Switch VFX, a Toronto-based visual effects studio, recently completed work on LAND OF THE DEAD, the latest installment in legendary filmmaker George A. Romeros DEAD horror franchise.
Switch VFX was responsible for 155 of the films more than 300 shots. Headed up by visual effects supervisor Jon Campfens, Switch VFX created complex zombie decapitations, digital gore, matte paintings and greenscreen composites.
Senior digital artist Gudrun Heinze described how one of the zombies loses his head in a three-shot sequence that takes place on an old bridge.
In the first shot we see the zombie head beneath the girder. Production had cut a hole in the bridge piece so they could lower it far enough over the actor's wriggling head. We fixed the plate, by patching the hole, rotoscoping the zombie head, and positioning it over the patch. Then we added a digital squash to the zombie's face to simulate the pressure of the bridge. CG blood trickling down the neck drives home the fact that the zombies neck is actually being severed, with a spurt of blood for dramatic effect.
The camera then moves to the opposite side of the bridge where we see just the zombie's body. In the original plate, the body is pulled away from the girder, but the prosthetic neck wound was not convincing. We tracked a more realistic wound to the neck and added more blood spurts, including blood spray that spatters on the bridge itself.
The camera then moves back to the zombies head to which several layers of blood have been added pulsing spurts, 3D blood gushing from the neck and spray that falls and tracks with the closing girder element. We used a combination of specific and generic blood elements shot over greenscreen.
Meanwhile, the 3D department created a 3D girder element to give the bridge piece more weight and mass. They also changed the timing and placement of the girder, making the illusion of the head being severed by the set piece much more gruesome and believable.
The zombies head and hair was rotoscoped and placed more realistically over the 3D girder, Heinze added. CG blood flow was added below the head on the bridge to provide continuity that was missing from the original plate. This final shot was then resized to a larger scale, forcing the audience to witness the head falling from the body and the accompanying blood splat in gruesome detail.
Switch VFX also handled the majority of zombie head hits and blood spurts. When hundreds of zombies try to break through the gate at the depot, an enormous amount of blood splatter, head hits, residual smoke and gun muzzle flashes are seen. Switch VFX used elements that they shot with special effects make-up supervisor Greg Nicotero against greenscreen, adding CG blood spray to enhance directionality.
Since director Romero ventured for the first time outside his native Pittsburgh and the setting for the previous films to shoot in Toronto, Switch VFX was asked to create an exterior matte painting that would be seen through the windows of Kaufmans (Dennis Hopper) skyscraper home. Using hi-res stills of Pittsburgh, Switch VFX digital artist Joel Skeete created and composited the matte painting into 15 shots, employing creative license to alter certain areas to be more script specific.
Campfens concluded, George had a very clear vision of what he wanted to see, but also allowed us the freedom to experiment with new ideas...
Switch VFX (www.switchvfx.com) is a Toronto-based visual effects studio specializing in the production of photorealistic digital visual effects and CG character creation for feature films and television. Switch VFX was founded in 2004 by Campfens, exec producer Denomme and finance and business affairs exec Laurie Thompson.