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The Great Gatsby VFX: Iloura's Valley of the Ashes

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CreativeCOW presents The Great Gatsby VFX: Iloura's Valley of the Ashes -- Film History & Appreciation Feature


Santa Monica California USA

©2013 CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


In director Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, one of the more dramatic locations is the Valley of Ashes, a bleak, depressing rubbish dump that the characters pass through on their way between Manhattan and Long Island. Nearly everything there was created by Iloura, an Australian VFX company. Iloura Visual Effects Supervisor Julian Dimsey and Compositor Matt Omond speak with Creative COW about the work they did to create the Valley of Ashes.



Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.



Q: Describe your job on The Great Gatsby.

Iloura Visual Effects Supervisor Julian Dimsey. Copyright © 2010, Bernard Winter. All rights reserved.
Iloura Visual Effects Supervisor Julian Dimsey.
Photo credit: Bernard Winter. All rights reserved.
Julian Dimsey: Iloura came in quite late in the post production process and ended up doing 120 shots. We were given one specific environment in the film -- the Valley of the Ashes. It was an actual area in turn-of-the-century New York, where all the rubbish was dumped and burned. In the movie, it's the area that Gatsby had to drive on way from Long Island to New York City. It's also where Myrtle, the woman who is having the affair with Tom Buchanan, lives.

The brief that Baz Luhrmann gave us was to make the Valley of Ashes a complete contrast from the beauty of New York City and Long Island, in short, bleak and depressing. The area is alive 24 hours of the day with garbage being processed through night and day.

The film's Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Godfrey was great at providing us with a great array of reference he'd collected throughout the production of the real Valley of Ashes. There is quite a bit of photography from that era, including aerial shots from airplanes from the 1920s and 1930s. Our matte painters and modelers spent quite a bit of time studying that reference to get a genuine look to our digital environment.

Q: Did you start from scratch or did you have any materials to start off with?

JD: We took our cues in part from what the art department built, combined with the historical photos. They provided some vehicles, shanties and a few mounds of garbage, and part of our job was to enhance, embellish and extend all of it. We had to remain fairly true to that style established by the art department so that what we created would seamlessly blend in. The ash piles were built to varying degrees of detail depending on where they sat in shot. Then from that stage, we added the industry. Part of the brief was to add CG factories, cranes and machinery and beyond that digital cars to make the environment a lot busier. Production provided us with a vast array of people shot on bluescreen performing a variety of tasks, which we used to populate the area even further.


(L-r) JASON CLARKE as George Wilson, TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Part of the brief was to add CG factories, cranes and machinery and beyond that digital cars to make the environment a lot busier.


For just about every film we work on these days we expect that we will have to rotoscope and clean up the mid to wide shots that involve VFX given the difficulty of putting up large green screens in exterior locations.

Probably 10 percent of the rubbish heaps were real and the rest was us. The art department had made some piles that were 10 feet high and 15 feet wide, which were great in that they saved us a lot of work for the close up shots, but also set a look on which we based our digital assets. With Valley of the Ashes location, anytime you looked in any direction, regardless of how tight the shot was, we pretty much had to treat it in some way. The mid and wider shots involved set extension, the addition of machinery, people etc. The tighter shots required the addition of atmospherics so that they would cut smoothly within the sequence.


Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
The tighter shots required the addition of atmospherics so that they would cut smoothly within the sequence.


We deliberately evolved the look of the piles throughout the film, as they would have if they were real. We created a library of junk consisting of what you'd expect to find on rubbish heaps such as bits of metal, clothing, old wooden boxes, etc. -- and we populated the hill with the bits of junk, depending on how busy Chris and Baz wanted the hill to look. Also, the size of the hills grew through the story as well, to enhance the sense of realism.


Director BAZ LUHRMANN on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Justin Ridler. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Director BAZ LUHRMANN designing the look for The Valley of the Ashes. Iloura populated the hill with the bits of junk, depending on how busy Chris and Baz wanted the hill to look. Photo by Justin Ridler.


Another big part of creating the environment was the addition of the smoke and dust effects. In fact, that was a large component of creating the look and feel that Baz was after. Our smoke and fire was generated out of Fume and, again, we created a library of smoke effects. The effects department, rather than deciding on a specific kind of smoke in a shot, created a library of smoke and we let the compositing department have the freedom to create a look they felt fit the shot and the scene. The library contained over 100 different kinds of smoke, thick or wispy, black, gray or white, etc.


(L-r) JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan, TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
The effects department created a library of smoke and we let the compositing department have the freedom to create a look they felt fit the shot and the scene


This approach made the shots almost interactive for Baz, in that, if he wanted to revise the smoke or dust in any particular shot, we could go back into the library and revise relatively quickly out of nuke. If we hadn't had the library of smoke effects and he'd decided that a particular sequence required a different style of atmospherics, we would have had to go back to the effects department and it would have taken a couple of days

Iloura Compositor Matt Omond. Copyright © 2010, Bernard Winter. All rights reserved.
Iloura Compositor Matt Omond
Photo credit: Bernard Winter. All rights reserved.
Matt Omond: As lead compositor, one of my tasks was to make sure that there was continuity within each sequence. I'd layout the look and feel for shots that were representative of the whole scene and then the other compositors would use that as a guide for their individual shots. Because we were treating almost every shot within particular sequences it was very important to get the look of the atmospherics and the ash piles, the wind direction, etc. consistent across a large number of sequential shots.

