Giving Secretariat Some Pixel Magic
The amazing story of Secretariat's Triple Crown victory in 1973 required special vfx treatment by Pixel Magic (under the supervision of Ray McIntyre Jr.), since the production was not allowed to shoot racing footage on location.
"We shot all five races at the same facility in Louisiana: Evangeline Downs, located in Lafayette," McIntyre recounts. "The issue right from the beginning is you shoot the footage [you need] to make it look like you're at the different locations you're supposed to be at."
In addition to the Triple Crown that comprises The Kentucky Derby in Louisville, The Preakness in New York and The Belmont in Baltimore, Secretariat featured qualifying runs in New York at the Aqueduct and Saratoga.
"I went to each of the locations and shot visual effects plates, and then we composited in or created both the backgrounds and stadiums," McIntyre continues."We filled the stadiums with people; changed the background because every race has the hero camera following the horses around the last turn into the homestretch. When we shot the racing footage in Louisiana, you see the same background in every shot, so it became a visual effects shot so that it represented a different track."
Pixel Magic, whose team also included Brad Moylan (compositing supervisor), Rif Dagher (CG supervisor), Victor DiMichina (production supervisor), Dione Wood (VFX producer) and Ray Scalice (general manager), then went about making the environment fit the appropriate track: changing the backstretch or the area behind the corner as well as on the infield when the camera pans with the horses and you see the grandstands and the rest of the environment.
The stadiums were empty except for Churchill Downs, which holds about 65,000 people, so they populated the stands with CG spectators. "In all cases, if they were close to the camera, I shot greenscreen people as a separate element to populate the front two or three rows," McIntyre explains, "and then, after that, shot plates for the various angles and then the rest of the people are CG. We greenscreened real people in the front rows where close detail matters, but immediately behind or far enough away they become CG."