News 24.03.20

CUTTING EDGE BRINGS THE INVISIBLE MAN TO REALITY



The Invisible Man marks the sixth collaboration between Cutting Edge and Blumhouse, and the second with Australian Director Leigh Whannell.

Cutting Edge’s Head of Feature & Television, Marcus Bolton describes the synergetic relationship between the studio and Director. “We were incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to continue the relationship, after such a successful partnership on Leigh’s last film, Upgrade. We developed a special rapport and a shorthand with him, which very much carried through the multiple projects.”

Instrumental in this relationship was Cutting Edge’s VFX Supervisor Jonathan “JD” Dearing, who, having bonded both on set and in post-production with Leigh, carried that legacy forward for The Invisible Man.

“JD & I had the privilege to go to the world premiere in Hollywood and to see our world-class work helping to tell the story, on the IMAX big screen no less, was incredibly special!

Marcus Bolton, Cutting Edge Head of Feature & Television

We not only delivered for Leigh, but for Goalpost Pictures and for Universal Studios / Blumhouse. They entrusted the production to not only be shot here in New South Wales but to have the VFX done here as well. 

JD, the entire Cutting Edge team and I feel this is our finest work and are so proud of what the team delivered.”

Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass in “The Invisible Man,” written and directed by Leigh Whannell.

Cutting Edge sat down for a chat with JD about his experience of working on The Invisible Man:

It looks like you and Leigh worked together for the first time on Upgrade. What did you learn about collaborating on that film and how has that translated to The Invisible Man?

I led the VFX team at Cutting Edge, working alongside Director Leigh Whannell on Upgrade which revealed our mutual understanding and approach to VFX. Specifically, we both see the role of VFX as supporting a practical (i.e. real) approach wherever possible. In the case a practical approach is not achievable, our shared approach would be to exercise a level of restraint to ground all VFX in the real world.

In all cases, our mantra is the same, that VFX should be as believable as possible. One should not be tempted to create something so out-of-this-world that the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

Let’s start with the suit. Tell me anything and everything you can about the challenges with the design and what you wanted to accomplish?

First and foremost, we were tasked with recreating a CG version of an existing physical wetsuit and then finding a way to display and demonstrate the technology visible to the audience, within the confines of that suit.

We then had to introduce the CG components and the hardware that was capable of moving hundreds of CG lenses that created the camouflaged surface of the suit.

This 3D suit had to animate and mimic the exact movements of the stunt man’s green suit performance, whilst also maintaining the integrity of the surface. This meant hundreds of hexagonal-shaped cells working and keeping together as the suit moved through a range of motions.

When your team and Leigh began to imagine what it would look like, what were some of the different options you considered? How did you decide on the ultimate design?

One of the great things about working with Leigh is his conviction in the things he likes. They invoke a strong, immediate emotional reaction in him. He’s able to quickly hone in on that feeling, and commit to a way forward.

The first meeting the Cutting Edge team had for The Invisible Man (TIM) was focused on the suit. We sat around the table throwing out ideas and design concepts. As soon as we sighted reference of a dark, simple, wet-suit style design and various hexagonal detailed shapes, they struck a chord with Leigh, myself, the art director and the costume designer.

We quickly settled on a design after Odd Studios were tasked with mocking up some tests based on Leigh’s brief. It was a very decisive, efficient concept and design phase that never really deviated from start to finish.

Can you talk about VFX challenges on a few key sequences?

One of the major VFX challenges was removing the green suit from The Invisible Man’s performance. This was particularly difficult when the stuntman’s green suit was in front of talent, or on backgrounds that we didn’t have motion control passes for.

The obvious technique for the task of removing the green suit is the use of a motion control rig. This enables one to capture a matching clean plate to facilitate any clean-up required. Unfortunately, this option wasn’t always available to us, for example when faced with physical limitations of a given space. An instance that springs to mind was when the motion control rig couldn’t fit in the attic space. 

Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass in “The Invisible Man,” written and directed by Leigh Whannell.

In the shot where Cecelia (Elizabeth Moss) throws a can of paint from a man-hole in the attic opening, at what appears to be an empty ladder, it’s revealed to be the outline of TIM, only a foot or so from her.

