London-based Framestore CFC created both the digital visual effects and the DI for THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN'S APOCALYPSE, the cult favorite comedy series that makes its way to the big screen June 3 in the U.K. Written by Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, and starring Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN'S APOCALYPSE was produced by Greg Brenman and Ed Guiney, and directed by Steve Bendelack.
When Royston Vasey finds itself facing apocalypse, the only way to avert disaster is for the village's nightmarish cast of characters to find a way into the real world and confront their creators. From present day Soho to the fictional film world of 17th Century Britain, the residents must overcome countless bizarre obstacles in their bid to return Royston Vasey to safety
The jump to the big screen is an obvious move for a comedy team that has seen their show graduate from cult favorite to dark national treasure. The creators of Royston Vasey had very specific ideas about how this transition could be made to work, right down to the sort of vfx they wanted to include. In a deliberate nod to the Ray Harryhausen, creatures that filled the fantasy films of their youth, for example, the team opted for stop-motion models (built by McKinnon and Saunders, animated by Loose Moose) for the monsters that appear in the film.
Which is not to say that they didn't make full use of Framestore CFC's digital box of tricks. Vfx supervisor Rob Duncan had plenty to occupy his team over the three months allotted to the production. Duncan, along with core team members Christian Manz, Nick Seal and Bruce Nelson, created some 100 vfx shots for the film. "One of the most positive factors on this project was that we managed to turn around so many shots, with so few people, in such a short space of time," he said.
Chief among the challenges were numerous multiple-split screen shots essential with so many characters being played by a three man main cast. Said Duncan, "The trickiest multiple shot was a four-way split screen which featured three Reece Shearsmith characters plus one Steve Pemberton. But the fact that they are such expert performers and so on top of the material made the job of making it look completely convincing that much easier."
Also key for the Framestore CFC team were the stop-motion shots of the homunculus, which represented about a quarter of the total work. "We were supplied with a bluescreen animated figure," recalled Duncan, "Typically with one extra lighting pass for more believable interaction with its corresponding environment. It was our job to really integrate the creature in to every shot. It was a bit 'wing and a prayer' with regard to the eyelines of the actors matching the homunculus's position, since the model hadn't been finished by the time the live action scenes were shot!"
The creature was animated according to an approved cut sequence, to keep any extraneous frame-by-frame to a minimum, and then sent to the VFX team as each shot was finished. By the end, with deadlines looming, the team were managing to turn round finished comps in less than two days, from the moment the negative arrived in the building.
In addition, the vfx team had to assist in the biblical destruction of the village of Royston Vasey. "Most of the filming took place in Ireland," explained Duncan, "But the vfx background plates of the village were shot around Marsden, Lancashire. The pyro elements were shot using a brave and resourceful team of guys in Ireland." Other vfx elements included sky replacements, lightning and a head replacement.
For Framestore CFC colorist Asa Shoul, the film was a welcome chance to work again with director Bendelack. "I'd worked with Steve as far back as Spitting Image, which he did when he was starting out on TV, back in the 80s," recalled Shoul, "And we'd also worked together on some of the LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN shows, so we were pretty much in tune with each other from the word go."
"We did an HD test for the production team, as it was a new medium for them. We showed them, what you can do, all the options a digital grade can bring to the table they seemed very impressed."
The film takes place in three different and distinctive areas Royston Vasey, the real world of the show's creators, and 17th Century Britain. Of the looks he came up with to complement Rob Kitmann's cinematography, Shoul said, "We already had Royston Vasey, so that was fairly straightforward. The 'real world' looked fairly, well, 'real', if slightly heightened maybe a little more contrasty than normal. The 17th Century, on the other hand, was very colorful and rather OTT BLACK NARCISSUS was given to me as a reference."
The film took a little under three weeks to grade. "Being shot on HD meant that the whole film was conformed and all six reels were available to me and ready to go from day one," said Shoul, "We could jump to anywhere in the film and try things out, and there were no nasty surprises with the material."
Framestore CFC credits include:* VFX Supervisor Rob Duncan* Senior Compositor Christian Manz* Compositors Nick Seal, Bruce Nelson* Additional Compositors Alex Payman, Darran Nicholson, John Sharp, Kate Cuffin, Pheng Sisopha, Sule Bryan Hurst* Additional Paint & Roto Nicha Kumkeaw, Sergio Ayrosa* VFX Producer Piers Hampton* VFX Coordinator Sarah Micallef* Colorist Asa Shoul* Digital Grade Assistant Doron Zar* Fire Conformist Adam Windmill