The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps growing. The studio’s latest offering, Ant-Man, marks the 12th release in Marvel Studios' highly successful film franchise. Directed by Peyton Reed and featuring Paul Rudd as the title character, Ant-Man tells the story of con-man Scott Lang who, once in possession of a special suit, gains the ability to shrink in size, but become incredibly strong. This month,
Post takes a look at the visual effects geniuses behind some of the summer’s biggest blockbusters —
Terminator Genisys, Pixels, San Andreas, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spy and
Jurassic World — and here, speaks with Prime Focus World’s Richard Baker, senior stereo supervisor, about his studio’s stereo 3D conversion for Marvel's summer flick.
What was involved in creating the stereo 3D delivery for this film?
“As you probably already know, Ant-Man’s ‘superpower’ is that he can shrink down to the size of an ant when wearing his special suit. The great thing about this film was that we were able to make the stereo work to enhance the different scales of the characters, manipulating and designing the depth so that it works for the scene.
“One of the things Evan [Jacobs, Marvel stereographic supervisor] and I discussed at the start of the project was how we were going to play the stereo for Ant-Man, and I designed a series of test shots so that we could discuss the relative merits of the different approaches. For example, when Ant-Man is human-scale, the camera is normal scale and normal height. However, when he shrinks down to being very tiny, we have options: is the camera still a full-scale camera, or does it become an Ant-Man-sized camera in a big environment? Does it shrink with him?
“The preferred route in the end was to go with the tiny-scale camera in the huge environment. As a general rule of thumb, the result was that we compressed the backgrounds and brought Ant-Man a bit more positive — out of the screen — so that everything looks slightly magnified in the background. We combined this with pumping up his volume a little more than we normally would, which served to miniaturize him in this massive world.
"The shallow focus on these shots was interesting too — that macro filmmaking look that the filmmakers had employed miniaturizes the subject anyway, and obviously the film has to work for audiences in 2D as well. But the 3D conversion allowed us to really enhance this effect.
"The film is quite unique in this respect because of these 3D moments — quite apart from the fact that it looks great anyway in terms of the way it is shot and the amazing VFX, and it being the introduction of a new character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!"
Was your approach here different from other projects you’ve worked on?
“One of the main areas of progression for us was the further development of how we work with Double Negative (PFW and VFX house Dneg merged last year). Most of the shots we were working on for Ant-Man were Dneg VFX shots, and our shared pipeline is developing every day to deal with things such as the harvesting of VFX elements to support the conversion, and crucially getting these elements earlier in the process. In terms of the improvements in our workflow, we’re able to present stereo shots to the client much earlier now, and this is really helpful when the timelines are so tight.”
What were some of the key scenes you worked on?
“I think one of the key scenes for us was the sequence we call the ‘first suit experience,’ when he uses the Ant-Man suit for the first time. This was interesting because I think it’s the first time the audience experiences the macro-filmmaking look, as Ant-Man shrinks in the bathtub, has to outrun a cascade of water from the tap, survive a trip across a crowded dance floor and outrun both a Hoover and a mouse. We completed this sequence early, as we were delivering it for a 4D experience for Disney.”
Just like with Avengers, did the conversion work on Ant-Man also begin in the post stage with the footage?
“For Prime Focus World it did. Marvel supe Evan Jacobs was on-set, doing some second-unit directing and capturing motion control clean plates on some shots because there were quite a lot of in-camera particle effects. There was a big contribution towards the final stereo look for the movie during the shoot, even though it was not a stereo shoot. It was shot really well for stereo.”
What tools did you use to complete your work on this film? Similar to Avengers — Fusion, Silhouette, Nuke, Maya, PFTrack and Framecycler for editorial, and TVIPs for live stereo reviews?
“Yes, our pipeline was the same as for Avengers: Age of Ultron. In terms of our proprietary tools, we used our AssistedBreakout tool to help with the VFX element harvesting, and of course our View-D process for the depth creation itself.”
What were some of the biggest challenges in this film?
“I’d say that the biggest challenge for this show was getting the scale working. Although we’d established a style early in the process, it takes a few iterations to get the shots looking exactly right. That development process is fun though, and very creative.”
Anything unique about the work you did on this particular film?
“It was a new departure, working in this miniature world. It wasn’t just about the character being small — it was about the audience being small with the character, and really feeling as if they are a part of this environment. It’s not like natural history documentary footage of small creatures and insects that we have worked on in the past — in this film the audience is in this huge environment with the characters, and that was a completely new look — and a lot of fun to work with.”