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Phosphene Executes Visual Effects For HBO's You Don't Know Jack

For HBO Films' docudrama, "You Don't Know Jack," the magicians at Phosphene, a visual effects and title design company, under the direction of Creative Director John Bair and VFX Executive Producer Vivian Connolly, company founders and co-owners, manipulated time and space seamlessly substituting footage of the film's star Al Pacino into archival footage of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, ratcheting up the reality of the film which premiered exclusively on HBO April 24th, 9PM.

Press Release from Phosphene

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - June 2, 2010 - For HBO Films' docudrama, "You Don't Know Jack," the magicians at Phosphene, a visual effects and title design company, under the direction of Creative Director John Bair and VFX Executive Producer Vivian Connolly, company founders and co-owners, manipulated time and space seamlessly substituting footage of the film's star Al Pacino into archival footage of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, ratcheting up the reality of the film which premiered exclusively on HBO April 24th, 9PM.

Beginning in 1990, former pathologist, Dr. Jack Kevorkian (A.K.A "Dr. Death"), with his "Mercitron," performed the first of 130 assisted suicides. "You Don't Know Jack" follows Kevorkian through his epic legal battles and numerous exonerations. Kevorkian ultimately risks it all in his fervor to change the prevailing laws and challenge society's attitudes toward the right to die. After a "60 Minutes" interview, which included a videotaped segment of Kevorkian himself administering a lethal injection, he was found guilty of second degree murder at his 1999 trail and served eight years in prison.  The docudrama stars Oscar winner Al Pacino, in a film directed by Oscar winner Barry Levinson, and also stars Oscar winner Susan Sarandon, Danny Huston, Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman.  

"I knew from the beginning of pre-production that I wanted to use the real consultation tapes of Kevorkian's patients. This would require removing Kevorkian and inserting Pacino into the real footage and allowing him to interact with that footage in a believable manner. If the visual FX weren't completely seamless, it could very well have killed the credibility of those scenes, which was vital to the overall film. John Bair put us all at ease early on, and the end product was fantastic," explained Director Barry Levinson.

There is a tremendous amount of archival footage in "You Don't Know Jack" - Dr. Kevorkian interviews on "60 Minutes" and "Barbara Walters," and even more powerful are the actual VHS consultations that Kevorkian shot with some of his patients to document that he had spoken with them, gotten their consent, and explained the process thoroughly before assisting in their suicides.

Bair was on set supervising the green-screen reshoot with Pacino in Kevorkian makeup and wardrobe so that his team could composite Pacino into the scenes, seamlessly and believably interacting with actual patients, at times literally putting his hand on their shoulders.

"Each and every VHS tape was 20+ years old and a VHS doesn't age well - doesn't look great to begin with - so every tape had drop outs, noise and degradation that we had to match in every newly shot frame," explained Bair. "This film had more video sources than I had ever dealt with on any one project - different VHS's shot with different types of cameras, DVD sources, Beta, DigiBeta, film - it was insane. We composited the recreated frames into the archival footage - the actual consultations, news clips and patient interviews, each of which had presented its own challenges with their unique looks and sets."

"A number of scenes took place in an old Chrysler Le Baron and a VW bus as they drove from one location to the next. I was on set when we reshot greenscreen so that the performers would not have to worry about the scenery behind them. Calculating all the angles, and diagramming everything that we needed to shoot, we went out on a camera truck and lensed various locations in New York and New Jersey,  matching angles, time of day,  lighting, everything, and then composited those  backgrounds into the driving scenes. The final footage works very well and enhances the film's believability and flow," Bair continued.

In addition, Phosphene winterized some of the footage that had originally been captured in the fall, adding digital breath in some scenes, snow in others and defoliating trees and filling in backgrounds as needed.  Finally, TV comps were created and inserted when necessary.  

"We met with Barry really early in the process, before they started shooting, and he was very clear about his goals. Being involved in prepro always limits wasted experimentation time - like running through 50 things that don't work - and is a really smart way to keep costs down. John was on set to insure that the green screen recreations, the driving shots, exterior shots, lighting, change of season, TV comps and the like were exactly, technically executed for the compositing. It was all planned out ahead of time and has really paid off," added Vivian Connolly.

