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September 20
2022

ISSUE

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METHOD STUDIOS GETS INTEGRATED WITH SPIDERHEAD

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Netflix and Method Studios.

The only practical element built for the Spiderhead facility was the entranceway.

The only practical element built for the Spiderhead facility was the entranceway.

Convicts willing to volunteer as medical test subjects get reduced sentences, but in the process begin to question the reality of their emotions in Netflix thriller Spiderhead, directed by Joseph Kosinski and starring Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Mark Paguio and Tess Haubrich. Method Studios, led by VFX Supervisor Dominic Hellier, created 160 shots under the production supervision of Ryan Tudhope, who collaborated with Kosinski on Top Gun: Maverick.

Composites were done for monitors in the control room.

Composites were done for monitors in the control room.

Spiderhead was a great opportunity and suited my skill set really well,” Hellier notes, citing “the integration of our CG building and some nice effects work with the car crash. Also, Joe coming off of Top Gun: Maverick had come from a place of real photo-reality integration, and this [approach] was paramount with this [film]. Coming from a compositing standpoint, we were able to work backwards from the plates we were given that were shot beautifully up in the Whitsundays [Whitsunday Islands along the coast of Queensland, Australia]. It was a great experience working across the different departments, having come from the end of the pipeline and discussing how things might end up in compositing, and pre-empting any issues.”

“Joe [director Joseph Kosinski], coming off of Top Gun: Maverick, had come from a place of real photo-reality integration, and this was paramount with this [film]. Coming from a compositing standpoint, we were able to work backwards from the plates we were given that were shot beautifully up in the Whitsundays [Whitsunday Islands along the coast of Queensland, Australia]. It was a great experience working across the different departments, having come from the end of the pipeline and discussing how things might end up in compositing, and pre-empting any issues.”
—Dominic Hellier, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios

A thorough booklet of the design of the Spiderhead facility was provided to Method Studios that included not just its structure but also the interior fit-out.

A thorough booklet of the design of the Spiderhead facility was provided to Method Studios that included not just its structure but also the interior fit-out.

Kosinski has a strong design aesthetic. “Before we came onto the project, in terms of the Melbourne studio, there was a great production design process with Jeremy Hindle and specifically about the Spiderhead facility,” reveals Hellier, who iterated the most on the weathering of the prison that has existed for 50 years, to make sure that the size and scale were reading correctly. “They also engaged an architect, Adam Spychala, who has done a lot of 3D renderings of Brutalist buildings that he has designed himself, that had caught Joe’s eye. There was a thorough booklet of the design of the facility, not just of its structure but also the interior fit-out. By the time we came onto the project to build the production model, there was a lot of great reference from them about the look and what they were chasing. As an extension of that, Ryan [Tudhope] had a great idea of what the priorities were for the visual effects, in terms of texturing of the building, the reality of the concrete and making that feel tactile, and where to invest our time on such a big asset build.” Initially, the new aspect was the fairly shot production schedule. “Then we had a hiatus and came back,” Hellier adds. “We finished the majority of our work in the first part of the project, particularly the facility shots. It was about getting the texture asset team, look development and lighting running concurrently so we could get shots through to get the asset approved.”

“We did some of the psychedelic treatments when Jeff [Miles Teller] and Abnesti [Chris Hemsworth] are under the influence of the drugs being tested. For the most part, it was chromatic aberration treatments and lens flares additions. That was a fun process to look develop with Joe, who had a particular idea and wanted to keep it in the realm of optical effects and not go too far out. There is a shot at the end when Abnesti is flying his plane under the influence of these drugs and we had to do these sundog effects shown from his point of view.”
—Dominic Hellier, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios

Weathering had to be incorporated into the texturing of the Spiderhead facility, as it is supposed to have been around for 50 years.

Weathering had to be incorporated into the texturing of the Spiderhead facility, as it is supposed to have been around for 50 years.

The float plane approaching the Spiderhead facility at the start of the film was a 3D build.

The float plane approaching the Spiderhead facility at the start of the film was a 3D build.

“We did a 3D build for the float plane that you see approaching the facility at the start of the film,” Hellier explains. “However, a lot of the flying shots are practical. Anytime the plane is parked at the front of the facility under the overhang, we did a CG build there to shadow catch for that and did the same for the speedboat that is out front.” Previs provided a guide to the desired silhouettes cast by Spiderhead,  such as for the dock scenes that were actually shot at a dam in Queensland. “They had a few blockers and things, but nothing that really had the scale of what we were putting in there in terms of the facility and blocking the sunlight. There was problem-solving for that shadow casting and integrating that stuff into the structure of the facility. Thankfully, for the most part, the characters were in shadow, as there was a blocker on the day that helped. Also, things like color temperature of the water between the dam and what you would see in the Whitsundays, this beautiful blue ocean; those sorts of differences and subtle grading [were needed] for integration.”

