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Catching Bullets Full of 'Red'

Randy Goux tells us about the CG mayhem in the latest DC Comics adaptation.

The iconic image of Helen Mirren with a machine gun trumps all else. Images by Summit Ent.

Yet another variation on the A-Team opened last weekend with the DC Comics adaptation of Red, in which retired CIA black-ops Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich re-team to find out why a hit's been put on Willis.
CIS Vancouver, under the supervision of Randy Goux, did lot of supporting vfx to amp up the action (Zoic and Radium were major contributors and James Madigan was the overall vfx supervisor), hundreds of bullet holes in cars, walls and glass, a handful of CG shoulder launched rocket-propelled grenades and more bullet holes.

"There's a lot of gunshots in this one, but what makes it different is having Helen Mirren shooting a machine gun," Goux enthuses. "All audiences think that's the coolest thing."

But what separates CIS Vancouver's mayhem on Red are four shots involving -- you guessed it --the bullets. And although CIS Vancouver used Maya for 3D for the 220 shots, it relied heavily on Nuke for compositing, with Abel Milanes serving as CIS comp supervisor and Frederick Hoglin handling the more difficult shots.

Bullets were created in Maya and Nuke was the unsung hero.

"It's changed our production pipeline in that we're finding we're doing a lot more things in Nuke in CG using the power of its 3D capabilities," Goux confirms. "It's a nice little dynamic shift that we're seeing in these kinds of movies where we can get a lot more done in Nuke as far as 3D projections and manipulating 3D models and not having to go back to Maya at all.

In the first sequence, Willis drives in a police car with Mary-Louise Parker. It's a long shot, 15 seconds. The camera is inside the police car, slowly traveling from the back seat looking out the front window to the front dash, looking back out the rear. "This was a greenscreen shoot on a stage, but since it's a one-shot, getting the background plates of the city streets was the trick," Goux continues. "Jim [Madigan] filmed the background by setting up five cameras each offset by 35 degrees to encompass a full 180-degree field of view. It was our job to stitch these plates together seamlessly and match the camera move that was shot on the greenscreen stage."

Better still is the sequence when Willis is side-swiped in the car by an SUV driven by Karl Urban. "In a flash, we cut to a slow motion shot of Bruce, not even blinking, stepping out of the car as it spins and slides," Goux recounts. "He draws his gun and starts shooting at the SUV. That's Bruce's hero moment looking badass. It was also one of our trickier shots because you can't shoot that, so Jim broke the elements down to a clean plate, a police car spinning on a turntable, and Bruce on a greenscreen stepping up off a stool and waling forward shooting his gun. And we used a plate of a spinning car and took that and did a simple CG track of the spinning car, projected that plate onto the CG and put it all inside Nuke, where we could manipulate the position of the car, how the wheels were touching the ground. We spent about two months working on that shot."

Final RPG shot: cloth dynamics, fluid fire effects and photo-sonic high speed pyro elements.

Next, CIS Vancouver was tasked "with a very cool shot using a macro lens pulling back in a frying pan, while 9mm bullets are frying in oil. Yes, you read that right," Goux interjects. "Frying bullets. Sweet. On set, they actually shot this practically with an over-size pan and over sized 9mm bullets. Unfortunately, the 6 inch oversized bullets each weighed 7 pounds and were almost impossible to get to move believably in bubbling oil. So we reconstructed the shot in CG and were able to add the bubbling oil and fine jitter that was needed to sell the shot."

Then there's the final rocket-propelled grenade shot, which we see explode full frame, in slo-mo. It's full of cloth dynamics for bending metal, fluid fire effects and photo-sonic high speed pyro elements.

"Malkovich squares off Sergio Leone-style," Goux continues. "They're in a long alley of cargo containers. And this one woman is holding an RPG and he's on the other end with his six-shooter. It's very comic-book framing and they both shoot at each other, a bullet vs. an RPG. And the bullet and RPG meet in the middle. What you see is that very point of impact in hyper-slow-motion. And the RPG starts to explode and tear apart from two-feet away, which is something you never usually see. We didn't have reference and, unless you want to destroy a camera, you can't really look at that. So we did lots of studying of bullets shooting metal on metal and what we found is that there are lots of molten, mercury effects that happen. It's really neat to see what happens when an RPG is torn apart from the inside from all of its combustion. We used a lot of Maya cloth and fluid dynamics and rendered out about 15 passes in Nuke. It's our favorite shot!"

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.