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Switch VFX's 'Land of the Dead' Work With Exclusive Pics

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. Led by visual effects supervisor Jon Campfens, Switch VFX created complex zombie decapitations, digital gore, matte paintings and greenscreen composites. The work was awarded to Switch VFX by Romero and producer Peter Grunwald, both of whom had worked with Campfens earlier on BRUISER. Switch VFX began production in April for what had been intended as a Halloween release. However, when the films release date was moved up to late June, Switch VFX put an accelerated production timeline into place for the compressed six-week schedule.

Campfens, Switch VFX visual effects producer Pete Denomme and their team of digital artists worked closely with Romero and Grunwald, along with Universals visual effects producer Lynn Gephart and editor Michael Doherty to attain horrific realism. Discreet Flame, Alias Maya, Adobe After Effects and eyeon Digital Fusion figured prominently in the effects work.

One of most dramatic and challenging visual effects sequences takes place early in the film, when a volley of gun blasts decapitates a zombies head. Big Daddy, the films main zombie character, tries unsuccessfully to pull the other zombie away from the hail of bullets and ends up holding just a severed head as the body drops to the ground.

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Disembodied zombie head.

The original plan was to shoot the actors on greenscreen with a prosthetic head and a prosthetic body and composite all the elements onto a clean background. During the editing, though, the best performance and shot was discovered to be the live-action take of the real actors. Switch VFX decided to use this footage as their primary source material and charged senior digital artist Gudrun Heinze with the task of creating a very visceral effect.

Heinze, working on a Discreet Flame, recalled the stages of the two consecutive shots. I made an appropriate clean background plate without the foreground zombies, then added effects breaking glass (a shot element) and stock footage bullet hits and puffs of smoke on the wall and tracked the plate to the original move. I then rotoscoped the two foreground characters so that they could be placed over the newly created background and so that the zombie body could fall independently from the decapitated head.

This necessitated separate mattes for the zombie head and the zombie body. I hand-tracked a specifically shot greenscreen element of neck viscera to the flailing zombie. This element also provided me with fleshy bullet holes that I revealed over time across the neck to reflect the gunshot wounds that would separate the zombie head from its body. I also added specifically timed blood spurts to match the bullet wounds, along with their respective shadows. Finally, I animated interactive bloodspots on the zombie's clothing and then animated the body to fall away from the head.

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Man stomps on zombie head (left). Zombie shot in the head in the arena.

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.

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