Keeping The Fighter Authentic
David O. Russell's Oscar-contending The Fighter required some fancy VFX finessing from Comen VFX. There were 383 total vfx shots, 292 of which consisted of boxing video fixes. There were also 23 shots devoted to crowd replication and the remaining shots were monitor comps, the beginning and end title sequences, blood enhancements, a nifty napkin shot and camouflaging Christian Bale's Dicky Eklund.
"One of the decisions made early on was to shoot the boxing scenes in a way that was not quite congruent with the film footage for the rest of the movie but had the feel of a mid-'90s HBO boxing style presentation," explains Tim Carras, Comen's visual effect supervisor. "And so both to help create that look and help facilitate the shooting schedule, they did all the boxing stuff over the course of three days in a big ring in a soundstage with a live HBO video camera crew. They shot standard definition, NTSC, interlaced footage. So our first challenge was finding a way to convert that so that it could be projected on a big screen at 24 fps while still retaining enough of that video characteristic to maintain the feel. We did a lot of different tests and conversion processes and suites of plug-ins and screened them all for the director to see where he was going with it.
"The main factors we isolated for that were to be able to control the motion blur because that 120th of a second shutter on the video ended up making it look very choppy and run at the wrong frame rate," Carras adds. "So we settled on ReelSmart Motion Blur in After Effects to simulate that normal shutter speed you would have with film footage. From there we played around with different interlacing methods and for the bulk of the shots we used the Magic Bullet Frames plug-in, which has some settings you can dial up or down so there are no lingering artifacts remaining in the footage. We didn't want it to look pristine but keep some of those horizontal lines to preserve that video feel. From there we did a couple of sharpening passes, which, again, we'd vary from shot to shot. If Mark Wahlberg [as Micky Ward] got hit in the head, we wanted that to feel more hazy and blinding. But when you have fast, hard-hitting punches, we wanted that to be much sharper. "
For matchmoving, they had to pick the one system that worked the best for each situation and so they used SynthEyes, 3DEqualizer and Maya Matchmover. "It seems to be a trend for us as a company -- and The Fighter is a perfect example -- that when we have a multitude of similar shots we address them on a shot-by-shot basis," adds Josh Comen, owner and visual effects producer.