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March 16
2021

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

THE WANTING MARE AND THE DREAM THAT BECAME A REALITY

By TREVOR HOGG

Little did director/writer/Visual Effects Supervisor Nicholas Ashe Bateman realize that he would embark on five-year odyssey involving 40 days of principal photography divided into two sections captured over a period of two years and followed by three years in post-production where the visual effects shots doubled from 300 to 600. There was also the matter of raising the necessary funds via a couple of Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns and him still left wondering if that was enough to complete the project. The blood, sweat, tears and several burned-out computers have paid off as The Wanting Mare arrived in the U.S. cinemas and nationwide VOD in February, and has paved the way for Bateman to work on studio productions such as The Green Knight by David Lowery. The fantasy drama takes place in the world of Whithren where a line of women has a recurring dream thought multiple generations.

“My survival mode was so high during those two years of shooting because we never had the money to finish it,” notes Bateman. “I didn’t have the time to ask, ‘What if none of this works?’ However, once all of the footage is a hard drive and you’re staring at a computer, that’s when you’re allowed to have that thought. The response to it over the past six months, where people seem to be excited and get the strange balance I was trying to achieve between a visual effects movie and a serious arty drama, has been great.”

 

Inspiration came from the behind-the-scenes featurettes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. “I had a theory, which was misplaced,” acknowledges Bateman, “that I could use their template of what was achievable with visual effects back then with modern technology, but they were still way ahead of me. However, their avoidance of 3D assets for at least the first one became my bible. It’s all 2.5D shots in the film.”

 

The original shoot took place at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia and Baltimore. “We were a crew of five people and tried to bank as much footage of hands, feet, grass and dirt as possible because it was going to help when we got into the thick of the bluescreen menace to come,” states Bateman. “The scenes at Peggy’s Cove are the most untouched in the movie. We found one good alley in Baltimore that had nice lighting and had a pitch to it which I liked.” The second shoot took place in a warehouse in New Jersey. “If we had tried Peggy’s Cove again it would have been logistically impossible to shoot the movie that we wanted to make. My cinematographer, David Ross, preferred the indoor work because it gave him more room to light. We were also lucky enough that the warehouse was white inside so David could use the walls as giant bounce cards. He would light the ceiling and get a soft top light for nighttime, which was incredible.”

Nicholas Ashe Bateman, Director/Writer/Visual Effects Supervisor

“The response to it over the past six months, where people seem to be excited and get the strange balance I was trying to achieve between a visual effects movie and a serious arty drama, has been great.”

—Nicholas Ashe Bateman, Director/Writer/Visual Effects Supervisor

The layout for the last talking shots in The Wanting Mare.

The view from Hadeon’s Window is one of the favorite shots of Nicholas Ashe Bateman.

All of the visual effects work involved matte paintings. “Some of them we had good source footage stills that I used predominately to break apart in Photoshop and assembled in layers as a matte painting,” explains Bateman. “The second of which was my limited 3D modeling ability at the time allowed me to make rough geometry for locations that would be viewed at different times through various angles or lighting. I rendered out those template angles and photobash on top of it from stock images. I had a whole arrangement of hundreds of photos on my hard drive that created a library. The whole movie was composited in After Effects. In each of the layers I could have animated birds or overlay stock footage of moving grass. Then I could copy and paste that into each new shot.”

There are no 3D water simulations in The Wanting Mare. “It was figuring out how to stabilize stock footage of water taken top-down by drones, tilting that as a flat layer, overlaying it on the matte painting of still water, and when it’s out of focus it catches enough of the waves to be like, ‘That’s moving water,’” remarks Bateman. “The city was also a giant challenge because I started way bigger than I needed to. I was able to put in the highlights and gains of those city lights knowing that the threshold of the lens would blow them out of focus and turn them into twinkling lights. If I had a master 3D model of the city none of that stuff would be happening. I was effectively accommodating for how the matte painting would look when it was out of focus. Some parts would be bright. Other parts would be dark. Knowing that meant that I could achieve a look that I would want. But if you were to see the matte painting in focus, it actually looked worse because I’m drawing big highlights and window lights.”

Amongs the digital environment enhancements were herds of cattle and a river situated beside a town that was a mixture of physical CG buildings.

“We were a crew of five people and tried to bank as much footage of hands, feet, grass and dirt as possible because it was going to help when we got into the thick of the bluescreen menace to come. The scenes at Peggy’s Cove are the most untouched in the movie. We found one good alley in Baltimore that had nice lighting and had a pitch to it which I liked. The second shoot took place in a warehouse in New Jersey. If we had tried Peggy’s Cove again it would have been logistically impossible to shoot the movie that we wanted to make.”

—Nicholas Ashe Bateman, Director/Writer/Visual Effects Supervisor

Matte paintings were constructed using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

 

Most of the principal photography took place in a warehouse in New Jersey.

 

“I am going to take a couple of things from making The Wander Mare,” reflects Bateman. The first one is my own creative journey and process of figuring out instinctively the things that I like and don’t like. Now I have a good bible for my own style. In terms of the execution, it is a reliance and obsession with good concept and design because that is where all of the decisions are made. Everything is impossible without it. The other is I have worked for other people for years and now I’ve had people work for me for years. All of those relationships were not run by money. They were run by ideas, dedication and passion. It has been an extended reflection for me on how you make good on people’s time and get people to work for you.”

 

Footage was captured on a Sony a7S II with a Ninja recorder on it to get a 10-bit DNxHR file out of the camera.

The evening shot of Moira’s House was one of 600 visual effects shots.

“I had a whole arrangement of hundreds of photos on my hard drive that created a library. The whole movie was composited in After Effects. In each of the layers I could have animated birds or overlay stock footage of moving grass. Then I could copy and paste that into each new shot.”

—Nicholas Ashe Bateman, Director/Writer/Visual Effects Supervisor

A combination of bluescreen and greenscreen where utilized, with them sometimes appearing in the same shot.

The project is not something that Bateman will not forget about anytime soon. “The exciting thing I keep talking about is that I get to speak to people, like yourself, who interview visual effects professionals and talk about real movies that people are going to see. That is insane and incredible to me! I’m so grateful. It’s hard to even process because websites, like VFX Voice, and your articles David Ross, Zach Schaefer [gaffer and visual effects artist] and I were reading in an office working on this movie going, ‘If they’re doing this here maybe we can apply that there.’ Keeping that up over a long period of time was hard. Additionally, there was a lot of great will from the people working on The Wanting Mare.”

“I am going to take a couple of things from making The Wander Mare. The first one is my own creative journey and process of figuring out instinctually the things that I like and don’t like. Now I have a good bible for my own style. In terms of the execution, it is a reliance and obsession with good concept and design because that is where all of the decisions are made. Everything is impossible without it.”

—Nicholas Ashe Bateman, Director/Writer/Visual Effects Supervisor

Practical shooting took place in an alleyway in Baltimore.

A breakdown showcasing the various steps in constructing the matte painting in the background.

Even when shooting in real locations, the backgrounds were completely redesigned to better reflect the desired world building.

Paintings by Andrew Wyeth, N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish influenced the world building.

Filmmaker Nicholas Ashe Bateman with cinematographer David Ross and producer Zack Schaefer.

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