Metallica Through the Never

Wed 20th Nov 2013, by Paul Hellard | Production

CGSociety :: Production Focus

20 November 2013, by Paul Hellard

Metallica takes OpusVFX Through the Never for their stereo concert movie.

Metallica: Through the Never is a concert-come-adventure movie, 80-percent back-boned with some immense concert footage of Metallica onstage in Vancouver. The ultimate rock concert movie with a dark zombie-themed adventure story thrown in. Shown in the right setting, with stereo IMAX facilities, this is doing the cinema rounds to pretty impressive figures.

Part of this acid flashback dream our protagonist roadie is having, shows him stumble into a riot and come up against a horse-riding, hammer-wielding Death Dealer.

Boyd Shermis was the overall VFX Supervisor on the Metallica: Through the Never and was asked onto the production because he had worked with the producer Charlotte Huggins and her associate producer Adam Ellison after they’d all been involved in ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth 2’ years earlier. This had also been photographed in native stereo. Shermis, a long-time proponent of that 4K Stereo IMAX technique, had since been on the look out for more similar large scale projects.

“This was a film financed by the band themselves, and a project using the tech I wanted to see used,” said Shermis. “So, there was none of the layers of studio involvement you’d typically find,” he said. While Shermis says it wasn’t a VFX-driven film, there were some very fun, unique things the band wanted to do. Metallica spent an enormous amount of money building the concert stage. The physical performance in the live show was enough to make Boyd become a Metallica fan, but there was also the required effort to embellish the stage effects after filming that concert.

Opus VFX received the shots with the matte paintings and extensions from Method and into the hands of VFX Producer Brad Reinke. Key Opus crew had worked with Boyd in the past. His history at Rhythm & Hues and Frantic Films (now Prime Focus), gave them lots of opportunities to collaborate. “Opus was brought in at the end of this project and they originally had not thought they’d need to augment the concert footage. We weren’t involved in the early stages as at, but we came right there for the final push. We were there to completely destroy the place, with a little help from Metallica. Being a stereo show, this was a big job, and being in Winnepeg, Manitoba, there were also certain tax incentives that allowed us to take on the job,” explains Reinke. “Manitoba is growing in popularity, as it is able to accommodate requests for basically any climate sequences, be it snow, desert, jungle, metropolitan city, suburbs, you name it.”

“Boyd is one of those supervisors who handles things very carefully. He’s not one to do in-your-face effects,” said Reinke. There are two sides to this film but it's not just a big arena concert. The story begins when they send one of the roadies out to do something and he runs into all kinds of surreal, Metallica-esque things that happen. This is the narrative side of the film that makes up the remaining 20 percent of the movie. It has to be said that the bulk of the VFX were generated by Method Vancouver, and because there were changes and extensions, Shermis asked OpusVFX to come in on the work and finish the additional work which was mostly stage VFX from the concert footage which wasn’t packaged into the original deal with Method.


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The effects that OpusVFX did were limited to those effects bloomed on the stage. Using Fume FX inside of 3ds Max, they also used Fusion to composite with NUKE and Maya as standby. With these packages, they generated an extensive library of sparks, arcs and smoke. Most of the VFX that OpusVFX had on their list of work for the Metallica movie was augmented explosions. The stage is falling apart, equipment is failing, blowing up all over the place. By the time the concert is winding up, the place is really exploding, but it wasn’t part of the plan during the filming of the concert itself.

“For the concert footage, there was little or no on-set data capture to work with” adds Shermis. “No lens data, distances or chrome balls for lighting values. In any case, the lighting on the stage as you imagine, was changing every second or so. Because there was also practical smoke and light blooms, the CG light and practical light effects made this a real challenge.”

There was also a huge polystyrene statue on the stage during the concert and at some point they wanted it to crumble and fall apart. The Opus VFX crew had to rebuild in CG, augment it as though it was concrete and destroy the monument onstage, together with dust, clouds and extra stage damage. This was done with no 3D referencing like LiDAR, and the prop needed to be rendered in Stereo at IMAX resolution. A huge effort.

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It doesn’t stop there. On the stage there were these four huge Tesla coils that are lowered down out of the rafters shooting bolts and zapping electric arcs around the stage. The original electrical arcs were all practical and it was decided the cameras wouldn’t go too close to them. It was just too dangerous. “We needed to enhance the bolts, while making it look good without ripping your eyeballs out,” says Shermis. Brad Reinke continues on: “These Tesla arcs come out into 3D space, and the stage lighting is just so dynamic and all over the place. Because it’s augmented in post, the Tesla arcs interact with that stage lighting. It’s great to watch.”

Opus VFX Supervisor Mike Shand had supervised the ‘ocean’ sequence in ‘Journey 2’ and he’d worked with him on ‘Swordfish’, and because he'd worked in such large stereo productions as Avatar, he was asked to work on this one too. “The arc was exaggerated in CG and this was extended out in stereo for the 4K IMAX production. The trick with the sparks though, and there were a lot of them,” adds Shand, “was for us to match the ones that were already there. We built proxy objects for all the stage geometry because we had to build the extra lighting effects into the set. We used that to relight the stage in stereo and the stage surface was slightly reflective so we did some extra lighting bounce for that as well. The real challenge was making the augmented effects completely seamless with the practical effects on stage on the night.”

“The trouble was that when you created one explosion,” adds Shermis, “yes, it looks like an explosion. We’re not reinventing VFX by doing that. Everyone does explosions. Now the challenge is to make them look natural, organic and like it’s happening there on the stage. It was a lot harder than we thought it would be.”

There was also an Electric Chair hanging over the stage at one point. The electric chair is sort of an icon of Metallica and so holds quite a focus with the fans. This Electric Chair has sparks flying but Opus VFX had to go in to expand the explosive effect of the stage sparks, beyond the safety boundaries of the stage effect. The arcs could then go off into the audience and out to the camera, making it pop the stereo effect and look edgy and dangerous.



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