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Watch: Union VFX ‘Operation Mincemeat’ Breakdown Reel

Innovative visual effects add drama and authenticity to John Madden’s WWII thriller; historically accurate shots using countless matte paintings and a fully CG sub recreate a 1943 backdrop; starring Colin Firth, Kelly MacDonald, Matthew MacFadyen and Penelope, the film hits theaters May 6.

Union VFX served as the sole visual effects vendor on the Warner Bros. thriller, Operation Mincemeat, the story of a successful British deception operation in WWII. Directed by Oscar-nominated John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), the script for the film was adapted from the book of the same name by Ben Macintyre and is produced by See-Saw Films (The Power of The Dog) and Cohen Media Group (Howard’s End), in association with Archery Pictures (Miss Sloane). The movie opens in theaters across the UK, Ireland, and the U.S. on May 6. 

Starring Colin Firth; Kelly Macdonald; Matthew MacFadyen; Penelope Wilton; Johnny Flynn; and Jason Isaacs, the film is set in 1943. The Allies are determined to break Hitler’s grip on occupied Europe with a plan to launch an all-out assault on Sicily. Facing impossible challenges, two intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (MacFadyen), must protect the invasion force from potential annihilation. They must dream up the most inspired and improbable disinformation strategy of the war - centered on the most unlikely of secret agents: a dead man.

Union worked on the film from script to delivery to recreate key moments in the story and place the action into the period. The VFX work included a fully CG submarine and numerous matte paintings to create environments of a war time London, stretching from Horse Guards Parade to Whitehall.

Leading the VFX production was Union’s creative director and VFX supervisor Simon Hughes, who worked closely with Madden to bring the director’s vision to life.

“I valued the collaboration on this immensely, and the skill, patience and imagination Union brought far exceeded my best expectations,” shared Madden. “The shot of the submarine surfacing, which begins the film, is very cool and truly thrilling, establishing a narrative confidence that challenges the film to match it. The best thing is that you don't even think about how we got the shots - they just did their job so well. Judgment throughout was spot on, and I was really grateful for your endless willingness to adapt while we figured out exactly what we wanted.”

The HMS Seraph submarine scene was shot at Twickenham studios on a partial set built against greenscreen. The submarine was added in post, along with complex water simulations and rain. The same submarine was also used in a series of full CG shots, from the opening scene with the vessel in stormy waters, to the re-emergence at Huelva Beach at night. The Seraph became a character in its own right.

For the USS Shubrick approaching Gela, the real HMS Cavalier was filmed at Chatham Dockyard and then partially replaced with the CG Shubrick and added into a CG stormy ocean. It is seen powering towards Sicily, which required a wake and ocean creation as well as a flotilla of ships. An additional number of shots were created showing the troops final arrival and the storming of the beaches with CG landing craft and destroyers in the ocean.

Once the battle was complete, a final shot was created showing the aftermath the morning after: a 600 frame plus shot that revealed the full scale of the battle from the previous night. It was achieved using a combination of CG crafts, vehicles and props and a number of plates of soldiers marching on the beaches - all with a view to historical references that were gathered to create an authentic feel.

Source: Union VFX

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.