GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Axis Studios (axisstudiosgroup.com) served as the primary vendor for Sony Pictures’ comedy-drama A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks. The studio delivered 250 photoreal shots for the film, which was directed by Marc Forster.
A Man Called Otto is based on the 2012 novel “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, and tells the story of Otto, his battle with depression and the redemptive relationship he develops with his neighbors. Sony Pictures engaged Axis Studios to deliver a range of invisible visual effects, including a train station sequence, a CG housing complex and consistent weather.
A Man Called Otto: VFX Breakdown from
Axis Studios on
"Being asked to contribute as the main vendor was a huge privilege for us, especially on such a high-profile project,” says Nick Drew, executive producer at Axis. “We're proud of the scope and look of the visual effects we delivered for such a great film."
Simon Carr, Creative Supervisor at Axis, adds, “It was a pleasure to work on A Man Called Otto as my introduction to the team at Axis Studios and to work with Janelle Crowshaw (VFX supervisor) and Leo Bovell (on-set VFX supervisor) on a great, heart-warming movie."
Axis Studios had previously worked with the film’s producer, Fredrik Wikström, on the 2020 film Horizon Line, successfully handling high-end, photoreal visual effects. A Man Called Otto also required a variety of invisible VFX to immerse the audience in the story and emphasize the drama.
In one pivotal scene, Otto steps down from a railway platform into the path of an oncoming train. The sequence was filmed on a small section of a set constructed on a street in Pittsburgh. Axis Studios turned the set into a raised railway station with snowy tracks receding into the horizon, and added CG trains rushing past on busy tracks. The team worked in pre-production to plan this sequence in detail and used technical previs based on the film’s script and storyboards to determine how far a train would travel at a given speed and how that would play in shots given the distance of the trains from Otto. By determining the timing in previs, Axis imbued the scene with a sense of danger and narrative tension while maintaining a high degree of physical realism.
Axis Studios was also responsible for creating the fully-CG Birchwood Estate, the housing development that is encroaching on the neighborhood in which Otto lives, which is seen in many shots throughout the film. The Birchwood Estate is based on an actual location, which was scanned, rebuilt as a CG environment and reworked to fit in at the end of Otto’s street. The estate was made to feel monotonous and uniform, thus communicating the claustrophobic sense of the world closing in around Otto. Axis Studios also modeled and textured a series of houses for use in blocks of three to five, which were laid out on land slightly higher than Otto’s neighborhood to add to the sense of overbearing pressure.
During production, lighting often varied enormously during shoot days, with scenes ranging from bright sun to heavily overcast or even snowing weather. The Axis Studios team attended to this by creating photoreal snow and weather effects that ensured continuity across the shoot. The snow also helped to emphasize the bleak nature of Otto’s surroundings. Additional work by the studio included digital matte paintings to extend and enhance wide shots of the neighborhood and train station, and a small fleet of CG cars to add to various shots.
The primary asset was a CG Chevrolet SUV, which Otto buys toward the end of the film. The brand-new car model was not yet in production at the time of the shoot, and only a prototype was available as reference. A similar stand-in model was used for on-set interaction with the actors, which Axis Studios replaced for the final shots.