Originally Leigh had envisioned this shot with the camera finding the man-hole as a point of light in a sea of black, and then in one consistent smooth move transitioning it’s way to looking down through the opening, at which point Cecelia would overturn the paint tin revealing TIM.

Leigh was eager to utilise extended single-shot camera moves throughout the film in favour of a more traditional action cut. If we had shot this scene without a motion control rig, the results could not have been guaranteed. It may have risked the clean plate required to clean off the green suit being highly mismatched, thus compromising the shot.

After various attempts at repeating a Steadicam move to mimic a motion control rig, and discovering this too was compromised due to the tight confines of the attic space, Leigh agreed to lock the camera. This enabled us to focus more closely on the green suit performance and its interaction with the paint being thrown, without the complication of combining two moving plates with motion blur in low light conditions.

The suit used in this shot was a bespoke green version of the black suit seen in the film. We’d requested this version and were keen to embrace the suit’s uniquely textured surface as it would be visible when the paint covered it. The practical elements worked seamlessly, and the VFX work was completed in 2D by our compositing team.

Key moments of the mental institution. So amazing!

The mental institution corridor fight scene is a great example of what motion control passes can offer; not only to gain clean plates but to seamlessly stitch multiple choreographed big-hit action moments together.

These passes could include clean-up of wire-rigs, stunt mats, squibs or window breaks.

All these key singular moments could be rehearsed so the action occurred with the camera in the optimal position. Breaking up the action moments meant the timings of the sequence as a whole were not affected.

The end result was a very tight-action sequence, with big camera moves that somehow seem to predict the impending action.

The VFX team at Cutting Edge had much clean-up to do; we replaced a lot of the floor with a CG creation, and obviously, the CG TIM character was added. We also replaced the practical gun moment with a CG gun that TIM used halfway through the sequence. Finally, we stitched all the passes together which also included us blending into a Steadicam shot as we follow Cecelia into a stairwell, followed by another blend into the foyer before we exit the building and the shot. 

What other scenes should we cover?

Another aspect of working with Leigh that is terrific and worth mentioning is his flexibility to embrace new ideas or technology, and his openness to finding a way to incorporate them. One instance of this that made it into the film is a new 360-degree camera I was testing on the tech scout days.

I had decided to update my on-set kit and wanted to put my new camera through its paces to get familiar with it, as I use this type of camera on shots to get quick HDRI’s and even scan sets.

Whilst reviewing some of the earlier shots with Leigh on the bus, I showed him how I could pan around the image on my tablet during the location scout, and how cool it was to be able to interactively look wherever we wanted. Leigh loved the shots and the technology, and we started discussing how it could be incorporated into a TIM point of view.

The conversation around tech continued, and before I knew it Leigh had gone away and written it into the script.

In the lab scene where Cecelia first discovers the suit, we filmed her interacting with my 360-degree camera and tablet live and all her movements on the film camera and the tablet are in-camera. This is another prime example of the joys of working with Leigh, as he’s so highly collaborative.

A few words about working with SFX supervisor Dan Oliver’s team on key sequences?

Working with SFX Supervisor Dan Oliver and his team is a big part of the Leigh Whannell parcel. Dan is fantastic with a lot of experience in the industry and similarly incorporates a highly practical approach to filmmaking. Our team is always happy to support Dan’s first idea at attempting any FX as a practical approach if he feels it’s achievable.

We know from experience that there’s little point in pushing a CG visual effect if it can be achieved in-camera for a number of reasons. No one questions the results if it works, however, there are normally unforeseen bi-products that can add extra detail or value that no one could have predicted. It’s also always desirable for the actors to have something tangible to react to.

However, sometimes a practical special effect may not work or may need assistance – which is where we step in! If a passenger car window needs to explode, VFX could offer a solution. But if the glass does actually shatter in the camera, we instantly capture an element that has been created in the correct lighting environment and behaves in the correct physical way. The shatter may still need to be shot against a blue screen, and if we need to shoot silicon pieces from an air cannon to increase the effect, post is happy to take these practical elements and composite them together, rather than doing the whole effect in CG. We call it FX synergy.

Get in touch with Cutting Edge to learn more and discuss projects.

Ausfilm members working on The Invisible Man: Fox Studios,