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Halon Gets its Previs Game On for ‘Free Guy’

Led by Ryan McCoy, the studio’s team provided previs, techvis, and postvis on Shawn Levy’s sci-fi comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as a bank teller who discovers he’s a character in an open-world video game.

Leading visualization studio Halon Entertainment, an NEP Virtual Studios Company, has shared with AWN a breakdown of their work on 20th Century Studio’s sci-fi comedy, Free Guy.

Directed by Shawn Levy, the film stars Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a bank teller who discovers he is actually a non-player character in an open-world video game. After becoming the hero of the story, he tries to save his friends from deletion by the game's creator. The film also stars Jodie Comer; Joe Keery; Lil Rel Howery; Utkarsh Ambudkar; and Taika Waititi.

Halon’s team, led by senior supervisor Ryan McCoy, provided previs, techvis, and postvis for some of the main action sequences involving the unique game mechanics of Free Guy’s virtual world. Halon began the five-month project by providing previs in L.A., working closely with Levy, VFX supervisor Swen Gillberg, and board artists. After moving with the production to Boston, they completed the final previs sequences on location; additionally, Halon worked closely with Gillberg and DP George Richmond, assisting with virtual location scouting for previs measurements, sun tracking techvis, as well as figuring out the long robotic camera arm shots.

According to on-set previsualization supervisor Grant Olin, “In L.A., we worked primarily with Shawn and Swen. When I went out to Boston for the shoot, I ended up working very closely with many departments, everything from producing traditional previs, to spending half a day with the key grip, talking about helping him plan out the sorts of gear he needed to pull off different plates of the opening shot. The whole crew pretty much had an open door; anytime someone from any department had something to show, we’d just stop by each other’s desks and work together. It was definitely one of the most broad, collaborative previs/techvis processes I’ve ever been a part of.”

The previs team also created numerous reference reels of crazy stunts that players perform in different games, along with strange glitches and other visual inspiration to help filmmakers brainstorm and build out the action and gags.

For postvis, Halon was tasked with the film’s opening, combining multiple plates into one continuous action sequence to introduce Reynolds’ character. 

“We started out with previs for all the sequences we worked on, building out the storytelling first, then coming up with gags,” Olin explains. “After that we moved our sequences into very detailed techvis, particularly for the opening, glasses on, and construction site sequences.

In noting their work became the blueprints for those scenes, Olin reveals, “In the opening sequence, we had to break down the previs with VFX/Camera/Locations/Stunts to figure out which parts could be shot, and where. From there, we had to rebuild the shot into something filmable, going back and forth with all the aforementioned departments to make sure the previs was as close as absolutely possible to what would be filmed. Similarly for Glasses On, particularly the robotic arm shot, the previs really became bible and was in part used to drive the robotic arm itself.”

“The construction site wasn’t without its own unique challenges,” he continues. “Once we had a sequence everyone was feeling really great about, we had to break it down into as few shooting setups as possible, so the art department could build out small chunks of sets in four greenscreen bays and we were certain that every shot in the previs could be pulled off within those boxes.”

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