The Great Gatsby VFX: Animal Logic Sets the Scene in 3D
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Debra Kaufman : The Great Gatsby VFX: Animal Logic Sets the Scene in 3D
Director Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby opened this summer, largely to acclaim. Fans of 3D in particular were eager to see this narrative drama, which was released in 3D. The film's 3D has largely been a non-starter in the conversations of the film, which, instead, have focused on the acting and how successful Luhrmann has been at adapting an American classic novel. But 3D was just one of the issues that the visual effects facilities had to take into consideration as their worked helped create the meld of historic and fantastical 1920s Manhattan and Long Island.
Animal Logic in Australia was the lead VFX house on The Great Gatsby, with additional work by Iloura, Rising Sun, Method Studios, Prime Focus, and ILM.
In this conversation, Animal Logic VFX Producer Ingrid Johnston and VFX Supervisor Andy Brown talk to Creative COW about their work on The Great Gatsby.
Q: I understand Animal Logic was the lead VFX facility on The Great Gatsby. How many shots did you do?
Ingrid Johnston: Yes, we did 590 shots in the end, and we were on the film right from the start, through the shoot. Andy was on set supervising. We had 175 people working on Gatsby over the course of the year and a half we were on it.
Andy Brown: We did have some early conversations with the production's visual effects supervisor Chris Godfrey when we were bidding for the job. These centered around New York City and Long Island in the 1920s. Chris had just come back from New York on a recon with Baz and he showed us video footage he'd shot of the Queensboro Bridge, the High Line and the Long Island locations of the fictional West Egg and East Egg. Baz's team was part of the initial VFX brief.
IJ: They wanted to create a photorealistic version of New York City and Long Island that was historically accurate but also a bit more modernized. For example, the cars were replicates of the cars of the time but with a modern edge. The costumes, everything is a bit amped up.
AB: Baz referenced a specific time frame, from 1924 to 1930, and we had early designs of the mansions and also some research from historical societies. There was a big emphasis on historical reference photos to make sure there was authenticity.
Our brief was to make everything bigger, brighter, more colorful. Baz didn't want it to be a romanticized New York with sepia tones or brown; he wanted a broader and more saturated color palette, which was almost Technicolor in look.
Tom Buchanan's mansion in East Egg, New York -- a stately and elegant example of the traditions of the American aristocracy.
The mansions were historically accurate, and the gardens surrounding it were designed to be old money classics, whereas Gatsby's garden is more new money and referenced with Oriental gardens. One example of how things were "amped up" is the pipe organ in the ballroom. The design referenced an actual pipe organ from photos but in the movie it was made twice as big, and all the grillwork was shiny and gold rather than the bronze it originally was.
It was never glitzy enough for Baz. He compared Gatsby's mansion to that of a rich Russian oligarch with so much money that everything is over the top, with gold trim everywhere.
Gatsby's mansion in West Egg was the ultimate representation of new money, meant to exaggerate wealth in a garish display in an effort to compete for Daisy's love.
Animal Logic builds Gatsby's mansion from the ground up.
Gatsby's mansion begins to take form.
IJ: That concept ties into the opening of the film with the gold Art Deco filigree of the opening titles. If you look closely, you'll see that Gatsby's house had gold trim on it - especially on the front of the building - as well as the JG logo on the house and on the front gate.
Jay Gatsby built his mansion directly across from Tom and Daisy Buchanan's.
Q: What was the extent of the work you did? I understand it was mostly work to create environments and extend sets.
AB: Starting with New York, we did the aerial shots of the city and then we did Times Square - all of the sequences where Jordan and Nick get in the cab - both the establishing shots and the street levels, as well as the high shots on the top of the hotel. Those shots were another good example of historical accuracy. We had reference photos of Times Square in that era, with the shapes of the buildings. We paid attention to detail, such as the Arrow Collar shirt advertisement, which was in Times Square in that era. In one line in the movie, Daisy says to Gatsby how he's always cool and calm like the man in that billboard.
Animal Logic paid special attention to detail, as seen in this final comp. The Arrow Collar shirt advertisement was in Times Square in that era and played into the interaction between Gatsby and Daisy, where she remarks that Gatsby is always cool - like the man in the Arrow Collars ad.
And just before the main characters are placed...
We also did Myrtle's party. We did the window extensions outside plus all the external shots where Nick gets tipsy and you see that within/without moment of him in the street looking into the apartment, and shots of the guy playing the trumpet - and the big pullouts when he's on the balcony.
We also did two different sequences on the Queensboro Bridge: one was the "Highline" sequence where Gatsby drives Nick into the city, and the other is a chase sequence between the Dusenberg and the coupe. Then we have the high, wide establishing Valley of the Ashes shots. Iloura did quite a bit of work on the Valley of Ashes, but we did some establishing shots here.
Gatsby drives Nick into the city.
IJ: On Long Island, we created a lot of environments, whether it was the high establishing shots of the party, interiors of the ballroom, or Nick looking across to the Buchanan's.