JD: Every day, we cineSync with Chris Godfrey, and he'd talk about what he liked and didn't like and we could see what he pointed at...then we'd record that and take it back to the artists. Once Chris was happy, he'd show it to Baz. Chris was very, very in tune with what Baz wanted, so usually if Chris liked it, so did Baz.

The other section of the film we worked on, also in the Valley of the Ashes, is when Myrtle is hit by Gatsby's car. We were supplied a blue screen studio shoot with a stuntwoman rolling across the hood of the car and Leo in the car. We had to smash the window screen and have Myrtle flying everywhere. It was very tightly choreographed, and because it's such a significant scene in the movie, Baz was very specific with how much glass was smashed and how it was smashed. We had to reverse engineer from what the car looked like after the crash, and choreograph the glass flying up in the air, mixing with the pearls that get broken and fly up in the air. We had to generate the whole background environment as well because the car shot on blue screen. There was reference footage of the road, but not at night and it had none of the drama that Baz wanted. The gas station was real, but everything surrounding it -- the hills, the fires, the crane -- we created all of that.


A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
The gas station was real, but everything surrounding it -- the hills, the fires, the crane -- Iloura created all of that.


Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.


Q: What software did you use?

We used Autodesk Maya in the 3D department, rendered out of VRay and used Fume and Thinking Particles, a 3D Studio Max piece of software, for all the necklace and smashing windshield work, and Fume FX for the fire and smoke. Everything was composited in Nuke and all the roto and clean-up was done in Nuke. We also used a bit of Mocha. We also used SynthEyes in our matchmove department.

When the shots go off to the matchmove department, there's a delay of about a week before we get them back. During that time, I had the eight people in the effects department start to build the library. It probably took a month to build the library, and you can produce quite a number of variations of smoke in that time. Once you have a scene that looks good, you can make the smoke slightly darker or thinner, so the versions weren't that hard to create. With eight people producing two pieces of smoke in a week, that's 16 versions, and then you can create some iterations, a day each, to dial up each iteration. Within a month, the library was fairly substantial.


TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.



What was much more time-consuming was the necklace and the windshield breaking. The direction was quite specific, and we had to defy gravity a bit. Also, because the film is 3D, we all had to be very conscious where the pearls went into 3D space. We couldn't just throw them at the car and let them bounce around; there was a speed-up in the shot too, so we had to be conscious of that. Baz wanted a few of the pearls to go towards the audience, some had to fly directly up in the air, which defied gravity and we had to justify that. Some of the behaviors didn't fit into a classic dynamics situation and had to be hand-animated. It was a challenging sequence but I think it turned out looking pretty good.

Q: What was the challenge of creating visual effects in 3D?

JD: : Any film shot in stereo is an extra consideration of how it looks in 3D space. Of course not only do you have to get the comp looking right as a 2D comp but also getting it to look right in 3D adds an extra level of difficulty. The matchmove department have to place everything so it is spatially correct, so when it passes through the other departments, everything is sitting in the correct space. With regard to clean-up and rotoscoping, in a 2D film, you can throw in a lot of work arounds. In 3D, it has to be super accurate, and spatially accurate as well.

It probably took us half again the time to make sure that the effects were done correctly -- it generally translates to the other eye, but it's about half the amount of work again.


JASON CLARKE as George Wilson in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.



Chris Godfrey, the film's VFX Supervisor provided us with a LIDAR scan of the set, so we had really good idea spatially where the gas station sat relative to the road, the factory, and so on. This data proved invaluable for the match move department

On previous stereo jobs we've done, we've had to clean up the stereo -- whether it's color disparity or spatial disparity. What helped us on this job was that Animal Logic did all that clean-up before we got the plates, and all of the plates matched beautifully.

I had my reservations initially about The Great Gatsby in 3D, but once we saw our shots in stereo, we thought it really worked. I think the stereo suits the style of the film really well.

ISLA FISHER as Myrtle Wilson in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Myrtle stands inside the gas station in the Valley of the Ashes.


Q: I understand that creating Valley of the Ashes was a bit of a rush job.

JD: It was pretty quick given the amount of shots we had to complete. We worked on this for four months. It was a bit of a 911 call and the Valley of the Ashes was the perfect, self-contained sequence to package up for us to do as a standalone.

Overall it was very enjoyable project. Having worked with Baz and Chris on Australia, it was great to re-establish that relationship. Chris was so in tune with what Baz wanted, that once we got into it, it rolled along very smoothly and quickly became a very enjoyable project. We had to grow by around 30 people, so we got to work with quite a number of overseas 3D artists and compositors. We flew people in from all over the place to work with our full-time crew. You try to get local people first, but the majority of Australian VFX artists were already working on Gatsby at various studios around the country, which is why we had to bring people in from overseas. I found that very enjoyable, working with a new group of people; you learn a lot from people who have worked for companies all around the world.

As with every project that goes thru Iloura, it was very much a team effort and, although it was hard work at times, everyone at Iloura felt working on Gatsby was a very rewarding experience.






 

Title graphic: (L-r) TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway, ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker and JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

(L-r) JASON CLARKE as George Wilson, TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

Director BAZ LUHRMANN on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Justin Ridler. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

(L-r) JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan, TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (c) 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

The Gas station in the Valley of the Ashes: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

JASON CLARKE as George Wilson in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.

ISLA FISHER as Myrtle Wilson in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.


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