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Gravity & Phosphene Provide VFX for Tower Heist

International visual effects and design company Gravity today announced that it produced more than 200 visual effects shots for Universal Pictures’ new action-comedy “Tower Heist” currently in theaters.

Press Release from Gravity

New York, November 7, 2011 -- International visual effects and design company Gravity today announced that it produced more than 200 visual effects shots for Universal Pictures’ new action-comedy “Tower Heist” currently in theaters. The announcement was made by Zviah Eldar, Gravity’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Creative Officer.

Gravity’s visual-effects accomplishments on “Tower Heist” included digital set extensions, photorealistic CG buildings, a CG car, CG stunts, CG face replacements, digital matte paintings, and simulations.  Under the direction of Yuval Levy, Gravity’s Digital Effects Supervisor, and Karin Levinson, Vice President of Features & Television, the team provided Director Brett Ratner and Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Russell with a series of pre-visualized sequences and style frames that illustrated the most climactic scenes of the film.  These previs scenes became the blueprint for the shooting of the heist sequences.

“Working with Gravity from the beginning on the previs gave us a head start in making these sequences work down the road,” Russell said. “They had a very early understanding of what Brett and I were after, and they were able to build on that even before the shooting began.” The majority of Gravity’s visual-effects work focused on the sequences involving the heist in which characters played by Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick steal a classic Ferrari from a corrupt billionaire’s penthouse apartment through an exterior window on the 65th floor.  Prior to the actual heist sequence, Gravity created a complex series of green-screen window comps, so that views of Manhattan as seen from inside the penthouse and another of The Tower’s most opulent apartments would be completely authentic.

The visual-effects team digitally re-created a section of Manhattan at Columbus Circle to provide the sweeping 220-degree backdrops that may be seen from two apartments.  Additionally, Gravity created a photorealistic CG Tower, matching the Trump International Hotel & Tower, to supplement the partially constructed façade that was built on a NY soundstage. Employing a combination of live- action plates, digital imagery and CG elements, Gravity placed the action of the film at the top of New York’s most expensive real estate all during the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Gravity also created a number of helicopter POV shots entirely in CG to tie the scenes together.

Gravity’s Digital Effects Supervisor Yuval Levy said, “Some of our most complex work on the film was creating a photoreal CG Ferrari and CG doubles for Stiller and Murphy, which were seen during a CG ‘stunt’ as the car is being lowered down the side of The Tower.  Our visual-effects team also created an overhead point of view of the heist as though observed from a helicopter during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  We blended scenes from the actual parade along with both CG and stunt elements, which were shot on the stage.  This allowed us to create a view of the heist and the parade as they would appear if actually witnessed from above.”

Russell added, “It was a pleasure working with Yuval and the entire team from Gravity on ‘Tower Heist’.  They have proven, yet again, that New York can deliver top-notch visual-effects.”  In addition to “The Adjustment Bureau,” this is Mark Russell's second collaboration with Gravity.

 ABOUT GRAVITY:Gravity is an international visual effects, design and brand communications company with proven expertise in three integrated divisions:  Features & Television, Commercials, and Digital.  With 250 talented professionals across offices in New York, Los Angeles, Connecticut and Tel Aviv, the company is a widely renowned generator of high-end visual effects, creative content, motion graphics design, animation, branding, and digital strategy.

The company's clients include Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Sony Pictures Entertainment, HBO, Paramount Pictures, The Weinstein Company, Dimension Films, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Verizon, Pantene, MGA Entertainment, Carlsberg, Kmart, and Braun.  In addition to “Tower Heist”, Gravity’s other recent feature film credits include “Crazy, Stupid, Love”,  “The Adjustment Bureau”, “Arthur”, “The Other Guys”, “Salt”, “The Reader”, and “Ghost Town.”  The company’s television credits include HBO’s “Bored to Death”, “The Sopranos”, and “Sex and The City.”

Gravity’s New York office is located at 315 Madison Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY, 10017.  The phone is 212/986-1584.  The company’s West Coast office is located in the Lantana Building, 3000 West Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA, 90404.  The phone is 310/264-3909.  For more information, please visit


Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy lead an all-star cast in “Tower Heist,” an action-comedy about working stiffs who seek revenge on the Wall Street swindler who stiffed them.  After the workers at a luxury Central Park condominium discover the penthouse billionaire has stolen their retirement, they plot the unique revenge: a heist to reclaim what he took from them.

Press Release from Phosphene

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – November 7, 2011 – Independent design and visual-effects company Phosphene announced today that it created elaborate CG environments for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment’s new action-comedy starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, “Tower Heist.” Building an elegant swimming pool and deck on the roof of an opulent Manhattan condo tower or the interior of a three-cab, 60-story elevator shaft is all in a day’s work for the company. The Phosphene visual-effects team, under the direction of Creative Director/VFX Supervisor John Bair, augmented and manipulated the physical environment in approximately 70 very complex 3D CG set extensions for Universal Pictures’ new action-comedy, “Tower Heist”, probably the biggest film effects project ever completed in NYC. The film, directed by Brett Ratner, was released nationally on November 4, 2011.

Explained Phosphene co-founder and VFX executive producer Vivian Connolly: “New York’s VFX infrastructure and community is growing at a very fast pace, and it has been amazing to be able to take on a film this size and show the worldwide film community how capable the New York visual-effects talent pool is. We are experiencing a trend of wonderful directors finishing their films here and feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the growth of the visual-effects community in the city.”

