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