U.K. visual effects house Framestore recently re-teamed with long-time collaborator Richard Ayoade on his second feature film, a dark and deadpan adaption of Dostoyevsky’s The Double.
The Framestore team was ostensibly brought in for the doubling of Jesse Eisenberg into meek Simon James and his altogether more confident alter ego James Simon, but their work evolved into far more. With more than 150 shots, including the opening title sequence, a sci-fi film within the film, a video game, and set extensions to create an oppressive city, it was Framestore’s job to help get Ayoade’s vision for the film from his head and onto the screen.
“It’s a very powerful and striking film, it looks beautiful” says Executive Producer Simon Whalley. “We had a bit of a dream team steering it – Oscar-winning editor Chris Dickens, Erik Wilson the DP and of course Richard.”
The Double was shot in the summer of 2012, in a 1950s-looking concrete complex on the Crowthorne business estate near Wokingham that has since been condemned. “It fitted in with the dystopian future Richard wanted, where you can’t really tell where you are in space or time” says VFX Supervisor Matt Clarke. The abnormally cold building’s surprise feature, an underground firing range, became the setting for where Jesse Eisenberg meets a homeless man.
The main body of work for Framestore was the doubling up of Jesse Eisenberg. “The challenge there was that Richard didn’t want it to feel like an effect, as that would lose the audience entirely,” explains Whalley. “He wanted to shoot it in a way that was reminiscent of some of those sixties horror films, where the camera would have been bigger and more static, which helped us as it meant you could have more control over the motion control. It also wasn’t about showing off that you had Jesse in the scene twice; it was shot as if there were two actors.”
Green screen would have been the logical way to get Simon and James on screen at once, but the confines of the narrow corridors on set made it impractical. Instead the Framestore team rotoscoped Jesse out, which is more work but it came with the benefit of maintaining the same distinct, moody lighting without suffering from green spill.
Next up, Framestore needed to make Wokingham look like an endless city where the sky could never be seen. “The highest building we had was maybe four or five floors, and although it was shot very well we needed to do set extensions for some shots to get that towering, oppressive and narrow feeling” says Clarke. Another tweak to the set was the lift doors -- tormentors to Simon, but smooth and willing to James -- some of them just wouldn’t behave while filming. We altered them later, rebuilding and retiming them to get their character right.
Finding the right look for the computer graphics and interfaces throughout the film was a difficult task, particularly for the regression analysis sequence. Everything had to have a slightly otherworldly yet familiar feel. As Ayoade told the Guardian: "it’s like the future imagined by someone in the past who got it wrong.”
Other sequences handled by Framestore include the Replicator, a sci-fi detective show watched by Simon, and a video game played by Melanie. The video game was designed by David Lochhead, while for the Replicator Paul O’Brien came up with some creative ways to get a really cheesy sci-fi film look, with the sequence graded by Dave Ludlam and Ian Spendloff. Working on it as if it would be full screen in the film, O’Brien filled The Replicator full of hilarious detail and little touches. In the end it’s seen on a small TV screen. “We didn’t let him know that until he’d finished,” says Clarke, “but we’re hopeful of it being on the DVD!”