When director Robert Rodriguez of Troublemaker Studios set out to make a stark black-and-white movie based on three of the books from Frank Millers SIN CITY ("A Hard Goodbye," "That Yellow Bastard," and "The Big, Fat Kill") he was determined to be true to that original style and to make a film that looked like nothing else. Shooting actors on greenscreen, he employed ComputerCafé Group's CaféFX to create the backgrounds for one of the episodes, essentially, to create Sin City from the ground up. Hybrid and The Orphange produced the other two stories as co-visual effects vendors
CaféFX's episode, "The Big, Fat Kill," focuses on Dwight (Clive Owen) and his attempt to cover up a crime, finding himself knee-deep in trouble and bodies. "The panels of the comic were our storyboards," said CaféFX visual effects producer Edward Irastorza. "In fact, the only reference we were given was a copy of the book, which at first, seemed like a pretty simple task since most of the action takes place on either a plain black or white background. But, Robert wanted actual environments. In the entire 45-minute segment, I think only two walls were shot. The rest we created from scratch."
"At the onset, creating complete environments for over 600 shots can seem scary, but strangely, I'm getting used to it," added digital effects supervisor Everett Burrell. "After SPY KIDS 3-D and SKY CAPTAIN, it almost feels like the norm for us. The difference here was that the environments weren't fantastical but had to be realistic, grimy, weathered and lived in. We had to convince the audience that these were the environments in which the characters existed, not CG effects."
"We started construction of our city very practically," added Irastorza. "In-house art director Peter Lloyd drove down to Los Angeles and photographed run-down architecture of the '20s and '30s, inside and out. Also, knowing that we would be creating a "noir" look, we bought a film noir DVD boxed set and studied it, taking notes on what apartments and streets looked like at that time, and what they contained. We also studied ERASERHEAD, which again has a distinctive look we were going for. And, our studies didn't stop at urban areas, we also had to create a tarpit for a sequence, which was a completely different investigation."
"It seems simple when you speak of rooms or streets," said Burrell. "But, when you break it down, you're talking about walls, doors, windows, furniture, sinks, stairways, buildings, trash cans, cars, lights, absolutely everything that's not an actor. It's not only a lot to render, but a lot to keep track of. Especially, for over 600 shots. We couldn't just look at footage and say 'This is where Dwight's on the street' because there was no street, only Dwight. Thankfully, the internal tracking kept everything running smoothly and everyone on the same page."
Not only does SIN CITY emulate the panels and story lines of the novels, it also emulates the original graphic style. "All of the footage was filmed in color, and needed to be changed to black-and-white," explained Irastorza. "And, by black-and-white, I don't mean gray, which is probably what you're used to seeing when watching a black-and-white movie. I mean, either black or white, with very little to no gray in between. The same went for all of the environments we created, which is exactly how everything is drawn in the novels, to essentially create a moving comic. And like the book, we added select splashes of color. All the characters have eye color, Dwight's shoes are red and so forth. The book was our guide."
Occasionally, CaféFX went off the book, and drew color inspiration from other films. "In one segment directed by Quentin Tarantino, he wanted to employ something he saw in Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA, when characters were lit with something that looked like a color wheelHowever, we had to change the color and the lighting on the characters as they moved. Which, really wasn't easy, but I think we finally got an effect very close to the source."
CaféFX also had to play Mother Nature. "During our segment, it's supposed to rain, constantly. Of course, not a single drop was filmed," explained Burrell. "So every time a character was outside, we needed rain; every time a character was next to a window, rain needed to bounce off of it."
"All I had to go on for the rain was a reference shot from set," said digital effects supervisor Jeff Goldman. "And that had all the subtly of a fire hose. But, it was OK, because at least I knew what 'too much' looked like. I ended up creating the rain, in Digital Fusion particles, with only the occasional 'sparkler' effect of it bouncing off of the actors. I didn't want to overuse that, because while it was cool looking, it could have easily been a distraction."
CaféFX Inc. (www.cafefx), a division of the ComputerCafe Group, is headquartered in Santa Maria, California, and has a studio in Santa Monica.
* Visual Effects Producer: Edward Irastorza* Digital Effects Supervisors: Everett Burrell, Jeff Goldman, David Lombardi* CG Supervisors: John Parenteau, David Ridlen* CG Lead Artists: Vlad Bina, Mike Fischer* 3D Digital Artists: Steve Arguello, Lee Carlto, Domenic DiGiorgio, Gregg Domain, Alex Friderici, Phillip Giles, Victor Grant, Manuel H. Guizar, Trevor Harder, Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Szymon Masiak, Luke McDonald, Daniel Naulin, Will Nicholson, Mark Norrie, Brett Paton, Peter Profetto, Nic Spier, Rob Tesdahl, Gabriel Vargas* Compositing Leads: Mike Bozulich, Tom Williamson* Compositors: Jeff Allen, Michael Breymann, Daniel Bryant, Doug Cram, Christina Drahos, Brian Fisher, Scott Gordon, Michael Kennen, Sean Kennedy, Votch Levi, Ed Mendez, Shelly Morrow, Leah Nall, Greg Nelson, Kym Olsen, Akira Orikasa, Jennifer Scheer, Roman Ziad Seirafi, Anh Vu, Radost Yankova* Rotoscope Supervisor: Derek Krauss* Rotoscope Artists: Kevin Coyle, Loring Doyle, Joe Hoback, Randy Little, Josh McGuire, Toby Newell, Ruben Rodas, Eddie Soria, Melissa Widup* VFX Editors: Kevin LaNeave, Desi R. Ortiz* VFX Assistant Editor: Jimmy Lillard
CaféFX (www.cafefx.com), a division of the ComputerCafe Group, is headquartered in Santa Maria, California, and has a studio in Santa Monica, California.