“One thing that was different between the concept art and the location was man-placed boulders surrounding the facility. It was like a big, almost human-built island, whereas the islands at Whitsunday are volcanic rock. It was a lot of fine-detail, coral-looking formations in the rock there that didn’t transition well into the Brutalist design of the building. We also did a build of surrounding rock formations on top of the scan as if they were placed there to support this facility when it was built. Also, some in the shallows of the water.”
—Dominic Hellier, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios

Actor Miles Teller was practically shot rolling in front of the camera during the car crash scene.

Actor Miles Teller was practically shot rolling in front of the camera during the car crash scene.

A partial tree stump rig was constructed, so the rest had to be CG extended along with the flames.

A partial tree stump rig was constructed, so the rest had to be CG extended along with the flames.

Whitsunday Island was partially LiDAR scanned. “One thing that was different between the concept art and the location was man-placed boulders surrounding the facility,” Hellier states. “It was like a big, almost human-built island, whereas the islands at Whitsunday are volcanic rock. It was a lot of fine-detail, coral-looking formations in the rock there that didn’t transition well into the Brutalist design of the building. We also did a build of surrounding rock formations on top of the scan as if they were placed there to support this facility when it was built. Also, some in the shallows of the water. There is a shot at the start of the film of Chris Hemsworth walking in, captured from above, looking down on him. We’re looking into the water, so we had some boulders placed under there to help with the integration.Also, off of the back of the building is a lot of vegetation.”

An important part of the environmental integration was properly casting shadows to reflect the presence of the Spiderhead facility.

An important part of the environmental integration was properly casting shadows to reflect the presence of the Spiderhead facility.

Whitsunday Island was partially LiDAR scanned.

Whitsunday Island was partially LiDAR scanned.

A car crashes into a tree and explodes. “That was a stunt rig tree stump that the car ran into, so we had a full tree build for that and had to integrate our explosion within the tree, going up through the branches, and distributing that, smoke and interactive lighting into the scene,” Hellier reveals. There was a practical explosion. Continues Hellier, “With the half stump, it didn’t interact with anything as it went up. We gave ourselves a CG version of that explosion with deep renders, and then had our CG tree in there, and could interweave the fire within the tree.” There is a shot where Miles Teller’s character flies out through the windshield, comes tumbling across the grass and rests right at the camera. “We had one plate where the car hits the stump and another plate with Miles in the foreground as he  lands flat on his chest. We had to build that animation that got us from point A to B. We would simulate a car crashing and put a rag-doll digital double that picked up the velocity of that crash and tumbled away. That informed our final animation,  and we had to tweak that so it ended up landing in his final resting place.”

Method Studios, led by VFX Supervisor Dominic Hellier, created 160 shots for Spiderhead.

Method Studios, led by VFX Supervisor Dominic Hellier, created 160 shots for Spiderhead.

“We had one plate where the car hits the stump and another plate with [actor] Miles [Teller] in the foreground as he lands flat on his chest. We had to build that animation that got us from point A to B. We would simulate a car crashing and put a rag-doll digital double that picked up the velocity of that crash and tumbled away. That informed our final animation, and we had to tweak that so it ended up landing in his final resting place.”
—Dominic Hellier, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios

The dock was actually shot at a dam.

The dock was actually shot at a dam.

Chris Hemsworth portrays Steve Abnesti, who is in charge of the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Facility, where he attempts to influence inmate behaviors with experimental drugs.

Chris Hemsworth portrays Steve Abnesti, who is in charge of the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Facility, where he attempts to influence inmate behaviors with experimental drugs.

Other work included security footage of the boats and blood augmentation for the car-crash death of Emma (BeBe Bettencourt). “There were effects simulations of the blood hitting the window and running down,” Hellier remarks. “Very gruesome stuff. We also did some environment extensions outside of Spiderhead. Anytime  we are looking out of Abnesti’s [Chris Hemsworth] window, or outside through the front with the islands and water, was us doing environment extensions. It was all matte painting photography stitches.” Not everything had to be photorealistic. Comments Hellier, “We did some of the psychedelic treatments when Jeff [Miles Teller] and Abnesti are under the influence of the drugs being tested. For the most part, it was chromatic aberration treatments and lens flares additions. That was a fun process to look develop with Joe, who had a particular idea and wanted to keep it in the realm of optical effects and not go too far out. There is a shot at the end when Abnesti is flying his plane under the influence of these drugs and we had to do these sundog effects shown from his point of view.”


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