Unfolding the World of Bunraku
Press Release by NewTek
Bunraku, the second film from acclaimed director Guy Moshe, is a unique blend of cutting-edge computer graphics and choreographed live action, comic book and video game styles, gritty reality and fantasy, and samurai and spaghetti western genres.
Crime boss Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman) commands an army of thugs headed by nine deadly assassins in a post-war future without guns. Citizens of the small town, terrorized by Nicola’s regime, wait in hope of a hero to save them. A mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett) and young samurai (Japanese star Gackt) soon cross paths and, with guidance from the local bartender (Woody Harrelson), join forces in a quest to overthrow Nicola’s tyrannical reign. At Nicola’s side are Alexandra (Demi Moore), the femme fatale, and Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd), Nicola’s lethal right-hand man.
The one-of-a-kind film, which debuted on September 30, 2011 in a limited release, delivers an impressive cast and a wealth of eye-catching, awe-inspiring visuals—all within a $25 million production budget. Bunraku is written and directed by Moshe, based on a story by Boaz Davidson.
Moshe’s Picturesque Films, Ram Bergman Productions, and Snoot Entertainment—all in Los Angeles—partnered to produce the film and bring Moshe’s vision to cinematic life. To realize the truly unique and strong visual style envisioned for Bunraku, the production team elicited the help of Oliver Hotz, owner and visual effects (VFX) supervisor at Origami Digital LLC in Los Angeles.
Moshe decided early on that he would tell the story of Bunraku by filming entirely on a green-screen stage and using a wealth of VFX and computer graphic imagery (CGI). The crew filmed the live action over a 12-week period and on roughly 30 sets at MediaPro Studios in Romania.
Hotz, named VFX supervisor on the film, led a team of artists at Origami Digital as they crafted a novel folded paper—or origami, coincidentally—world of Bunraku. "The world it’s set in is almost circus-like in the feel of it and it’s all origami," described McKidd in a Los Angeles Times interview. "The whole universe is constantly folding paper to create a cityscape or interiors of rooms or the sunrise."
"Even though Bunraku was shot entirely inside of sound stages, the director (Moshe) envisioned a massively expansive world," Hotz explains. Origami Digital was initially contracted to deliver approximately 90 of the more difficult VFX shots in the production, while Snoot Entertainment’s Snoot FX division were assigned roughly 300 "A over B" set extensions. The project’s VFX work soon grew in both quantity and complexity, so the decision was made to reassign all work to Origami Digital.
The Origami Digital VFX team was responsible for creating virtually everything that wasn’t in the immediate set, including a view through the City Square’s main archway, a flyover from a Mob Office over the city and past several landmarks, and a colorful, paper-lantern sky. In all, Origami Digital artists delivered more than 1000 shots, which can be seen over roughly 83 minutes of Bunraku’s running time.
Given the volume of VFX the team had to deliver for the movie, Hotz elected to farm out preparation tasks to other facilities and enable artists to devote more time to the look and design of the shots. RotoFactory, together with Origami Digital’s in-house rotoscope/paint team, delivered mattes for several green-screen sequences. Pixel Magic completed speed changes that were introduced in the edit stage. Algous Studios delivered the type of blood Moshe wanted in the movie, as well as provided elements for Origami Digital’s comps and finished "blood only" shots that didn’t require any other VFX elements. Lastly, Imaginary Forces handled a montage sequence, "because we had really liked the style of some of its other work and it fit perfectly into this movie," Hotz describes.