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Territory Studio Transports ‘Mank’ Viewers to LA’s Wilshire Blvd. in 1934

Studio’s creative recreated the iconic street for David Fincher’s new Netflix biopic; archival footage, maps, and old photos, along with new imagery, were integrated to portray the famous boulevard as it was 80 years ago.

Creative design studio Territory Studio has recreated Los Angeles’ iconic Wilshire Boulevard for David Fincher and Netflix's 1930’s-set biopic, Mank. VFX supervisor Simon Carr and CG supervisor Ashley Pay tackled the recreation for a sequence utilizing LED rear projection, which brought unprecedented fidelity and realism to the scene, evoking the traditional techniques used during the period to which the movie pays homage.

The studio spent a considerable amount of time on pre-production in LA, working closely with David Fincher to create his exacting vision. A selection of archival footage, maps, and old photography supplied by the art department researcher, coupled with black and white photographic references captured while driving on Wilshire Blvd, were used to inform lighting and texture in the CG scene. Pay and Carr began to rebuild the famous street as it would have appeared when Herman J. Mankiewicz and Sara Mankiewicz drove down it in 1934.

Rear Projection, a classic technique of early Hollywood production, was chosen for the scene by Fincher. However, rather than just recreating the technique, he set out to update it with modern digital methods.  Planning and efficiency in the VFX build was key to the success of the sequence, and a guide cut was created for the street runs using a CG previs build. This allowed the team to focus their attention on the specific parts of the street that would be seen on screen.

Details were key to the sequence to help transport not only the actors but the audience back to Wilshire Boulevard in 1934. Much like the flats of studio lot films from the era, only sections of iconic buildings were created, their roofs and walls not needed if not in shot. This focus on details, such as the texture of walls, period accurate trees lining the sidewalk, and the movie posters adorning the theatres walls helped create an immersive viewing experience on screen.

Another big challenge for the Territory team was creating the street in black and white. Fincher and DP Erik Messerschmidt were shooting native, digital black and white footage, rather than desaturating color footage during post-production. The team chose to create the build of Wilshire Boulevard in color for “rear projection” via LED screens, matching to the live-action car and actors that would be seen on set. The camera’s sensor would then capture the whole scene in black and white during the shoot.

To facilitate this process and ensure an accurate result the team viewed their work internally with a black and white LUT (look up table), which matched Fincher & Messerschmidt’s reference footage. This allowed them to preview what the final image might look like in advance, giving greater control over textures and contrast levels which were significantly affected by the monochrome look.

“It was a great privilege to work on such a visually stunning movie for an eminent director, and to be able to dive into recreating the period details of 1930's Wilshire Boulevard,” commented Carr. “To see the sequence come together in-camera as a perfect blend of old style and new technique is the essence of how VFX should be used.’

Mank is a movie for the cineaste, there are so many references to Hollywood myth which illustrate the attention to detail that went into making it,” remarked Mank co-producer, Peter Mavromates. “Territory Studio also showed meticulous attention to detail in recreating 1930’s Wilshire Boulevard.  What I particularly enjoyed about working with Territory is how much they love solving puzzles, both creatively and technically, and when you do that well, movie magic happens.”

Source: Territory Studio