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WATCH: In-Camera Effects Redefined for Oscar-Shortlisted ‘First Man’

Alongside a new featurette produced by primary visual effects vendor DNEG, Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Paul Lambert details the hybrid of practical and digital techniques employed for the cinematic adaptation of ‘First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.’

Led by Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Paul Lambert, primary visual effects vendor DNEG employed a hybrid of practical and digital techniques for director Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man.’ © 2018 Universal Pictures.

In preparation for tomorrow’s Academy VFX Bake-off, where 10 shortlisted films will compete for a nomination in this year’s Oscar race, visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert and his team have created a new look at the extraordinary work they did on Universal Pictures’ First Man.

First Man is a production in which we redefine shooting ‘in-camera,’” Lambert notes of the multitude of VFX techniques employed in creating the realism for Damien Chazelle’s cinematic adaption of “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” by James R. Hansen:

“Those words generally imply everything is shot practically, which we creatively did. We had to create a gentle balance using a diverse mixture of visual effects, special effects, archival footage and scaled models to help create the 1960’s documentary style film that was the Director’s vision.
The biggest challenge was how to shoot certain space and in-flight elements with our CG content to fit within the boundaries of a film being shot with 16mm & 35mm film. The effects had to be subtle and shot in particular way to make it feel like footage from the day. Anything that felt like heavy VFX would have completely taken you out of the story and be glaring out at you.
With the various crafts in the movie we tried to stick to a simple philosophy. Depending on the size of the craft in frame is when we would design the shot to either use the full-scale practical, 1/6 scale miniatures or the full CG version. We shot full scale practical crafts with the actors on six axis gimbals in front of the curved 60-foot diameter and 35-foot tall LED screen. Using 90 minutes of VFX content that was created at DNEG we were able to create a pseudo full three-dimensional world in-camera.
We rendered full 360 degree spherical images to be played back on the screen that gave us the greatest flexibility on the day. The playback system allowed for interactive rotation and color grading as we filmed. Having entire sequence backgrounds in camera while shooting rather than being made in post after the shoot not only added to the believability of the scene with interactive light and reflections it undoubtedly helped the actors. They could actually see and react to what was in front of them.
In our search through NASA resources we came across some Apollo launch footage shot on obsolete 70mm military stock that had never been seen before. Some of those visuals we had to recreate with CG but others we augmented to fit within the parameters that we were shooting. At the core of those scenes we retained the original material but we reframed it, cleaned it up and extended them on each side with matte paintings and CG.
The movie ends with nine minutes of full frame IMAX footage which was meticulously cleaned up and extended including one shot where we transition from 16mm to 70mm film as we travel out through the portal door. The post work was done at 6K and every visor was retained but had to be cleaned up because at this resolution you literally can see everything.”

-- Paul Lambert, Visual Effects Supervisor, First Man

Watch the VFX reel for First Man in the player below, and then click through to One Small Step: Recreating the Historic Lunar Landing for ‘First Man’ to learn more about how the extraordinary visuals for the film were created:

Source: Universal Pictures

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.