The Battle of Red Cliff -- John Woo Style!
John Woo's epic Red Cliff (now playing from Magnolia Pictures), was made in China and based on the Battle of Red Cliff, which took place during the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China, during the final days of the Han Dynasty.
Craig Hayes, overall visual effects supervisor, formerly with the now defunct Orphanage, discusses overseeing the 856 shots on a $10 million-plus budget, and work from other vendors such as Prime Focus, CafeFX, Digital Dimension, Hatch, Kerner Optical, Pixel Magic, Tippett Studio, Anibrain, Xing-Xing and Crystal CG.
"We [The Orphange] were the lead vendor and we knew the workload was probably more than we could handle, so we functioned as the visual effects production wing of the overall production. In addition to having artists working on shots, we were managing all the other vendors, and also we had our own editorial department in-house, so we were able to kind of run interference with the production, which had around four editors working at any given time. So keeping track of what were visual effects and what weren't was a daily task as this post-production management role."
Getting adjusted to the way they make films in China was quite an adjustment, according to Hayes. "It was an interesting thing because I had no experience with Asian filmmaking per se, and so when I showed up there, there was no big board or AD, so I asked for the big board so we could start tackling the big problems and figure out how we were going to achieve this stuff. There was about a week of that and we went through every storyboard that we had and [figuring out who was doing what] and everyone being hyper sensitive about their budget or lack thereof. We left China not knowing where we stood, but we came back to Los Angeles and found out we were hired a while later."
So Hayes and his Orphanage staff dived into production and broke down the key action and vfx sequences, prevised them and then strategized the best approach. "It turns out that the previs was very helpful because I don't speak Mandarin and at the end of the day it didn't serve as a template but helped with layout and other purposes. From there we moved to Beijing and began the process of finding a local data wrangler and figuring out how we were going to work with the crew, which was 700 people and on top of that we would have 1,000 soldiers from The People's Liberation Army and they would be responsible for feeding, housing and clothing. It's like having a miniature city there and was unique to me. At The Orphanage, I had a small crew of primarily comp, so we were able to push through 200 shots for [the first part] and I'm particularly proud of some of the battle stuff we pulled off. We actually had some vendors working in China: Xing-Xing and Crystal CG, which was culturally important."