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November 2014
Issue: September 1, 2013

VFX: 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

By: Marc Loftus
NEW YORK — VFX producer/supervisor Mark Russell is currently working on The Wolf of Wall Street, an upcoming theatrical release being directed by Martin Scorsese. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, who was convicted of crimes related to the stock market back in the late ‘90s.

Russell, who has worked on films that include Saving Private Ryan, Hellboy, Minority Report and Tower Heist, says that while The Wolf of Wall Street may not be perceived as a VFX-heavy film, it still contains over 400 visual effect shots. The project paired him with LA-based VFX supervisor Rob Legato, and has tapped the VFX services of numerous studios, including Method, ScanlineVFX, Crazy Horse and Lola, among others.

The feature was shot on several formats, with much of it captured on film. Nighttime footage, and some of the VFX scenes were shot at 3K using Arri’s Alexa. An Octocopter, equipped with a Canon C500, was also used to capture aerials for several effects sequences.



“A large part of my job is managing the acquisition and capture of elements we'll need down the road,” notes Russell, who traveled to Italy to shoot backgrounds for one VFX sequence in which a luxury yacht sinks. The Octocopter — a small, eight-rotor, remote control helicopter — was used to capture aerials of a house in the exclusive town of Old Brookville on Long Island — an area that would be prohibited from shooting with an actual helicopter. The footage would be used as a reference for creating a CG model of the mansion, with texture maps then applied. 

The Octocopter was also used to capture aerial footage of beach-front mansions in the Hamptons. The footage served as important establishing shot for a scene featuring a huge party. A luxurious beach house — created in CG — was placed among real high-end summer homes.

“We used a Canon C500 prototype at the time,” Russell recalls of the Octocopter shots. The camera shot in 4K and was paired with a Gemini recorder. Russell, formerly a big Mac user, added HP workstations to his workflow, including an EliteBook, so that he could run Canon’s PC-based software in order to view the RAW footage on location. 



“4K RAW files could only be viewed using Canon software on a PC,” he recalls, adding that each 4K frame represented approximately 11MBs. The Octocopter’s battery would only last four to five minutes, so scenes never ran longer than that length. In addition, Russell says approximately :30 was spent getting the camera into place via remote control. As a result, much of the initial footage captured with the C500 wasn’t actually needed for the scene. Using Canon’s application, the C500’s Raw files were converted to HD DPX files for viewing on-set.

“HP workstations have become a huge part of my workflow,” he says, noting that in addition to the EliteBook, he also has a Z420 workstation at his New York office, which is set up at Deluxe on Hudson Street in Manhattan.

The Wolf of Wall Street is being produced by Red Granite Pictures and distributed by Paramount. The film is currently well into post and is expected to hit theaters later this year.