Q&A with Les Misérables’ Compositing Supervisor Greg Spencer
Monday, January 14, 2013
Whether you have already seen it or are yet to enjoy the eight
times Academy Award nominated musical marvel of Les
Misérables, you can't have avoided hearing the effect the film is
having on everyone who steps through the cinema doors, mostly
involving tears. Lots of tears! I caught up with Mill Film's Greg
Spencer who was the Compositing Supervisor, on his involvement in
the film including ghost effects, style frames and creating such
impactful skies that they became another character in the film.
When did you start working on Les
We did some previsualisation down in Pinewood at the start of
shooting in February, this then led onto us being involved with the
VFX which we started in May.
Can you talk me through Mill Film's role?
There was a lot of 2D work on Les Misérables. Seeing as most of
the revolution scenes were shot on a set down at Pinewood, our job
was to add in extra buildings in the background and various skies
for different times of day. The director told us at the start that
the skies were to be like another character in the film, so we did
various style frames until the director settled on something he
liked and then went from there.
There were a few occasions where we had to do some crowd
replacements or pad out crowd scenes as well. We had our own little
shoot for that out at a studio, so if you look carefully in the
film you can probably spot a few compositors. You can tell who they
are because they look like they have had no sleep!
We also did the "ghost effect" for Anne Hathaway's character, and
removed plenty of ear pieces, which the actors were wearing so they
could hear a piano to sing along to.
And your specific involvement?
I was the Compositing Supervisor on Les Misérables. This
involved dealing with all the 2D artists, as well as communicating
with our VFX Supervisor, Sara Bennett. We would also run internal
"dailies" sessions every day in which myself and Sara would look at
all the shots together and talk about what we thought would make
them better before giving feedback to artists.
How did you approach the project?
Well, we needed to get a solid idea of what each sky
looked like before we started. We knew there would be a lot of roto
involved so while that was getting done, myself and the VFX
Supervisor began taking single frames from what we considered
"hero" shots and began throwing as many skies into them as
possible. That way we could see what did and didn't work. It was a
quick way of getting a strong visual idea of how things would look.
When we had narrowed it down to two or three skies, we chose a few
key shots from each of the scenes and did rough versions to see if
they would work on the move. We also did a couple of matte
paintings of the city.
What were the challenges involved?
The whole thing was shot with multiple cameras running at
once and usually songs would be done in one long take, so there was
very little time for them to put up green screens. This meant a lot
of roto, which was especially difficult with hair running across in
front of set lights etc. and we had to clean up a lot of light
flares from the set.
Also, as the set only went back about two or three
buildings deep, there was a lot of work involved in adding
buildings back in behind the set. We had our 3D team make up geo of
buildings and placed them in. We had a LIDAR scan of the set, and
we would look at that in 3D to see the position of the buildings
within the location, just to make sure we were placing the right
buildings in the same places each time. Sometimes it was quite hard
to tell which way the camera was facing because of the loose style
of a lot of the shots. With the matte paintings, the director
wanted to make sure they matched up exactly with the live action.
In one case this meant we actually took his live action plate of
the barricade and made it fit into our matte painting. It took some
pretty creative comp'ing but having it in there made it look so
much better in the end.
There were also quite a few errant cameramen that needed
to be removed! Most of it was also shot in a very handheld style
which meant a load of tracking to get skies to sit
Did you use any new techniques or
Most of the techniques we used were pretty tried and tested ones
actually. Although, I haven't really seen compers all sitting
around with LIDAR data open trying to work out positions of
building geo before.
What was your favourite moment whilst working on Les
Probably meeting some new and very talented compositors on the
job. We ended up spending a fair amount of time together in the
Have you ever seen it at the West End?
Unfortunately I have not, but I have always been meaning to!
(All Images c/o Mill Film/Universal Pictures.)