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


July 27
2021

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

IN THE EXTREME HEAT OF THE ACTION ON THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Rodeo FX and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Angelina Jolie portrays Hannah, a Montana Forest Service firefighter.

Fire is literally a character in Those Who Wish Me Dead where two hitmen attempt to kill a murder witness by burning down a forest. The plan is threatened, however,  when a Montana Forest Service firefighter decides to intervene. The Warner Bros. Pictures’ action thriller is directed by Taylor Sheridan and stars Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aiden Gillen, Jon Bernthal and Tyler Perry. Brought onboard to recreate the forest digitally and then set it ablaze was Rodeo FX, which looked after 283 visual effects shots.

“It’s not like we could say, ‘We’ll just build this portion of the forest and we’ll be set,’” states Matthew Rouleau, Environment Supervisor at Rodeo FX. “Every shot had a different request for where the fire needed to be. We had to build the whole thing in CG and, in some instances, we would keep 95% of the actual forest that they shot. Other times we kept foreground elements and the actors, but everything else was a CG replacement.”

The environment had to look as natural as possible, according to Rouleau. “In doing that, we had to analyze what type of trees make up a forest in Montana.  How tall are they? How many pine needles go into a pine tree? I would spend months with my team building out small twigs, rocks and little pieces. People were thinking, ‘How is this going to amount to a forest at some point?’ But when you look at a forest, it’s such a combination of a massive number of small pieces. Those fine details are what sell it the most.”

Finn Little and Angelina Jolie jump into a water tank standing in for a river surrounded by CG fire.

Practical fire elements needed to be matched in CG.

“Every shot had a different request for where the fire needed to be. We had to build the whole thing in CG and, in some instances, we would keep 95% of the actual forest that they shot. Other times we kept foreground elements and the actors, but everything else was a CG replacement.”

—Matthew Rouleau, Environment Supervisor, Rodeo FX

The fire was created in Houdini, rendered in Arnold and rendered out in Katana.

The practical plate had to be digitally augmented in order to include reflections and interactions with all of the different fire elements.

Mountains were incorporated into the landscape. “We based it off of Google Data to get scale reference of what mountains would look like in that area,” remarks Rouleau. “There was a lot of hand sculpting of actual 3D geometry to get it looking right. The greenery was the same assets that we built for the close-ups of the forest. We just scattered them millions of times on the mountainsides in the right kind of pattern. We had this central portion of the story where there is a fire tower on the top of a mountain and from that we needed to get a 360 view of the mountain range. We needed to be able to spot areas from the tower, like way down in the valley over there is where this sequence happens. It was a lot of adjusting back and forth on versions to get signoff on it.”A fire tower was constructed in a desert situated in New Mexico. “We did use the live-action tower quite a bit and built a CG double that we did use in some establishers.”

A fire setup was created that allowed for the timing to be blocked out and for the direction in which it moved to be controlled. “The procedural aspect involved breaking sections of the forest into smaller cluster areas to run the fire simulations off of,” explains Nathan Arbuckle, FX Supervisor at Rodeo FX. “Some shots had 300 small fire simulations that were running which could all run in parallel as well. There were definitely a lot of requests for specific things that you put on top of whatever procedural system you’ve got. You have the system for the fire that does this, but they wanted it to specifically hit that beat when Connor [Finn Little] and Hannah [Angelina Jolie] jump off into the water. You have to make sure that whatever system you develop is agile enough to be able to accommodate those requests, but at the same time doesn’t create a situation where you’re needing to build a new thing every shot.”

“The biggest challenge was trying to build out a forest that could be as detailed as to be able to put the camera a foot off of the ground and also do aerial shots.”

—Matthew Rouleau, Environment Supervisor, Rodeo FX

The family home of Connor (Finn Little) that gets blown up was an entirely CG creation by Rodeo FX.

“There were definitely a lot of requests for specific things that you put on top of whatever procedural system you’ve got. You have the system for the fire that does this, but they wanted it to specifically hit that beat when Connor [Finn Little] and Hannah [Angelina Jolie] jump off into the water. You have to make sure that whatever system you develop is agile enough to be able to accommodate those requests, but at the same time doesn’t create a situation where you’re needing to build a new thing every shot.”

—Nathan Arbuckle, FX Supervisor, Rodeo FX

A key atmospheric was smoke, which was driven by the fire simulations.

Practical lights and smoke provided interactive elements that allowed for the CG fire to be integrated into the live-action plates.

“There were shots that were tailored to allow the fire to have its moment, but in any shot with actors, it had to be secondary to them. We let the leading edge of the fire grow to make sure that it guided the eye to where the actors were.”

—Nathan Arbuckle, FX Supervisor, Rodeo FX

The CG fire was done in Houdini, rendered in Arnold and rendered out in Katana. “We did build our own custom fire solver to match the practical flames,” states Arbuckle. “In terms of how the fire looked, special effects set a baseline going off of a set that they had actually lit on fire. We worked to an internal grade so whatever changes they made would be consistent. A lot of the time the ash and embers were what would be the precursor of the leading edge of the fire. We did our best to match the practical that they had shot.” It was important that fire did overtake the performance of the cast, adds Arbuckle. “There were shots that were tailored to allow the fire to have its moment, but in any shot with actors, it had to be secondary to them. We let the leading edge of the fire grow to make sure that it guided the eye to where the actors were.”

Hannah and Connor jump into a river that, in reality, was a water tank. “We did a rudimentary water surface, but tried to use as much of the water from what they shot as much as possible,” reveals Arbuckle. “But we had to have something there in order to include all of the reflections and interactions with all of the different fire elements. There was a lot of back and forth about how clearly you would see the fire through the water.”

The forest asset had to be shared with other vendors which included Luma Pictures and Mavericks VFX. “There were a massive number of assets that were built and then planted around in Clarisse [software]. It was quite difficult to make sure that all of the date went to the other vendors correctly,” notes Rouleau. “The biggest challenge was trying to build out a forest that could be as detailed as to be able to put the camera a foot off of the ground and also do aerial shots.”


Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

How to Start a <strong>VFX Studio</strong>
01 October 2019
Exclusives, Film
How to Start a VFX Studio
Four new VFX studios (CVD VFX, Mavericks VFX, Outpost VFX, Future Associate) share their startup stories
The Miniature Models of <strong>BLADE RUNNER</strong>
02 October 2017
Exclusives, Film
The Miniature Models of BLADE RUNNER
In 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner set a distinctive tone for the look and feel of many sci-fi future film noirs to come, taking advantage of stylized production design, art direction and visual effects work.
Converting a Classic: How Stereo D Gave <strong>TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY</strong> a 3D Makeover
24 August 2017
Exclusives, Film
Converting a Classic: How Stereo D Gave TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY a 3D Makeover
James Cameron loves stereo. He took full advantage of shooting in native 3D on Avatar, and has made his thoughts clear in recent times about the importance of shooting natively in stereo when possible...
The New <strong>Artificial Intelligence</strong> Frontier of VFX
20 March 2019
Exclusives, Film
The New Artificial Intelligence Frontier of VFX
The new wave of smart VFX software solutions utilizing A.I.
cheap cialis online online cialis