No Exit from This Box
The Box, of course, is Richard Kelly's take on Richard Matheson's classic short story, Button, Button. What if you could get your hands on $1 million by pressing a button in a box in exchange for the murder of a complete stranger? Only with Kelly, the premise and moral dilemma have been Donnie Darko'd with more sci-fi and trippy existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, anyone?): meaning there's a lot more at stake for this desperate 1976 couple played by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden than meets the eye, and a lot more cosmic chills behind Frank Langella's charming, disfigured messenger.
Thomas Tannenberger, overall visual effects supervisor, and co-founder of Gradient Effects with Olcun Tan, says the greatest challenge was digitally reconstructing the half of Langella's face.
"We used an on-set motion capture process based on witness cameras," Tannenberger explains about the work done two years ago. "We had at the very least four cameras trained on him that were set up in a semi-circle or, depending on his movements, to any given thing. And essentially what this does -- and we used available software [Moviemento] as well as our own in-house software [at Gradient Effects with Tan serving as digital supervisor] -- is triangulating his position in the space in front of camera. From this, we subtracted his head movements and from that, in turn, we subtracted his facial movements, which would give us the camera position, his head position in space and drive the rig that we built for his face and the missing parts. And for the more subtle movements, we built our own tools to give us more detail and extract more animation out of the face."
So Langella's face alone involved 144 out of a total of 450 vfx shots. "I would say this was very unusual for a $30 million film," Tannenberger adds. In addition to marker removal and adding skin texture, they also worked on background recreation. "We shot a lot of clean plates on set for that purpose and also used our LIDAR pipeline to scan each and every set so that we could rebuild it because we didn't have time to use motion control or anything during production. From time to time we used a repeatable hit to just get a clean plate pass so we had something to restore to see the background through. They obviously used HDRI lighting for each and every set and basically took lighting probes to help with the lighting and integration."
In addition, there were also teleportation or dimensional travel devices, which were known as "water coffins." The brief for that, according to Tannenberger, was to "create a liquid that could be construed as water but go a little further and be something [otherworldly]."