Framestore CFC provided a total of 20 vfx shots along with digital mastergrade for the new British thriller, LAYER CAKE, which opens Oct. 1 in the U.K. It stars Daniel Craig, Kenneth Cranham, Michael Gambon, Nathalie Lunghi and Sienna Miller. Based on JJ Connelly's London crime novel, LAYER CAKE marks the directorial debut of producer Matthew Vaughn (LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING GUNS).
Layer Cake tells the story of a successful cocaine dealer (Daniel Craig) who has earned a respected place among England's Mafia elite and plans an early retirement from the business. However, big boss Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) hands down a tough assignment: find Charlotte Ryder (Nathalie Lunghi), the missing rich-princess daughter of Jimmy's old pal Edward (Michael Gambon), a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. In the modern underworld the rules have changed, double crosses are the norm, and time is running out
Framestore CFC's vfx supervisor Rob Duncans main work was on the pre-title sequence, and he attended the shoot early in 2003. This sequence involves a potted history of the London crime world, spanning the decades from the 60s to the present. The filmmakers needed to tell a highly compressed narrative with maximum economy. In the space of a few seconds we are taken from an old-fashioned blow-the-doors-off-the-van-style hold-up, through a drug soaked hippy flat, into a prison visiting hall and thence to an imaginary chemists shop of the future where, the narrator explains, legalized drugs will fill the shelves with designer highs.
Duncan's Shake artistry morphs a head of hair from one character to another, changes one wall into another, taking us from scene to scene. In the chemists, Craig's character wanders past coolly lit boxes of fcuk ecstasy and cocaine his imagined future of the drugs industry and the boxes begin to transform themselves into the normal contents of a chemists' shop. This transformation occurs at first behind Craig then races past him, the drug boxes turning to conventional items in time for him to pull something off the shelf and take it to the counter. "It was actually quite artfully designed," explained Duncan, "The real items had to be arranged in patterns that were sympathetic to the fantasy display. Multiple motion control passes of sequential removal of sections of the packaging gave a nice 3D illusion to the transformation. I also vari-sped some sections of the sequence to ensure synchronization with the voice over, and also to ensure that the audience would be able to read the packaging and get the fcuk' gag. "
There are several other low-key but effective uses of vfx mastery throughout the film: a disturbing execution scene with an ultra high-speed camera pullback, a letterhead graphic of a mansion that transforms into the real thing. Colorist Asa Shoul, who created the film's digital mastergrade in Framestore CFC's Digital Lab facility, added, "[Cinematographer] Ben Davis made the film look a lot more expensive that it was. We've been working with him for a long time on commercials, and it was a real pleasure to be involved with him on a movie."
Shoul's digital mastergrade of the film took place over several weeks in the spring of 2004. The digital mastergrade part of the Digital Intermediate (DI) process allows directors and cinematographers to go over the film digitally, tweaking and correcting scenes and ensuring that the look is as good as possible. Of Davis's work, Shoul said, "His specialty is practical lighting a lot of indoor scenes with a lot of contrast and mood in, but very subtly, not obviously lit'. He and Vaughn composed things wide people sitting or standing very wide across the screen. It really does have a beautifully cinematic look to it."
Among the filmic qualities that Shoul helped Vaughn and Davis bring out in Layer Cake was that of an increasing starkness as the film's action progresses, with less saturation and a hint of blue a visual analogue for the lead character's increasingly precarious situation. Working closely with Davis, Shoul also helped create a 70s feel for a flashback sequence, as well as adjusting the skin tones and picking out facial details in a number of shots. Davis is delighted with the results. "I particularly enjoyed the digital grade," he said. "The control and scope it offers really does put the chemical process to shame, and Asa is a big talent with a great eye for color and detail."
Framestore CFC credits included:* Rob Duncan (visual effects supervisor)* Joanna Nodwell (visual effects producer)* Michelle Camp (visual effects editorial)
London-based Framestore CFC is one of the leading visual effects company working on effects for feature films and commercials. More information can be found at www.framestore-cfc.com.