On her experience working with Phosphene HBO's Production Supervisor Sarah Connor stated "Really - you guys knocked it out of the park.  No one can tell which footage was period and which was made to look so by you.  And winter snow in reflections...more delicate 'real' touches by you guys. Editor Aaron Yanes added "Vivian and John created images that are beautiful and inventive while also fitting naturally and seamlessly into the film as a whole. They could make gold from lead, I swear.  But most importantly, they are an absolute joy to work with. I'd call them first."

The Phosphene creative team, lead by Creative Director John Bair and VFX Executive Producer Vivian Connolly, included Compositing Supervisor Scott Winston, Composite Artists Connie Conrad, Sergei Martirosov, Thomas Panayiotou and Aaron Raff.  

Phosphene utilized After Effects CS4, Photoshop CS4 and Nuke - and PC's (Intel Xeon Processors running Windows XP 64-bit) in the execution of this project.

Representing HBO were Director Barry Levinson; Executive Producers Barry Levinson, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Steve Lee Jones and Glenn Rigberg; Producer Scott Ferguson; Associate Producers Drew Gallagher, Stephen Markey III and Troy Powers; Writer Adam Mazur; Director of Photography Eigil Bryld; Editor Aaron Yanes, and Assistant Editor Ron Dulin; and Postproduction Supervisor Sarah Connors.

The film-to-tape assignment was handled by Colorist Tim Stipan of Technicolor (New York, NY).

Digital Intermediate and Lab Processing was completed at Technicolor (New York, NY) with DI Executive Producer Barbara Jean Kearney, DI Producer Dana Bloder, DI Colorist Tim Stipan, DI Engineer Mike Whipple, Smoke Artist Jay Tilin, Data Manager Andrew Still, and Dailies Advisor Joe Violante.

About Phosphene

Phosphene is an independent design and visual effects house led by Founders/Co-Owners John Bair and Vivian Connolly.  The principals and their creative team recently completed the internal visual effects for HBO's "Treme" they are in the process of completing visual effects for "The Adjustment Bureau" starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt; On set VFX Supervision and VFX for "The Beaver" starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster; VFX for "Vanishing on 7th Street" with Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo; VFX for "Salt" starring  Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber;  and "The Real Housewives of D.C." (Half Yard Productions) for which they are designing and animating the show package; John Bair will direct the talent on this shoot. (While at other companies they created the show packages for both the New York and Atlanta franchises.)

Phosphene is headquartered at 435 Hudson Street, 9th floor, New York, NY 10014. For further information about Phosphene contact vivian@phosheneFX.com  (212) 444-5828.

Credit Sheet:

Airdate:  HBO Film's premiere, April 24th, 9PM

Title: "You Don't Know Jack"

Description: For "You Don't Know Jack," the magicians at Phosphene, a visual effects and title design company, manipulated time and  space seamlessly substituting footage of the film's star Al Pacino into archival footage of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. In addition, Phosphene winterized some of the footage that had originally been captured in the fall, adding digital breath in some scenes, snow in others and defoliating trees and filling in backgrounds as needed.  Finally, TV comps were created and inserted when necessary.

Visual Effects Company:  PhospheneCity/State: New York, NYCreative Director: John BairVFX Executive Producer:  Vivian ConnollyCompositing Supervisor: Scott WinstonComposite Artists: Connie Conrad, Sergei Martirosov, Thomas Panayiotou andAaron Raff.

Hardware/Software: Phosphene utilized After Effects CS4, Photoshop CS4 and Nuke - and PC's (Intel Xeon Processors running Windows XP 64-bit) in the execution of this project.

Client: HBOCity/State: New York, NYDirector: Barry Levinson

Executive Producers:  Barry Levinson, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Steve Lee Jones and Glenn Rigberg

Producer: Scott Ferguson

Associate Producers: Drew Gallagher, Stephen Markey III and Troy Powers

Writer: Adam Mazur  

Director of Photography: Eigil BryldEditor: Aaron YanesAssistant Editor: Ron Dulin Postproduction Supervisor: Sarah Connors

Digital Intermediate and Lab Processing: Technicolor

City/State: New York, NY

DI Executive Producer: Barbara Jean Kearney

DI Producer: Dana Bloder

DI Colorist: Tim Stipan

DI Engineer: Mike Whipple

Smoke Artist: Jay Tilin

Data Manager: Andrew Still

Dailies Advisor: Joe Violante

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