Artists at The Mill point to the open and collaborative creative process with 72andSunny and storied director Mangold as essential to bringing the entertaining teaser to life. With only five weeks prep before beginning work on 63 shots, The Mill's team laid the groundwork for VFX from day one. "We created concepts for every environment, previs'd the more complex sequences, built assets and fine-tuned the pipeline," explains Robert Sethi, Creative Director, The Mill. "We improved our color workflow, worked on our simulation pipeline, created more accurate lighting models for FX and improved our workflow for digital cities, to note just a few tasks. During the shoot, we shot HDRIs and grey and chrome sphere for lighting references, and LiDAR scanned the bigger sets or hero props."
'Epic Night Out' filmed over seven days at locations ranging from the Warner Bros. lot and a blue screen stage, to Burbank Airport and a hotel lobby dressed like a casino; The Mill delivered 63 shots in just two-and-a-half weeks.
Chris Knight, The Mill's Co-Lead 2D Artist and a Shoot Supervisor says that Flame and Nuke platforms were utilized for extensive compositing by the eight-person 2D team. Rotoscoping was done concurrently as shots were prepped working closely with the CG team to ensure an efficient workflow. Each compositor worked on a different sequence yielding a consistent look and feel, which greatly sped up the compositing process. Daniel Thuresson, Co-Lead 2D Artist with Knight, adds: "Our main focus was creating a workflow that would be as seamless as possible and optimized what would ultimately be on the screen."
Among the VFX sequences highlights, the opening of 'Epic Night Out' features a destroyed Sin City shot on an empty parking lot at Burbank Airport. "We cut out the car, tracked the scene and recreated the entry to a destroyed Las Vegas environment," Sethi explains. "We used a combination of matte painting and CG assets. If you look closely you can find many fun details, maybe even a little lizard.
"Another highlight is the battlefield of Caracas, this was shot on a sound stage with a blue screen. We created a digital Caracas based on game references for every shot. The CG assets were highly detailed and we used an in-house shader to create all the windows; only the very far background was a matte painting. We added simulated fireworks to the shots, an exploding drone and an entire floor of a skyscraper exploding."
A favorite scene among the The Mill artists depicts the heroes in outer space. The sequence was a combination of actors on a blue screen stage-whose performance included bouncing on a see-saw to simulate floating in space, full CG shots digital doubles and combinations of CG doubles and limb replacement and real actors.
Sethi continues "Once we finished previs-ing the sequence, we analyzed the shots to prioritize which to shoot live action and which to create CG. For CG, we carried our assets straight over from previs into full CG animation. We had scanned all the suits and the actors' faces, and created assets that would work for close-ups. This gave us plenty of flexibility to capture the shots that needed live-action performance, while action-filled shots could be executed fully CG.
"Of the VFX shots, almost all had a digital background or heavily augmented plates; many also needed CG explosions, fire, smoke, digital doubles or vehicles.
Knight adds: "Each shot also had various levels of compositing work involved, from total background replacement with CG and matte painting to adding exploding helicopters and planes, destroyed walls with bullet holes, fire and smoke and muzzle flashes."
Adam Scott, Head of Telecine for The Mill's Los Angeles studio, set an initial look on the raw shots working closely with 72andSunny Producer Eric Rasco and CD/Designer Rey Andrade, as 2D and 3D teams worked on the raw shots and applied the initial grade while compositing. Scott then conferred with director Mangold, his director of photography Kramer Morgenthau and 72andSunny's creative team to set a final look for various scenes.
Scott explains: "As the effects work completed we refined the grade, enhancing the natural feel of each scene-the warm late afternoon sun of the opening, the moody depths of the night time rooftop, the contrasty starkness in space, the bright coolness of the ice and back to the warmth of the late sun in the ending. It was important to retain the detail in all the images and effects while maintaining strong contrast and impact."
Finally Sethi adds, "This was a huge undertaking with a very tight schedule, and an incredibly exciting challenge. Everyone worked very hard, but had a lot of fun, it was great to see the passion and dedication from all of the The Mill's team as well as having the amazing experience of working with James Mangold and, as always, 72andSunny."