Said Ratner of the collaboration: “John Bair and his company, Phosphene, with a very small group of artists, were able to deliver shots for ‘Tower Heist’ with absolutely no compromises and perfect execution. It would have taken any other huge VFX company months to pull off what Phosphene did in a matter of weeks with perfection...there were no CBB’s [could be betters] when it came to Phosphene’s shots!“

For the exterior of The Tower (in real life, Trump International Hotel & Tower at Columbus Circle on Manhattan’s Westside),  Phosphene created a luxurious outdoor environment for the film’s Wall Street billionaire, Arthur Shaw. Removing the array of satellite dishes and technological equipment on the existing building, Phosphene replaced the roof with an expansive swimming pool—with a floor that sports a painted $100 bill—and a roof deck. These digital replacements were vital for the numerous aerial shots, as well as shots that required the addition of city vistas behind the film’s actors.

Phosphene’s Bair explained the scope of the company’s CG work: “The trickiest shot is the film’s opening, a sweeping tracking shot which begins with a tight shot on the $100 dollar bill. As the camera pulls up we hear a splash, the edges of a pool come into view, a swimmer moves through the frame and water ripples over the bill on the pool’s bottom. As the camera continues to pull up, it is revealed that the pool is on top of a residential tower. Pulling back still further, the rooftop disappears into a vast aerial view of Manhattan at night. We shot the swimmer on set; the building rooftop was filmed from a helicopter. Then we built a CG pool and CG water and married the elements, making sure they flowed seamlessly together. It is a powerful opening.”

The largest number of scenes that required Phosphene’s work were those in which the characters traveled into the tower’s elevator shaft. Three floors of shaft were constructed on the set. The actors traveled up and down the length of the 60-story shaft riding atop an elevator cab. Additionally, they climbed ladders and over the grid work in the shaft, all of which required either a complete CG environment or a massive extension of the environment to make it look as if it is actually a 60-story building and a three-unit-wide shaft. “The challenge was making sure that all the shots were completely integrated, that they were consistent from all angles and that the space feels cohesive,” Bair continued.

Phosphene VFX producer Renuka Ballal added: “We worked closely with the edit as the cut developed because the speed at which the characters and elevator cab travel through the elevator shaft is the core of the scene’s tension. There were so many moving parts—literally, moving cables, wheels and additional elevator cabs—that we had to be mindful to ensure we were accurately conveying the velocity of the set piece. These are specifics that may not be strictly evident to the typical viewer, but which completely sell the shots and make a huge emotional impact when watching the film.”

Heist Productions’ VFX Supervisor Mark Russell said: “John, Vivian and the team at Phosphene amaze me with their ability to perfectly execute the most complicated work, on time and with absolute professionalism. It was my pleasure working with them on ‘Tower Heist’.”

The Phosphene creative team, led by company Creative Director/VFX Supervisor John Bair, Visual Effects Executive Producer Vivian Connolly and Visual Effects Producer Renuka Ballal, included Visual Effects Associate Producer Lea Prainsack, Lead CG Artist Vance Miller, and Lead Compositors Thomas Panayiotou and JD Yepes.

Representing Heist Productions, LLC were Director Brett Ratner, VFX Supervisor Mark Russell, VFX Producer Ginger Theisen, and VFX Coordinators Jessica Wilson-Silas and Bryan Wengroff.

Phosphene utilized Nuke, 3ds Max with a V-ray rendering engine and After Effects CS5 and PCs running Windows 7 64-bit in the execution of this project.

Company 3 (New York, NY) was responsible for the digital intermediate and Deluxe (New York, NY) handled the lab processing.The film’s exteriors were shot at Trump International Hotel & Tower in Manhattan and in Queens, while most of the interiors were shot with green screens at Cine Magic Riverfront Studios (Brooklyn, NY).

ABOUT “TOWER HEIST”Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy lead an all-star cast in “Tower Heist,” an action-comedy about working stiffs who seek revenge on the Wall Street swindler who stiffed them. After the workers at a luxury Central Park condominium discover the penthouse billionaire has stolen their retirement, they plot the ultimate revenge: a heist to reclaim what he took from them.

ABOUT PHOSPHENEPhosphene is an independent design and visual effects house led by founders/co-owners John Bair and Vivian Connolly who have collaborated on projects since 2005. In 2010, the duo launched Phosphene and immediately hit the ground running with visual effects and title design for Barry Levinson’s “You Don’t Know Jack” (HBO), Phillip Noyce’s  “Salt,” George Nolfi’s “The Adjustment Bureau,” Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver” and Brad Anderson’s “Vanishing on 7th Street.” Currently, Phosphene is working on Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and has recently wrapped Jason Reitman’s second collaboration with Diablo Cody, “Young Adult,” starring Charlize Theron.

For the company’s television clients, in addition to their Emmy-nominated work for Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” Phosphene is busy on season two of CBS’s “Blue Bloods,” ABC’s “Pan Am,” and, having recently completed season five of NBC’s “30 Rock,” is currently working on season six. In addition, Phosphene has teamed with HBO to create all visual effects for seasons one and two, and is about to begin work on season three of “Treme.”

Phosphene is located at 180 Varick Street, Suite 1621, New York, NY 10014. For further information contact; Phone (646) 350-3370; Fax (212) 671-1734; or visit

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