In the big party scene at Gatsby's, the production filled out a couple of the stages and we did all the set extensions. Any time you see any wide shots of the house, we did the set extensions. We also did the shots looking down the corridor in the ballroom, and the dancing scenes.
Dancing scenes at Gatsby's mansion.
Gatsby's ballroom during one of his lavish spectacles. Photo by Daniel Smith.
The grand ballroom, empty.
Q: What were some of the most challenging aspects of those set extensions?
AB: It was all shot in Australia. One of the tricky things was that a single location was made up of shots from many locations, and it wasn't easy to combine all that into one long seamless wide shot. For example, at Gatsby's mansion, the pool section was shot on one stage and the terrace section in another. We did CG replicas of both sets so when we had shots on the terrace looking down to the pool, usually that pool set would be CG, and if you were in the pool section, then the extension would be the terrace and the house behind it.
Nick's cottage was partially shot on stage and some in Centennial Park and part on Mount Wilson, and to bring that all together and make it look like it was all in one place was difficult. They built the front and back of the cottage on the set, then they built the back of it in Centennial Park and the front of it in Mount Wilson, where the foliage looks more like New York than Australia. So, depending on the shot and where it was, we'd start with whatever we could and then have to do a CG replica to blend it.
Daisy at Nick's cottage on West Egg. Here, Nick has invited Daisy over to tea so that Gatsby can "happen" to drop by.
IJ: The work was also more than simple set extensions. Many of the scenes had crowds of people, traffic, lights as well and that was digital. In some scenes, we made digital doubles of Toby and Leo in a CG car when they're driving. In one shot, we had to do a handover from the live action Dusenberg with real people to CG with doubles simply because the set ran out.
Q: Looking at the job as a whole, what were the technical and aesthetic challenges?
AB: When you work with Baz, everything is artistically challenging. He is quite experimental and artistic in his approach. Of course, just trying to get the detail right to make it look like a realistic period film was a real challenge.
"When you work with Baz, everything is artistically challenging."
Technically, stereo camera tracking was our first challenge to overcome as most shots involved a big sweeping camera with dynamic intraocular and convergence settings. This was a big challenge for our tracking team. We integrated a new lighting pipeline here at Animal Logic. The new lighting pipeline is a physically based lighting and surfacing pipeline, a ray-traced approach that gives you a photoreal result in one beauty pass. By being photoreal right off the bat, the artist can focus on creatively and artistically making the shot look better. This pipeline was something we used on Walking with Dinosaurs going forward. It was a whole rewrite of our lighting and surfacing toolset, all proprietary.
IJ: What was great about this job was that we had so many sequences. It was great having a self-contained car chase sequence, shots in the city and on Long Island, the party, shots from every time of day and every kind of weather. Compared to that Manhattan - or even the Valley of the Ashes, a dreary place where people are toiling away on the ash piles, then going to the city, which Baz kept clean and pristine in the midtown areas and having to figure out how to efficiently generate that amount of buildings. New York was a particular challenge because everyone is aware of what the city looks like so it has to be accurate. We had two CG supervisors - Ben Gunsberger and Greg Jowle - go to Manhattan for two-and-a-half weeks to do an extensive still shoot of key buildings and the area we were looking at. We had a helicopter plate shoot as well which helped us for the high aerial shots of Manhattan and Long Island.
Q: Any interesting anecdotes from the production?
AB: The weather was terrible. It is meant to be summer in New York and even though we shot in the summer in Australia, it was rainy and foggy. Everyone went up three times to Mount Wilson and it was completely waterlogged with mud puddles. It was so foggy, you couldn't see anything. Baz wasn't lucky in that.
(L-r) Director BAZ LUHRMANN, TOBEY MAGUIRE and LEONARDO DiCAPRIO on the set. Photograph by Douglas Kirkland.
In the end, we're glad The Great Gatsby is such a success. It's always great working with Baz and this is the fourth film we've worked on with him. He and Catherine Martin are very collaborative. We can't wait for the next one.
Title treatment: © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. (L-r) TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway, LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby, CAREY MULLIGAN as Daisy Buchanan and JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Warner Bros. images from top down:
Tom Buchanan's mansion, Jay Gatsby's mansion, the view from West Egg and East Egg: 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.
Scenes from Myrtle's party: (Clockwise from top left) ISLA FISHER as Myrtle Wilson, JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan, ADELAIDE CLEMENS as Catherine, TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and KATE MULVANY as Mrs. McKee in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Gatsby drives Nick into the city: (L-r) TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway and LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Gatsby's party: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Gatsby's party: (L-r) ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker and TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Gatsby's party: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photograph by Daniel Smith. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
The ballroom in Gatsby's mansion: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photograph by Daniel Smith. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
Daisy at Nick's cottage: CAREY MULLIGAN as Daisy 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. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.
(L-r) Director BAZ LUHRMANN, TOBEY MAGUIRE and LEONARDO DiCAPRIO on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama THE GREAT GATSBY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photograph by Douglas Kirkland. © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.