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September 07
2022

ISSUE

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THERE IS HORROR IN THE CLOUDS IN NOPE

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures and Monkeypaw Productions.

The creature unfolds like origami and moves with the efficiency of a jellyfish.

The creature unfolds like origami and moves with the efficiency of a jellyfish.

Being conventional when it comes to the horror genre is something that does not apply to filmmaker Jordan Peele (Get Out) even when presented with his biggest budget to date for Nope.  The title is the appropriate answer for the viewers left confused by the first trailer which suggested that the characters were threatened by some sort of malevolent environmental force. The observation is partially correct as the turmoil is caused by a UFO creature that is able to channel the wind, but the visual effects work that total 700 long shots also consists of extensive sky replacements, day-for-night photography and a rampaging chimpanzee.

Different types of digital clouds were rendered.

Different types of digital clouds were rendered.

“When Jordan was writing the script, he had a framework for the story and what he wanted that UFO alien to be. Jordan wanted to figure out some of the visuals to help inform the staging of the story and how to play the horror element of our creature and UFO. … We did six months of shot design to figure out how do we make a flying saucer that is classic and simple as well as being a living and breathing creature of the wind. The whole movie happens in the clouds.”

—Guillaume Rocheron, Production Visual Effects Supervisor

“I was one of the first to start on Nope with Jordan Peele,” explains Production Visual Effects Supervisor Guillaume Rocheron (1917), who collaborated with sole vendor MPC. “When Jordan was writing the script, he had a framework for the story and what he wanted that UFO alien to be. Jordan wanted to figure out some of the visuals to help inform the staging of the story and how to play the horror element of our creature and UFO. It’s a movie about spectacle and the addiction to spectacle. Our characters are trying to film and document the sighting of a UFO and it turns into a much darker and complicated story for them. We did six months of shot design to figure out how do we make a flying saucer that is classic and simple as well as being a living and breathing creature of the wind. The whole movie happens in the clouds.”

Horses and helicopters do not go well together, so separate passes were created, beginning with the plate, a helicopter acting as a wind machine, digital effects and final composite.

Horses and helicopters do not go well together, so separate passes were created, beginning with the plate, a helicopter acting as a wind machine, digital effects and final composite.

Horses and helicopters do not go well together, so separate passes were created, beginning with the plate, a helicopter acting as a wind machine, digital effects and final composite.

Horses and helicopters do not go well together, so separate passes were created, beginning with the plate, a helicopter acting as a wind machine, digital effects and final composite.

Horses and helicopters do not go well together, so separate passes were created, beginning with the plate, a helicopter acting as a wind machine, digital effects and final composite.

Conveying size and scale was complicated by the minimalistic creature design. “Its structure unfolds like an origami and becomes a giant creature that is floating in the wind like a giant sail and skirt,” Rocheron explains. “All of that with extremely minimal details on everything. However, in visual effects we like textural details, things that inform scale to help us make things look photoreal. A flying saucer is 240 feet wide, which is like the size of fairly large airplane, so how do you convey scale, how do you make it photoreal, how do you literally make a white disk photoreal and integrate it into photography? It was a big challenge for us on the film.” To get some practical environmental interaction, a helicopter was utilized and subsequently digitally augmented. Rocheron adds, “We did a lot of large-scale dust simulations because dust is your visual cue to understand that the wind is blowing in this direction or the wind is being dragged by the saucer.”

“Its structure unfolds like an origami and becomes a giant creature that is floating in the wind like a giant sail and skirt. All of that with extremely minimal details on everything. However, in visual effects we like textural details, things that inform scale to help us make things look photoreal. A flying saucer is 240 feet wide, which is like the size of fairly large airplane, so how do you convey scale, how do you make it photoreal, how do you literally make a white disk photoreal and integrate it into photography? It was a big challenge for us…”

—Guillaume Rocheron, Production Visual Effects Supervisor

The nighttime footage was day-for-night with a color film camera synced with an infrared digital camera.

The nighttime footage was day-for-night with a color film camera synced with an infrared digital camera.

The nighttime footage was day-for-night with a color film camera synced with an infrared digital camera.

The nighttime footage was day-for-night with a color film camera synced with an infrared digital camera.

The nighttime footage was day-for-night with a color film camera synced with an infrared digital camera.

The nighttime footage was day-for-night with a color film camera synced with an infrared digital camera.

