Zero VFX: Why Some Effects Are Better Unseen
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Zero VFX is one of the east coast's leading visual effects facilities specializing in supervision, compositing and matte painting, digital environments and set extensions, and photo real artistry at 24 frames per second. The team has worked on major motion pictures as well as national commercial campaigns for the likes of McDonalds, Klondike and Jeep.
While audiences worldwide have come to know the art of visual effects as mind-blowing explosions, unimaginable virtual landscapes and hyper-realistic digital makeup, Zero VFX specializes in the subtler art of visual effects. mocha Pro enables the Zero VFX team to track shots to perfection, resulting in effects the viewer can't – and shouldn't – see.
Kyle and Gerard Andal, lead compositors at Zero VFX, have been using mocha Pro from Imagineer Systems for years now, it being the primary tool they used in their previous roles at a different company. As lead compositors at Zero VFX, the planar tracking tool comes in handy quite often. "mocha Pro is a good tool to have in terms of having flexibility and getting the job done in an efficient manner," comments Kyle. "When we first started out, mocha's planar tracking was hands down the best out there and we used it heavily. And that notion still holds true today, everyone is using it."
For Gerard and Kyle, mocha enables them to zip through visual effects tasks, fitting perfectly into their workflow and helping to facilitate their creative process. "The challenges we face are primarily time-based," Gerard states. "We parse out tasks to our junior artists, who are able to get shots done on deadline. With the tracks already done by them, we're able to increase efficiency in the pipeline by streamlining the process, freeing Kyle and myself to work on the creative stuff."
Kyle adds, "It's especially hard to take time to train other people on things they may not have prior experience with. Luckily for us, mocha is fairly easy to understand, so our artists can hit the ground running. It's quite impressive when a junior artist comes in, tracks a really difficult shot and gets good results out of it. This takes major time and stress off us, so we can focus on the stuff that makes the movies enjoyable – it's the magic."
Zero VFX American Hustle VFX breakdown
Most recently, Kyle, Gerard and the Zero VFX crew brought that invisible postproduction magic to "The Way Way Back" and "American Hustle." In the former film, there were a handful of shots with Susanna (main character Duncan's love interest, played by AnnaSophia Robb), where the crew could be seen in the reflection of her sunglasses. To fix this, the VFX team used mocha to track the glasses, replacing the crew's reflection with that of a cleaned up beach.
According to Gerard, "mocha does a really good job at recognizing the object and tracking in space; it's an ideal planar tracker."
For American Hustle, the Zero VFX team was able to apply the same concepts that they had used on The Way Way Back to digitally erase the unwanted crew reflections in the sunglasses of both Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) and Rosalyn Rosenfeld (played by Jennifer Lawrence)
Final comp with film crew removed from the sunglasses.
For "American Hustle," the Zero VFX team was able to apply the same concepts to digitally erase the unwanted crew reflections in the sunglasses of both Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) and Rosalyn Rosenfeld (played by Jennifer Lawrence). A much more intensive removal shot encompassed an entire storefront.
A more intensive removal shot encompassed an entire storefront and required extensive planar tracking to assist in digitally erasing the unwanted crew reflections not just from two small pairs of sunglasses, but a huge plate of glass window.
Final plate accomplishment was a challenge, according to Kyle Andal.
"To remove the crew reflections from the storefront window, we had to first recreate the interior of the building behind the glass," explains Kyle. "We used a combination of mocha and Nuke to track the background motion in order to add a clean store interior without the crew in it. Next, we added our own 'glass' on top of our recreated store interior by tracking the original reflection and adding back a clean version of the street in front of the store. We then added snow elements on top of all of the match-moved clean plates. Finally, we rotoscoped the talent as well as their reflections and added them back on top of the shot to complete the crew removal. Easy peasy. Just kidding! It was a challenge, but luckily we had the right tools."
Gerard, Kyle and the team faced even more difficult challenges on "American Hustle," as they had to essentially recreate the entire facade of the Park Plaza Hotel, which was surrounded in scaffolding at the time of shooting. Not only did the team have to reconstruct the building in post, but they had to give it a 70s feel as well. "Sean Devereaux, our VFX supervisor, had to go to New York to take pictures of the building, which we then patched together to make a high resolution version of it for the film," says Kyle.
Zero VFX American Hustle VFX breakdown
He continues, "We had to track the shot to make it appear as though no construction was going on. We used mocha to track the plate and add our own Park Plaza plus 1970s looking elements. Groovy."
"mocha was really good for the 'American Hustle' pipeline," Gerard adds. "We tracked the shots in mocha and used the data from that to drive corner pins so we could accurately place elements in Nuke for the final composite."
American Hustle trailer
In the fast-paced world of post-production, Kyle and Gerard need tools that will work the first time, every time. In this regard, mocha more than delivers. "mocha helps us a lot with time management," Kyle tells us. "It's great for our quick deadlines, saving us time, which we can then spend on the creative side of things. Plus, mocha offers a lot of key features, like going outside the frame of the shot. There aren't too many trackers than can approximate where the motion of the object is – and not many can do what mocha does."
Gerard agrees. "It's definitely a very good tool. Without mocha we would face a lot more challenges. It's enabled us to expand our capabilities as well as take on other jobs we might not have been able to do – we have mocha Pro and Red Bull to thank for that."