Framestore Provides VFX for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Save for one (studio shot) carriage, the entire train and environments through which it passes were created by Framestore. For interior work, there was a lot of green screen insertion of backgrounds as well as complementary reflections in the windows. As the fight develops, Holmes and Watson climb out onto the side of the train, so extensive digital environments were required. Many background plates were shot on panorama-cam and put in by compositing, but the entire foreground of the shot had sometimes to be digital, so White’s team created plants, bushes and scrub.
Other work by the CG team featured in the sequence includes a characteristically Ritchie journey through the inside of a gun which is pointing at Holmes as it is fired. We see the pin striking the percussion cap of the bullet and we then see the bullet fly past the camera ‘inside’ the barrel as it flies towards the end (which Holmes has sensibly spiked and which then blows up in the face of his would be assassin). “We pre-vizzed and conceived the shot working with Chas,” says White, “There is a lot of very subtle work in it – lots of attention to detail in terms of shading and texturing, as well as some lovely depth-of-field work put on by the compositing team.” White is also particularly pleased with the steam his team created for the train. “Steam is quite a challenge if you’re going to get the authentic roiling, dynamic, very voluminous looking stuff. We had a couple of guys working together – simulating in Houdini and then rendering it in fRibGen, our in-house rendering interface, and using a lot of proper volumetric shading written by the shading department. It was also an ideal chance to use FMote – a proprietary node based particle processing tool which allows FX artists to manipulate particle data prior to rendering ”
The sequence featured dozens of digital set extension shots, which were accomplished by the 2.5D team using a combination of techniques, sometimes starting off in the CG department with some rough lighting passes, and then going to the DMP (Digital matte Painting) team for their magic, and sometimes without CG input, using a combination of in-house tools in Maya and Nuke. A relatively straight forward touch added by the comp team was the illusion of motion as the train rattles along. Choreographed to reflect the intensity of the action inside, the post-added motion impressed Ritchie enormously with the veracity it brought to the sequence.
Breath of Life
Another subtle touch that pleased Ritchie and producer Joel Silver hugely was and effect that is all too easy to get wrong – the addition of tiny puffs of condensation caused by characters as they speak and breathe in an ostensibly cold environment. The Swiss Alps castle scenes were all shot in a studio, so to convey the atmosphere of a freezing Alpine night, the Framestore team came up with an ingenious solution. “We developed a reference system using real filmed footage from a cold room,” explains Quintavalle, “We found different types of ‘puff’ representing different syllables, and then used the audio soundtrack to trigger the appropriate puff. It’s a nice hybrid of real elements with an automated approach and was very controllable and quick. A couple of our artists turned out to be intuitively good at this, and they ended up doing 100 or so shots of breath enhancement. You’ll barely register it when you see it, but that’s really the point – it’s only good if you don’t notice it.”
Other important touches by the Framestore team included environmental recreations for establishing shots of Charing Cross station, Paris, and the environs around a gentleman’s club wherein Holmes faces another acrobatic (ie heavily wire-removed) assassin.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows currently enjoys an astonishing 98% ‘want to see’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and seems set fair to garner another hefty share of this holiday season’s box office. We can but hope that the eminent detective survives to fight another Christmas…
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents in asscociation with Village Roadshow Pictures, a Silver Pictures Production, in association with Wigram Production, a Guy Rithcie FIlm
DIRECTOR Guy Ritchie
PRODUCERS Joel SIlver, Lional Wigram, Susan Downey & Dan Lin
Framestore is an Oscar-winning visual effects company and the UK’s leading authority on stereoscopic 3D. Framestore uses innovative talent and technology to create hi-end images for every platform. In addition to working for Hollywood studios, advertisers, ad agencies, production and gaming companies, Framestore also generates its own paid-for content: eg – VFX in Your Pocket and Polar Peril.