The creation of a new reality is a necessary part of the modern film industry.
New film or new media projects build an alternative reality, the future, a new reality, or even the past. All of these are full of difficult standards of believable world creation that are not written in guidebooks.
One of them is feeling reality through the inner atmosphere. In this case, the atmosphere is not smoke, haze, or something that is much deeper.
But one key point that solves that task today is real filming with the real physically intractable environment.
Filming in a real environment requires different approaches other than using a green screen.
Interaction with the environment and its objects gives a greater impression to both the actors themselves and the director on the set.
The perception of a scene or action depends not only on how well the effects are rendered, but to a greater extent, how realistically and plausibly the environment itself is felt in which the actors live and what they interact with.
Modern technology has given us many new tools for filming, beginning from augmented reality right during filming and ending with the use of special studios that completely re-create the virtual world.
Yes, all this was done precisely so that the viewer could feel the reality of what is happening. The movement of the camera, light, color, shadow, and even the movement of the actor is of great importance in the perception of reality.
This is primary; the effects only enhance and complement the final result. And it is these elements that are an integral part of the atmosphere itself, which absorbs the viewer. Nowadays, no such progressive technology can provide such an effective interaction as filming can by using a real physical environment.
The Call of the Wild
The Call of the Wild
Special Effects Supervisor
Creating believable special effects in a real-world physical environment can be an arduous and challenging task at times.
The settings within The Call of the Wild called for extensive coordination between the visual effects department, the art department, and the practical special effects department. Some of those sets included the following:
We had to create beautiful and realistic looking winter environments in 1800s gold rush era Yukon Canadian Territory, in 80 to 90 degree semi-arid desert conditions in Southern California using real ice and various biodegradable and environmentally safe fake snow products.
This also included three large water features: an iced over river in which a character breaks through the ice; an underwater filming tank with water movement and a ceiling of ice; and a large section of a flowing river near a cabin for Thornton (Harrison Ford) to pan for gold and various scenes involving the canoe Thornton (Ford) and Buck use in the story.
Additionally, our hero dog Buck, all of the additional sled dogs, and various other animals in the film were digitally modeled and created in post-production, so all of their resulting interactions with humans and their real world environments had to be created on screen.
(i.e. dog sleds had to be pulled by mechanical devices; anytime they touched something, bumped into something, grabbed something with their mouths, crashed into or through anything, etc.).
The items would need to be motivated in a realistic real world environment. Also, the water rescue sequence and final fight scene involving Buck had to be created without an actual dog.
The three biggest and most interesting special effects scenes in the movie were:
The creation of the river near Thornton’s cabin. The story called for a 300 foot section of flowing river to be created for various scenes involving panning for gold, swimming, canoeing and a few other interactions with Thornton and Buck.
The river contained approximately 350,000 gallons of water. There were four 30 inch pipelines with enormous water pumps, which were used to recirculate the water creating a current capable of 75,000 gpm of water movement.
An enormous amount of filtration was used to make the water safe for the actors and camera operators.
The scene/stunt of Francois (Cara Gee) breaking though the ice and Buck rescuing her on 30 Mile River.
We constructed two 40 foot current tanks that created the movement of water similar to that of a flowing river, and a breakable ice surface that would allow Francois to break through the ice and the get swept under with the current.
There was an additional tank with flowing water with an iced surface to allow Buck and Francois to break through and escape during Buck’s rescue of Francois.
The River Flow
The fire/burning and collapsing of Thornton’s cabin during the final fight sequence of the movie. During the fight sequence between Hal (Dan Stevens), Thornton and Buck, Buck lunges at Hal pushing him into Thornton’s burning cabin and the burning beams from the cabin roof collapse on Hal.
This burning cabin sequence was built and shot in an area of high fire risk. We took an immense amount of effort to create this effect safely and in coordination with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
A roof of fire resistant balsa ceiling logs were built and designed to collapse on a stunt performer with the camera and limited crew members inside the cabin.
In pre-production, there were many conversations and meetings about how to coordinate the various scenes that would involve stunts and practical special effects.
A pre-visualized animation was created to helps us determine which scenes would involve practical effects, visual effects and stunts and which scenes would be entirely visual effects creations.
This way we could break down the work into manageable pieces. The next step was to conduct tests of the various scenes and then scrutinize the look and feel of the test results and adjust accordingly.
The Call of the Wild is a true example of a creative collaboration between real and virtual world elements through persistent and focused hard work and often challenged by schedule changes, actor availabilities, difficult weather conditions and the limitations of the physical world.