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Rodeo FX Creates Magical Effects for 'Now You See Me'

Visual effects production studio Rodeo FX “magically” delivers 350 VFX shots for Summit Entertainment’s Now You See Me, serving as the film’s main VFX vendor and providing a total of 23 minutes of visual effects-driven screen time.

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Montreal -- Visual effects production studio Rodeo FX “magically” delivered 350 complex VFX shots for Summit Entertainment’s Now You See Me, serving as the film’s main VFX vendor.  The Rodeo FX team created and produced a huge and diverse array of shots for the new film, comprising 23 total minutes of visual effects-driven screen time.

Rodeo’s work involved producing the VFX for dozens of sequences. These included creating: CG crowds to fill in thousands of seats of the MGM Grand Hotel and the Savoy Theater, millions of CG Euros, a magical prop named the “Crusher,” Manhattan and Chicago city matte paintings, Las Vegas “Four Horsemen” signs and promo, and holographic design rising from CG water and smoke. Of particular note was Rodeo’s creation of projections onto buildings and the highly complex “Five Points” motion graphics-driven sequence (described further below.) Rodeo created numerous additional CG images, including playing cards, large bubbles, cars and helicopters, a police chase, actor doubles and even a CG rabbit.

Sébastien Moreau, President/Founder, Rodeo FX, said, “This project was one of the largest and most comprehensive we’ve ever undertaken since the founding of our company. As the main VFX vendor, we worked on this film for more than a year. Every sequence involved a great detail of advance planning and we had to develop new techniques and workflow pipelines to accommodate the demand. Over 100 of our artists were involved with Now You See Me in total. While we are still, perhaps, best known for our innovative matte paintings and digital environments work, this film was a true milestone in the evolution of Rodeo FX. We have proven ourselves as an industry leader and innovator -- one that can handle the demand for hundreds of highly complex and diverse visual effects.”

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Regarding Now You See Me, Rodeo FX’s VFX Supervisor Ara Khanikian said, “This was a really fun project for us – one that allowed us to really push our creative boundaries and create a very wide range of VFX. We found quick and efficient solutions to solve a lot of complex shots, and the end result is a seamless blend of artistic and technical know-how. All I can say is that I'm extremely proud of the work we have done, and I’m proud to have contributed to this beautiful film.”

Adds Isabelle Langlois, Rodeo FX’s Head of Production, “This was a very interesting project for us, one that involved a number of complex solutions to creative challenges. Every sequence we delivered for this film was so different, and each involved a good amount of communication between director Louis Leterrier, VFX Supervisor Nick Brooks, and VFX Producer Tom Elder-Groebe. We enjoyed highly productive back and forth conversations with Louis to fine-tune his vision, and Nick Brooks came to Montreal twice to visit with our artists and to work closely in tandem with them. We created numerous simulations and even handled significant motion graphics work on the ‘Five Points’ sequence. I believe we delivered on this show beyond expectations—our clients were super happy with our work.”

Nicholas Brooks, VFX Supervisor for Now You See Me, adds, “Rodeo FX was our primary visual effects vendor on this film, and they did a fantastic job. The challenge here was to tackle a wide range of creative challenges, from major crowd replication in a 9,000 seat stadium during an extended sequence, to high end, holographic design for a sequence in which images were projected onto the side of a building. They also brought us a virtual CG car chase, photoreal magic props and even enormous bubbles. These diverse VFX ranged from what I call ‘photographic forgery’ to highly creative solutions. The excellent Rodeo FX team members are always very responsible and professional collaborators—‘Mes amis du Nord.’”

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Rodeo’s CG Supervisor Sébastien Francoeur said, This show was definitely a fun and stimulating project for our CG team. Each sequence had a different challenge. The demands for this film varied from creating realistic, light, flexible bubbles, to making crazy car chases in New York City.  I think the fact that we had to manage so many different kinds of shots and not concentrate all of our work on just a few big ones made this film even more exciting for us. The ‘Five Points’ motion design, the flying bills of Euro money, the magical bubbles—all of these shots were a perfect opportunity for us to showcase our range of skills. For me, personally, the biggest challenge was to create realistic crowd shots through motion capture and scanning. This sequence even allowed us to establish a new pipeline step that will be useful to us in the future.”

Rodeo FX produced a major sequence inside the Las Vegas MGM Grand for which Rodeo filled the entire arena with a mix of 2D crowd elements and CG crowd, using highly innovative techniques which included using "off the shelf" solutions such as Kinect and PS3 cameras for Motion Capture and 3D scanning.

Rodeo used particle simulation to add millions of Euros falling onto the audience for the MGM sequence, and created and animated a CG “Crusher” (compactor-like prop) that teleports a lead character into a Paris bank vault.

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The first shot in the MGM sequence was more than a minute long. Rodeo created this shot by stitching and morphing three different cable cam plates together to form a 720-degree spinning shot of the stadium. Rodeo filled the arena with a 2D and 3D cheering crowd, enhancing the shot (as well as many other shots) with lens flares and the addition of giant video screens.

Rodeo FX created photo-real CG cars and a helicopter in an action packed car chase sequence set in Manhattan.

For a sequence set in the Savoy Theatre in New Orleans, Rodeo designed and animated enormous CG bubbles, developing new techniques during the process. The company filled the theater with a CG crowd; tracked and composited a giant check and designed the number transformation on it, and animated CG playing cards that were thrown into the audience by the cast.

Rodeo designed and created a prominent holograph animation, in which blue-prints to magic tricks are shown to the four lead cast members. For this sequence, Rodeo integrated fluid simulations to create the water animation that leads to the holographs.

Other Rodeo FX contributions included the recreation of a night-time city with digital matte-paintings and a green-screen shot of the actors in an office featuring a Las Vegas backdrop. Rodeo also did a good deal of plate photography using the Red Epic camera—these included a night-time city shoot (generic and shot-specific actions,) lens flares, smoke and water elements.

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Rodeo’s André Ü Montambeault supervised a sequence called “Five Points,” which presents the third and final magic show presented within the film by the Four Horsemen cast members. The show takes place in an abandoned building covered with graffiti, where the performers present their final illusion in front of a cheering crowd. The magicians present their illusions with a blend of animated projections on the walls, along with rock-and-roll show style lighting, and classic misdirection, as they mislead the police who are trying to apprehend them.

Said Montambeault, “For this sequence, we had to come up with a design that would serve both the show visually and the theater in which the magicians were performing. We created all of the animations that are projected, and integrated them to the plates. We also designed the lighting rig that we see on the rooftop of the Five Points building. The backgrounds were shot with an Alexa camera for all the aerial shots, and in 35mm anamorphic for the rest. A big challenge was to maintain continuity between all the shots and the different cameras. We ended up using all of our available software for this sequence, and even put in place a Motion Graphics department. We match-moved the live action camera, and then published all the CG scenes of the CG cameras and the layout of the building. The animations that were projected were created in Cinema 4D and XSI. We used the ICE module of XSI extensively to create complex procedural animations, and After-Effects and Nuke were used to pre-comp many layers. This entire sequence was composited on our Flame and Flare systems.”

Source: Rodeo FX