2022
Film
UNCOMPLICATING HOW TO BUILD COMPLEX VFX ASSETS
Industry pros break down how they made their most complex assets.
<b>EMMY CONTENDERS</b> SHOWCASE HOW MUCH VISUAL EFFECTS HAVE EXPANDED THE VISION IN TELEVISION
01 June 2022
Film
EMMY CONTENDERS SHOWCASE HOW MUCH VISUAL EFFECTS HAVE EXPANDED THE VISION IN TELEVISION
Potential nominees reflect how far TV production quality has come.
<b>ANIMATION RENAISSANCE</b> FUELED BY TECH ADVANCES, NEW STORYTELLERS AND LOCAL CONTENT
01 June 2022
Film
ANIMATION RENAISSANCE FUELED BY TECH ADVANCES, NEW STORYTELLERS AND LOCAL CONTENT
Animated projects are pushing the envelope in content and style.
<b>VFX PRODUCERS ROUNDTABLE:</b> ‘MY TOUGHEST CHALLENGE’
01 June 2022
Film
VFX PRODUCERS ROUNDTABLE: ‘MY TOUGHEST CHALLENGE’
VFX producers discuss the biggest challenges they currently face.
cialis online buy cialis