Every shot had CG skies. “Nope is about something hiding in the sky,” Rocheron remarks. “We had to completely create, art direct and light digital clouds. You traditionally do sky replacements because you want the skies to be prettier and look a certain way, whereas for us it was literally our playground. From the previs stage we created setups in Houdini that would give us sky boxes made of geometry that would describe the shape of the clouds so that the clouds could always drift in the direction of the wind. We could keyframe that and animate our saucer hiding and moving through the clouds. It was a huge design exercise to get the clouds throughout the whole movie.” Principal photography took place in California which is very sunny. Rocheron notes, “We said, ‘Our actors are always going to be somehow in between clouds, so they’re always going to get the sunlight.’ In every shot we put the drifting shadows of the clouds on the terrain so to connect the sky and ground.”

Gordy is was an entirely CG creature that goes on a rampage.

Gordy is was an entirely CG creature that goes on a rampage.

“Because all of the encounters happen in that valley at nighttime and cameras don’t see a lot at night. … The only way to do this is day-for-night, where you shoot during the day and in post you try to give it a night look. … We created a new rig where we took a Panavision 65mm film camera and mounted it on a 3D rig with an ARRI ALEXA 65 digital camera that was infrared. Infrared footage gives you perfectly black skies. By match moving the infrared and color film footage we were able to extract depth passes and modulate the visibility. We shot plates at night of a house in the distance and comped those house lights into our day-for-night shots.”

—Guillaume Rocheron, Production Visual Effects Supervisor

Only three shots had greenscreen. “We were going to do all [shots] on location in natural light,” Rocheron states. “Literally, I embraced the blue sky as our bluescreens where we key the blue sky and did a lot of rotoscope to get our actors in and make sure that everything is fitting in. MPC developed an app on the iPad with Unreal Engine that was mapped to the IMAX lenses, and we would go to the virtual viewfinder and we could literally see not only static things but the whole previs on it. We could follow the saucer in the sky that was tracked to the actual location. We looked at it with [Cinematographer] Hoyte van Hoytema [Dunkirk] and Jordan, and said, ‘This is where it is. This is the lensing that works.’ It was trying to stay nimble and embrace the fact that it’s a movie that wants to feel that you didn’t shoot it on the set. It was shot on location and there are imperfections that come with it.”

The props were made 30% bigger so that Terry Notary was at the right proportion to portray Gordy and interact with the surroundings.

The props were made 30% bigger so that Terry Notary was at the right proportion to portray Gordy and interact with the surroundings.

The props were made 30% bigger so that Terry Notary was at the right proportion to portray Gordy and interact with the surroundings.

The props were made 30% bigger so that Terry Notary was at the right proportion to portray Gordy and interact with the surroundings.

Nope is about something hiding in the sky. We had to completely create, art direct and light digital clouds. You traditionally do sky replacements because you want the skies to be prettier and look a certain way, whereas for us it was literally our playground.”

—Guillaume Rocheron, Production Visual Effects Supervisor

All of the nighttime scenes were shot day-for-night. “Because all of the encounters happen in that valley at nighttime and cameras don’t see a lot at night,” explains Rocheron explains, “you have to put lights to see something. One thing that we realized when scouting at night in that big valley is if you turned all of the lights off, the human eye actually sees in the night. The only way to do this is day-for-night, where you shoot during the day and in post you try to give it a night look. The cool thing is that it was a great collaboration with Hoyte. We were like, ‘What if we try to synchronize an infrared and film camera together.’ We created a new rig where we took a Panavision 65mm film camera and mounted it on a 3D rig with an ARRI ALEXA 65 digital camera that was infrared. Infrared footage gives you perfectly black skies.” The film footage provided the color information. “By match moving the infrared and color film footage we were able to extract depth passes and modulate the visibility,” he says, adding that certain nighttime cues had to be incorporated. “We shot plates at night of a house in the distance and comped those house lights into our day-for-night shots.”

The minimalistic design of the creature made it difficult to integrate into the plate photography.

The minimalistic design of the creature made it difficult to integrate into the plate photography.

The minimalistic design of the creature made it difficult to integrate into the plate photography.

Not everything takes place in the skies, as there is a flashback scene of a chimp named Gordy killing people on a television production set. “We made a full-frame photoreal chimp and filmed the whole scene from the point of view of our character, who is hiding under a table and sees the whole scene through a double layered semi-transparent silk tablecloth that diffuses the light and creates obscure things,” Rocheron states. “Terry Notary performed Gordy and gave us amazing performances. We didn’t do mocap per se. We had five witness cameras around the set to document his movements. I took the decision to not put him entirely in the full cap suits. I wanted him to have the clothing that our chimp has and the blood on his face because it was trying to play to the horror and how our chimp interacts with its environment. We did a false perspective set where the props that were in the foreground were 30% bigger. The little girl that is hiding behind the sofa is 6′ foot 2” stuntwoman. We created that overscale environment so that Terry would be the right size for being a chimp and then replaced him with our chimp, but we would get all of the interaction with the set.”


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