Scott Waugh, director of DreamWorks Studios’ Need for Speed, was once a stunt performer/coordinator and his experience is apparent from the start of the film, which includes plenty of real street racing, practical car crashes and many other live-action stunts. Released by Walt Disney Studios and based on the popular racing video games of the same name, Need for Speed stars Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as street racer Tobey Marshall, who braves a near-impossible, cross-country journey that begins as a mission for revenge, but proves to be one of redemption.
Badly damaged cars and production gear were augmented in post by the Cantina team.
Waugh’s goal was to make a film that paid homage to the style of racing movies from the 60s and 70s. He also wanted the contemporary look that comes from well-executed, innovative visual effects. So Bandito Brothers, the multi-media company he co-founded, and DreamWorks Post Production teamed up with VFX houses Cantina Creative and Atomic Fiction to deliver the films visual effects.
Cantina created the bulk of the VFX work for the film over the course of six months. Relying primarily on Cinema 4D, After Effects and V-Ray, they delivered approximately 1,000 shots that integrated seamlessly with the practical imagery that was captured on set. Atomic Fiction also provided VFX, including a fiery bridge crash, CG fighter jets and a jail yard set extension.
With picture editorial and Cantina both house at Bandito Brothers, Sean Cushing, Cantina Creative’s co-founder and executive producer, was able to work closely with editorial day to day. Tony Lupoi, Cantina’s VFX supervisor, joined the project when principal photography began, creating a more efficient VFX workflow that was in sync with editorial and ensuring a more streamlined post-production process.
“We truly integrated a pipeline that would weave our VFX operations with Bandito’s editorial department so we could take advantage of a customized workflow that suited our very specific needs, Lupoi recalls.
At editor Paul Rubell’s request, the practical Koenigsegg car was replaced with a CG McLaren during post.
Editorial and VFX worked closely together to maintain continuity during the race sequence.
Atomic Fiction was responsible for supervising overseeing on-set VFX for the duration of the shoot while Lupoi collected on-set assets during the night shoot in San Francisco. This was a particularly challenging scene because of the immense amount of paintwork and set extensions that were required. Gathering specific VFX plates that replicated proper perspectives under similar lighting helped expedite the visual effects workflow.
“Scott runs a tight set and does a fantastic job making all of the different pieces come together,” Lupoi says. “He trusts the VFX process and is open to collaboration, so we can game plan a shoot to save time on the backend during VFX.”
After a stunt driver executed a dramatic in-camera move, Cantina augmented the McLaren P1 in post. To capture this stunt, the trailing Lamborghini was not only a picture car, but also a camera chase vehicle
It helped, too, that the Cantina team had access to the dailies so they could start work on visual effects early in the process. “For this film it worked better for us to avoid a typical post-vis workflow, and everything we did was with the scans right from the get-go,” says Lupoi, adding that Lance Holt, Bandito Brothers Director of Post-Production, was tremendously helpful when it came to accessing dailies pulls.
Lupoi describes Cantina’s VFX team for Need for Speed as “nimble and powerful.” In addition to Lupoi, the crew included Cushing, VFX Producer Lily Shapiro and ten visual effects artists: Aaron Eaton, Stephen Morton, Andrew Furlong, Julianne Dome, Matt Eaton, Josh Sprinkling, Jenny Kennedy, Leon Nowlin, Takashi Takeoka and Annemarie Gereis. All of the Cinema 4D artists were responsible for cloth simulations, volumetric lighting, camera projection, texturing, dynamics, Thinking Particles, animation and modeling and compositing the different passes.
Cinema 4D was used in several different ways by the team. One of the most striking uses was the creation of the film’s full-CG holographic Mustang sequence. Specially designed by Ford, Marshall’s custom Mustang is capable of reaching a top speed of 230 mph, and he reveals the super-charged car at a pivotal point in the film.
Using C4D, Cantina transformed galloping stallions from holographic silhouettes into a series of shattered particles that took the shape of Marshall’s supercharged Ford Mustang.
Cushing oversaw the sequence and helped shape each shot creatively. The scene begins with digitally projected holographic mustangs (the horse kind). After galloping briefly, the horses disintegrate into digital bits and shards before reassembling as Marshall’s new Ford Mustang. The effect was achieved using event-driven Thinking Particles systems in Cinema 4D.
Sequences in the film’s climactic DeLeon Race also presented CG challenges for the Cantina team. Lupoi credits 3D artist Stephen Morton, who used C4D and V-Ray to augment the battered backend of the McLaren during the sequence. Many of the reflections in the scenes were generated from the practical plates to ensure realistic interaction. Cantina utilized V-Ray to render and generate the passes necessary for the final composite in After Effects.
VFX artist Julianne Dome was tasked with heavy paint work and generating clean plates for the final comps. The large majority of paintwork and final composites were completed in Adobe After Effects. Many of the raw sequences in the film contained visible camera equipment, speed rails, chase helicopters, safety equipment and tons of tire skid marks that needed to be digitally removed.
In addition to rotomating, texturing, lighting and comping the augmented McLaren, Cantina also digitally removed camera crews, crash cams and chase helicopters while applying speed ramps to produce proper motion blur.
C4D was also used to build out the environment of the Marshall Motors Garage. Lupoi proposed creating a CG replica of the garage after sifting through the dailies and set photography. Using C4D to run a camera projection, he reasoned, would give the team more control when it came time to convey that two years had passed in the storyline of the film. “Reconstructing the garage allowed us to have more control of the camera moves, textures and lighting,” he explains. “These were all important elements needed to show how the building had decayed over time while it was in a state of foreclosure.”
Creating a CG replica of the Marshall Motors Garage allowed Cantina the latitude they needed to show the building’s deterioration over time.
Morton and VFX artist Josh Sprinkling worked in tandem to camera project raw Canon C500 textures with additional custom matte paintings onto geometry within Cinema 4D. “The flexibility C4D offered allowed us to stay true to what Scott was envisioning in an efficient time period,” Lupoi says, adding that all of the 3D assets were created with realism in mind and preserved the practical elements from principal photography.
While resourceful techniques, good communication, software, infrastructure and data management all played critical roles in Cantina’s ability to create seamless VFX for Need for Speed, Lupoi says the open channel of communication with Waugh and Editor Paul Rubell were the key to success. “Being able to communicate with Scott and Paul on a day-to-day basis allowed us to plow forward with laser focus,” he recalls.
It helped, too, that Rubell was happy to collaborate and share his VFX experience. “Together we could work out a solution within hours or minutes, avoiding those small speed bumps or miscommunications that can cost you weeks of work,” Lupoi says. “And I lucked out to be a part of an incredible team of VFX artists that accomplished something that they should be very proud of.”
Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.
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