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'The Losers' as '80s Action Throwback

Simon Hughes of Image Engine takes us inside The Losers.

Check out The Losers trailer at AWNtv!

Image Engine was tasked with some explosive photoreal-looking action set in a stylized, comic book world. All images courtesy of Warner Bros.

An elite U.S. Special Forces unit is double-crossed and left for dead during a search and destroy mission in the jungles of Bolivia, so they plan to get even. Sounds like The A-Team. But, no, it's The Losers (headed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana), based on the re-imagined Vertigo comic book series, which was spun from the earlier DC war series.

Jesper Kjolsrud was the original visual effects supervisor for Image Engine on The Losers, but Simon Hughes, the 2D supervisor, took over when he left for Toronto to supervise The Thing. Richard Yuricich served as overall visual effects supervisor.

Image Engine was tasked with the main action sequences and Kjolsrud joined Yuricich on the shoot in Puerto Rico for those sequences. "The first of the sequences is what we call 'The Bus,'" explains Hughes. "This is where a jet flies in over a village in a jungle and drops two bombs on the village and our heroes are escaping from the bomb in a bus, racing through the jungle with the explosion chasing them.

There wasn't time to shoot practical elements, so Image Engine utilized its library and augmented with debris and CG hard surface.

"I think the biggest challenge was that, when we took the project on, we planned an element shoot, but time and money ran out, so we took our elements library, which I manipulated into place to make a believable explosion and then augmented with the CG hard surface stuff, which was the jet and the missiles and the smoke trails from the missiles and the flying debris, which were rendered in Houdini and some of it was done in Maya as well and everything was rendered in 3Delight."

There is no CG fire in The Losers. That's because it was adapted from a comic and director Sylvain White wanted the look in keeping with the graphic style, which is a throwback to the '80s action flick, very much with tongue-in-cheek.

The next sequence is called "The Houston," where they fly through the bullet holes in the glass windows and go all over the Houston landscape. "That was a huge sequence for us," Hughes continues, "because it was an entire CG build involving the cityscape and the glass that we fly through."

Although it was meant to be in Houston, Image Engine built around eight full CG buildings in the foreground, which are actually textures that they took from buildings in San Juan. And the backgrounds were comprised of stills taken of Vancouver, so Houston is basically a hybrid of modern cities from around the world.

Houston was actually a hybrid of San Juan and Vancouver.

The Miami sequence, meanwhile, involves a helicopter with a large magnet on the bottom, which picks up an armored vehicle on the streets of Miami and then flies into a building with a Dunkin Donuts sign on top of it. "Again, a really nice, challenging sequence, with the main part of the job being hard surface CG," Hughes explains.

In fact, the last major component Image Engine worked on was the jet sequence involving exploding planes and "all kinds of fun and games," according to Hughes. "It's a comp and effects artist's dream and the chance to show off."

Joel Silver was so impressed with the explosions that he added another one at the end, which Image Engine pulled off in a week.

Image Engine utilized a small crew of about 25 and it relied on its well tested pipeline. Nuke is now well integrated in a workflow that primarily consists of Maya and 3delight. "The larger pieces of jets blowing up were animations done in Maya," Hughes adds. Image Engine certainly could've done full CG fluid explosions, but the stylistic choice was to do photoreal vfx in a comic book kind of world.

Steve Garrad, Image Engine's Visual Effects senior visual effects producer, admits that it "did get a little hairy in the end because it was very tight in terms of delivery. Everyone loves to carry on editing these days, and that never makes our life easy. But, in fairness to the guys at Dark Castle, we started the big explosion shots early and they kept them in. In fact, Joel [Silver] liked them so much, he added another one toward the end, so we turned over another shot of a plane exploding in a week. I always think that jobs are at their most efficient and everyone's working at the best right when you come to the end."

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.