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Cinesite Delivers ‘The Fall Guy’s Flaming VFX

Visual Effects Supervisor Jennifer Giovanna Meire and her team oversaw 359 shots on David Leitch’s behind-the-scenes stunt-filled extravaganza, becoming combustion physics experts and digital pyromaniacs as they repeatedly set star Ryan Gosling on fire.

Fire, explosions, and car chases are pretty business-as-usual for visual effects artists. But it’s a rare opportunity when those effects are supposed to look like they took place behind-the-scenes. 

“It was an exciting task, taking a cult classic like The Fall Guy, where the original series was known for its practical effects, and trying to find a way to respect that nostalgic look while also incorporating more modern effects,” says Jennifer Giovanna Meire, the visual effects supervisor for Cinesite’s work on David Leitch’s and Universal’s The Fall Guy

Based on the ’80s TV series of the same name, The Fall Guy stars Ryan Gosling as stuntman Colt Seavers, who’s working on a movie directed by his ex-girlfriend Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). Things get further complicated when the film’s lead actor, action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) gets caught up in a murder conspiracy that Colt is then tasked with solving before Jody’s production gets shut down. The film, now available to rent on Prime Video, is produced by Universal Pictures, 87North, Australian Government, Entertainment 360, Québec Film & TV Production Tax Credit, and The South Australian Film Corporation.

Director Leitch, known for directing films like Bullet Train and Atomic Blonde, is very vocal about his partialness to practical effects and their ability to emphasize the realism and authenticity of action sequences in movies. Leitch himself served as stunt coordinator on Ninja Assassin, Tron: Legacy, Conan the Barbarian, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and others. Leitch also performed stunts on many films, including serving as a stunt double for Brad Pitt on Mr. & Mrs. Smith and for V on V for Vendetta. The filmmaker’s portfolio certainly made him the right person to direct this stunt-heavy film. And it made Meire excited to work with him. She and her team at Cinesite oversaw roughly 359 shots.

“I think, by now, everyone knows that David Leitch is an absolute madman when it comes to practical effects,” says the VFX supervisor. “He’s not completely convinced by visual effects and is much keener to use practical effects, which was greater for us.”

Meire says Cinesite was “everywhere” on The Fall Guy, working on practical effects as well as full CG effects. But when the production’s visual effects supervisor, Matt Sloan came to the Cinesite team saying that Gosling’s character needed to be on fire, Meire knew this was going to be a particularly challenging task considering who was directing.

“We knew that, if we were going to do this digitally, we had to convince David,” she notes. “So, we became digital pyromaniacs and studied real fires, fluid dynamics, and combustion physics, grabbed tons of references, and ran crazy simulations, all to get the perfect fire. The first few times we did it, David told us it looked too much like a campfire. But we eventually got it to a place where he was impressed, which probably made him a bit disappointed because it meant he didn’t get to light Ryan on fire for real.”

Rendering light and shadow was another “big piece of the game,” as Meire puts it, when it came to the art of making digital effects look real enough to be in a simulated behind-the-scenes shot where Gosling, as Colt, is strapped to a harness, lit on fire, and thrown against a rock over and over again. 

“We also art directed some elements, like the rolling smoke puffing,” she explains. “Again, there was a good balance between the physical occurrence and the artistic expression that David and Matt were directing.”

Many VFX artists love working on shots where the effects are invisible or aren’t supposed to be seen. But, quite a few of The Fall Guy’s effects air on the side of fantastical. Some of the more showstopping effects are featured in the scene where Colt is on drugs at a nightclub while in search of the movie’s star, Tom. After Colt is drugged by one of the guys at the club, everyone in attendance is suddenly dazzled in sparkles and, when Colt has to fistfight his way out, each time he lands a punch, it triggers flying sparks like metal being cut.  

“David knew exactly what he wanted for that scene,” says Meire. “Here, the effects were much more stylish, and we got to put more imagination into it, without breaking the realism. We put a lot of attention on timing and choreography during Colt’s fights to make sure that, despite all the distortions, that the visuals were still in sync with the performances.”

She adds, “David also wanted to upset these three main colors, RGB (red, green, blue). That distortion of the colors was very graphic-heavy in the beginning. So, we added things like chromatic aberration, which creates additional lines and color fringes along the edges of objects, to make the scene look more photographic.”

In addition to all the reference material Cinesite received, from concept art to work-in-progress shots, Meire said that one of the sources of inspiration came from her simply asking members of the team, “How do you feel when you take drugs?”

“I was going around and asking everyone this,” she admits with a laugh. “I’m sure it started to get a little bit embarrassing in the studio.”

But Meire did get some helpful feedback. 

“A few people were really nice and shared with me their thoughts on the topic, though I don’t know how much of it came from personal experience or stories they’d heard themselves,” says Meire. “Either way, it was helpful.”

One of the challenges that came with having so much sparkle and distortion in the nightclub scene was that every spark and sparkle had to be accounted for. It’s not uncommon for effects like those to wander if left unanchored, and Meire and her team had to make sure those effects stayed put. 

“We ended up rotoscoping all the characters and using garbage mattes of each of them, so the sparks and sparkles were always attached in the right place and moved only in the way we wanted,” she shares. “These days, if it's done right, you can’t really tell which is the practical effect and which is the digital one. It’s created a great partnership between different artists and filmmakers that has allowed us to achieve things we never could before on camera.”

Like, for example, safely including a dog in an elaborate car chase. One of Meire’s favorite scenes to work on was where Gosling’s character Colt is driving a standard car chasing a Garbage truck through the city streets with one of the production members’ dog in the front seat.  

Along with using a bluescreen to display the stitched-together images from the practical shots of the chase, a digital dog was added into the practically filmed shots using previously filmed images of the dog that were done separately. 

“Dogs cannot be in a shot where two or more people are fighting in a film because it’s not totally safe for the animal or the people,” says Meire. “The dogs will likely bark or even attack one of the actors thinking these two people are really fighting. So, all the scenes with the dog were shot at a different time on bluescreen and then put back inside of the car.”

Despite how complex it sounds, this visual effect was fairly straightforward, according to Meire, when compared to the stylistic challenges of the nightclub scene and pretending to light someone on fire. 

“Colt being on fire was definitely the biggest challenge because it was all in the foreground with a lot of interaction,” says Meire. “We not only had to set him on fire once, but many times, and burn up his jacket, which was a whole other conversation. It took quite a lot of time and attention to detail. Matt was an amazing supervisor to follow, and he and David worked really well together. The whole atmosphere on this movie was amazing and I think that definitely aided in our success. Everyone backstage was treated so well, which tracks with what this film is about.”

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at