LOS ANGELES — VFX Legion (www.vfxlegion.com) served as the sole visual effects vendor for Charm City Kings, delivering a wide range of photorealistic computer-generated effects for the gritty coming-of-age drama about a 14-year-old who wants to join a group of infamous Baltimore dirt-bike riders. The feature debuted on HBO Max on October 8th and stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Teyonah Parris, William Catlett and Meek Mill.
Led by VFX supervisor James David Hattin and VFX producer Nate Smalley, the studio’s global team of artists created over 100 photorealistic visual effects for the film, including one of the most challenging. For this shot, which begins with the camera inverted, a lone biker rides down a long stretch of highway. As the motorcycle passes the camera, the perspective rotates to the upright position. VFX Legion's job was to track the sweeping camera move and build out the long shot of the dirt-biker to make it appear he is travelling on abusy highway. This included adding of dozens of photorealist CG cars, which change lanes, accelerate and hit the brakes.
The Los Angeles- and British Columbia-based company's CG library provided a cost-effect option, eliminating the need to build the automobiles digitally from scratch. Computer-generated cars were selected to match the look of the models traveling in the opposite direction on the practical footage.
The complex shot tapped both the scope and caliber of VFX Legion's worldwide collaborative of work-from-home talent. Puerto Rico-based Ruy Delgado, the studio's go-to artist for challenging tracking shots, worked closely with the company's 3D supervisor Rommel S. Calderon in LA, 3D artist Chris Strauss out of Lake Tahoe, and compositor Eugen Olsen, a resident of Johannesburg, South Africa. The team worked as a single unit, ensuring that all of the iterations fit together, and mattes along with various elements created by the 3D department blended seamlessly.
VFX Legion also delivered several long sequences that required stitching two separate shots together to create the look of one uninterrupted take. The team stabilized camera movement and then found places to edit the footage that aligned to create the illusion of single continuous shots.
The true-to-life feel of the film hinged on the attention given to small moments and details. A scene shot with lead character Mouse talking to motorcycle mechanic Blax and another with a group of bikers was shot with Blax garbed in a clean white T-shirt. The spotless duds were clearly out of character for the ex-con, who is living a hardscrabble life, and called for VFX Legion to provide a digital solution. Adding dirt and sweat stains to the garment was a complicated process. The way fabric moves and stretches made it extremely difficult to track specks of dirt and stained patches. Artists used some of the newer tools in Nuke to track the vectors and then used the data gathered to apply the soiled and discolored areas to the shirt.
The company’s team also removed reflections, camera shadows and stunt rigging from biking scenes, built CG police cars and other elements, and added images to cell phone screens. The majority of the 100-plus shots are invisible, enabling the drama to play out without any distraction.
The artists used a mix of tools to create the range of VFX, including Andersson Technologies' SynthEyes for 3D tracking, Autodesk Maya for 3D modeling and animation, and Foundry's Nuke for compositing.
"All of our meetings were collaborative events, assuring filmmakers' that we heard their voices and understood their needs," notes Smalley. "Efficient workflow allowed us to quickly offer up and execute digital solutions as well as provide innovative options that aligned with (director Angel Manuel Soto’s) vision of what he wanted to see on the screen."
"Our team is thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this remarkable film and help bring the director’s vision to life," adds Hattin. “VFX Legion’s veteran leadership brought its 40+ years of experience in the visual effect arena to the project. Our work also benefited from the cost-effectiveness and technical ingenuity that comes with working exclusively with a curated worldwide collective of experienced artists for almost a decade - a WFH approach that the pandemic has made essential, and the industry has just begun to put in place.”