January 5, 2007


Alpha Dog details three fateful days in the lives of a group of Southern California teens. When one is double crossed over missing money from a drug deal, the teens kidnap a youth with the intent of holding him as a marker. Things proceed to spiral out of control in a way the group never could have imagined.

According to Engine Room VFX supervisor/founder Dan Schmit, the studio was initially brought in during preproduction to help solve some logistical challenges involved during filming.

“We did this by suggesting the incorporation a handful of green screen shots to add scope and a feeling of ‘magic surrealism’ to the film's climax," he explains. “The collaboration ultimately went far beyond the initial scope - as once principal photography ended the editorial team physically moved into the Engine Room studio.”

Director Nick Cassavetes and editor Alan Heim set up shot upstairs from the effects team allowing for close collaboration. In the end, Engine Room delivered a total of 290 visual effects composite shots for the film.

Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank, is based on the experience of a first-year high school teacher who is assigned to teach students considered to be at-risk or unteachable. She introduces the students to the works of Anne Frank and Zlata Filopvic to try and teach them tolerance.

Engine Room worked on the “diary sequence,” an emotional point in the movie when teacher Erin Gruwell reads the true-life writing assignments of the students.

"When shooting the scene, the director and DP did an excellent job of incorporating a variety of in-camera tricks and transition effects so we had a fantastic bed of material to work with," says Schmit. "Working closely with editor David Moritz the visual effects team seamed the sequence together into one long composite, which fully succeeded in conveying the feeling and emotion that the director was looking for."

The studio used Adobe After Effects and Autodesk Maya to complete both jobs.