The VFX of Temple
talking with Nguyen Anh Nguyen and Santiago Menghini
TEMPLE - Behind the Scenes
Nguyen Anh Nguyen
What is it for you, to be a filmmaker?
Being able to build an extraordinary universe that only exist in my mind and make the audience connect and feel something. It's sometimes a great challenge to create that, but it's very rewarding to be able to show my unique vision of the world.
How you started your path on making "Temple" movie?
I’m from South America originally, my parents are Argentinian and moved to Canada eight years ago. I have a Bachelor’s degree in film production from a school here in Montreal. Film was always an important part of what I did since I was a boy, and visual effects stemmed from that. Visual effects always appealed to me. I saw them as a means to be able to create anything I wanted to put into my films, without any restrictions.
This then led directly to me starting to learn to work in a few programs such as After Effects, and Nuke to 3D programs and now on to Fusion. I knew Anh from film school, we studied the exact same program and we had previously collaborated on a few smaller projects. Eventually, he came up to me asking whether I wanted to work on an extremely ambitious film trailer, The Akira Project, and I agreed.
The project grew and we eventually got artists who were working on it from all over the world. When The Akira Project was released, it then went viral online. The same people who ended up working on The Akira project then moved on to working on Temple later.
It came very naturally to go in and start on Temple, working with Anh was a joy as we have known each other for so long.
Filming the Temple is gathering a lot of artists. It makes it such an impressive project. Could you tell me more about what types of ideas from different artists were included in the film?
This was a challenge. Due to budgeting constraints and limitations of artistic availabilities we knew we needed to approach each artist with clear instructions as well as provide them with a sense of creative freedom. We made a conscious effort to keep Anh involved with direct communications with the artist’s creative challenges, while I would supervise the overall technical quality of the work. Most of the time artists would come up with their own solutions to a visual problem and in turn inspire use. If we felt the artists were heading in the right direction we encouraged them to continue. In rare instances did we ever dispute an artist's creative decision. Also, it is important to note, we had a moodboard to help artists grasp Anh's artistic vision. It made it simple to communicate his intensions as a filmmaker. The moodboard proved to be an invaluable tool for this international collaboration to work.
Do you have any criteria for what you would consider "The best shot” in Temple, and what kind of role you bring in this for visual effects?
In my opinion, the criteria for what makes a great visual effect shot is one that integrates the visuals with the story and one that does not bring attention to itself. Personally, this is a hard question to answer but I have devised two shots that stand out for me in Temple.
o The first is a very brief shot in the film, a close up of the cybernetic arm [00:02:37]. The shot has dynamic camera movement and reveals the arm in an action of a 'power-up'. I like this shot because it combines the visual effect with the narrative. It is a necessary effect in order to propel the story forward rather than one for solely aesthetic reasons. The shot is quickly misses but personally, it is one I thoroughly enjoy.
o The second is one I had no involvement in, and is one many people would not consider a visual effect but I certainly do - a crossfade! [00:06:04] The crossfade serves as a very simple transition, it looks great and sets up an amazing tonal shift in the film. I really like the aesthetics of the shot, its simplicity in terms of visual effect, and its effectiveness in progressing the plot.
Could you tell a bit about what idea was included in the film and how it help you in your work on the film?
The process of working with an international group of artists was beneficial not because they were spread around the world but because they were dedicated and talented individuals who shared in the vision of the director.
In the future, I would certainly consider doing it again but this method of working does have its drawbacks. The downside is the communication times, but thankfully many online tools have helped close this gap and make collaborating a more seamless process. I would encourage any production to consider this as an option.
What kind of visual effects were more demanding in the "Temple" movie and why?
I think it came down to having faith in Anh and what he wanted to achieve, then allowing that initial seed to evolve and grow throughout production and post production. A good example is an arm texture effect that we created where one of the characters needed to have the tattoo like pattern on his skin light up during the main fight sequence.
Originally, the arm effect was supposed to be entirely practical, done through a cast with prosthetics and makeup. Then, because of budgeting constraints we found we weren’t able to do it in the way we’d originally envisaged. But that is part and parcel of working on a guerrilla film project like Temple.
We experimented with the idea of using tracking markers to record any arm movements made during the fight sequence, with a view to then digitally recreating the tattoo effect later in post production. This, however, presented its own challenge: using tracking markers would impede on the actor’s performance, a crucial issue in such an action heavy scene.
The solution involved using a Mocha to Fusion compositing workflow to create the light up effect on the tattoo digitally.
First, on set we tried to keep all of our camera movements as simple as we could, without dramatic pans, and shot the sequence at a higher frame rate of 80fps and a 90 degree shutter angle so that we could get reduced motion blur. We also used a small practical light, and a dimmer below the actor, so that as he flexed his arm a technician could ramp up the light and create all the luminosity needed to give the illusion that this light was actually emanating from his arm and hitting his body.
Next, we took things into post, bringing our shot into Mocha. We tracked all the movement and created all the masks needed, then brought these into Fusion using a very simple Tracker Node with the Perspective Positioning mode applied. This isolated the arm, giving us a plate where distortion was happening to the rest of the shot, while the arm itself was totally fixed and unaffected. This meant we could more easily create the textures needed to light up the tattoo on top of it.
We then layered several different textures onto the arm to achieve our cybernetic look and blended them for a tattoo like effect. Finally, we then composited that back into the shot by removing the perspective, shifting so everything fell back into place, and applied motion blur and glow as a final touch.
We also did a “blood pool” effect in Fusion, so when the guy dies there’s a blood pool that grows out of him, and we did that in Fusion. At first we didn’t know whether it was going to be possible to do solely in Fusion.
I carried out a couple of tests using Fusion’s 3D toolset, however, and it worked perfectly! Fusion has an extremely powerful 3D environment, which meant I didn't have to waste time switching between multiple applications to complete the work. I created, textured, and animated a customizable pool of blood growing in a 3D space and composited that into the final shot. The best part is now we have a customizable blood pool that we can use as a 3D asset to import into any other future projects.
You are not the first time prefer to use software like Fusion and Resolve for visual effect. Could you tell our readers how starting your work with Blackmagic Design?
But my first reaction was I’m not 100 percent confident I can work in this program, it’s new and there was a learning curve and I would have to take the time to learn it, but then when I did I loved it! I was surprised to see how quick it was to learn, and it was a lot faster than I thought it was going to be.
Learning Fusion wasn’t that daunting at all. In fact, I found it to be very liberating from a creative standpoint. Being able to work in a node based environment was much more fun, I could see all my composite in one glance. It also provided me with a much more visual way to see my project broken down into its constituent components.
The particle system in Fusion is also amazing. Being able to create simple smoke or fog really is a great asset when you need to create depth within a shot, and brings all the elements of a scene together. It makes a big difference.
During filming, you used cameras from Blackmagic Design. What challenges did you face during filming with these cameras, and where did you got the opportunity for taking a perfect shot?
The different cameras we used all had their own strengths and flaws. One of the biggest challenges was to capture the various scenes in dynamic and original ways. For that, we opted to use lots of movements and unique camera angles. The URSA did a tremendous job as a solid central unit, placed on a jib and dolly rig, that was still able to move quickly and fluidly to get the shots we needed. The Pocket Cinema Camera was placed in very innovative ways directly on the actors and in hard to reach areas, to capture the intensity of the fight sequence.