THE LAB SYDNEY CREATES STORMS & STEAMSHIPS ON SOUTH SOLITARY
Full post production workflow including 3D, 2D, VFX, matte painting and Digital Intermediate grading
The Lab Sydney has lent its talent to Director Shirley Barrett’s (Love Serenade) recent feature film, South Solitary by providing post production and VFX services to the film.
The film was Produced by Marian Macgowan (Macgowan Films) and Edited by Denise Haratzis ASE. South Solitary premiered at the Sydney Film Festival’s gala night, which is a testament to the entire production and post production team. The film will be released nationally July 29.
South Solitary was filmed mostly on location at Cape Nelson, near the historic seaside town of Portland in Victoria and lighthouse interiors were shot at Cape Otway in Victoria. The story, which is set in the 1920’s involves an unlikely relationship between a lonely young woman (Miranda Otto) and a shell-shocked lighthouse keeper on a remote island. Violent storms and rough seas batter the rugged island as the story unfolds.
At the commencement of production, Cape Nelson offered up only the most calm of seas and the bluest of skies. What was actually required for the film however was just the opposite - rough winds, overcast skies and wild seas. Enter The Lab Sydney to develop solutions to recreate these missing elements through its 3D, 2D, VFX, matte painting and digital intermediate grading departments.
The Lab’s Head of Film and TV, Prue Fletcher said “We had teams of 2D compositors, 3D animators and matte painters creating and generating storms, different sky sequences, producing antique lighthouse lamps, constructing an old 20s steamer and replacing and cleaning up shots. It was a tremendous effort. The clean up shots included the removal of windmills from a wind farm and we also had to generate rough seas and then composite them into different shots.”
The Lab’s VFX Supervisor, Soren Jensen (Two Fists, One Heart; Charlotte’s Web) and Head of Digital Intermediate, Al Hansen (Tomorrow When The War Began; Catch a Fire) were both involved in the project right from pre-production. Soren participated in the original surveys of the location with the Director, Producer, DOP and Production Designer. Hansen travelled to Victoria to set up the pipeline for daily rushes at The Lab Sydney’s sister company, Digital Pictures Melbourne. Visual effects, digital Intermediate grading and post production was completed at The Lab Sydney.
The Director was able to take full advantage of the provision of streamlined services between the two Omnilab Media companies. Offline suites were set up at Digital Pictures Melbourne to undertake the film’s rushes and editorial. The media was then delivered to The Lab Sydney where the Director’s cut and fine cut were locked off.
The Lab completed different visual effects breakdowns with a total of 57 shots required throughout the film.
‘In my experience this amount of visual effects is considerably large for an Australian film of this size and modest budget. It is quite unique,’ said Soren Jensen.
‘Director Shirley Barrett (Love Serenade; Love My Way), really embraced the use of digital effects within her film.’ says Jensen. ‘She had a clear vision about what it was that she wanted to achieve and because she understood the post production and visual effects process, the production saved a lot of money by using VFX rather than being hit with the high costs and time involved in physical production.’
VFX AND DI CASE STUDY
To stay true to the 1920s lighthouse architecture, the first visual effects challenge was to create a “first order” French prism lens on the exterior shots of the Cape Nelson lighthouse. French prism lenses were commonly used in the 1900s and sit on a turntable that floats in a bath of mercury. Jensen photographed a “first order” French prism lens at the Cape Otway lighthouse and composited this onto the exterior shots of the Cape Nelson lighthouse with the help of The Lab Sydney’s Lead 3D Artist, Clinton Downs and Lead Compositor Chris Leaver.
A 1920s steamship was required to sail off into the horizon at nightfall as the film’s main characters row toward the island. With no real life 1920s steamer available to film, the VFX team used elements of the John Oxley, a 1920s 50metre, heritage-listed coastal steamship currently docked in Sydney’s Blackwattle Bay.
Additionally, the team had to create smoke plumes that emitted from the steamship’s funnel, and light emanating from the ship’s mast and windows. Real smoke was filmed from the Portland aluminium smelter near the film’s production base. This smoke was then composited onto the CGI steamer. The boat was placed in the back of shot and graded to reflect dawn.
A number of matte paintings were created by the Lab’s 2D and 3D teams to mimic the gale force winds and bleak weather thrashing the island. CG water was manufactured to create high and heavy waves crashing on shore. These scenes required intense particle animation of sea spray combined with live action elements of windstorms on land shot on black screen. Additionally, a hailstorm was created totally out of 3D with lightening strikes and CG hail. The 2D team composited these elements. All these shots needed to look seamless and believable and not detract from the action happening between the characters.
“Cinematographer Anna Howard, ACS, shot with high quality prime lenses which helped immensely in the visual effects process. Anna used 50D stock, which helped with the grain pattern in the VFX component of the film. I was impressed that Anna insisted on using these lenses as it meant we had high quality images to work with. This showed Anna’s acute technical understanding and appreciation of the post/visual effects process,” said Soren.
Al Hansen, Head of DI at The Lab created and finished the DI grading with support from The Lab Sydney’s Senior Colourist, Vincent Taylor.
There was considerable complexity to the DI grading on this film as a significant amount of shots required sky manipulation of bright sunny days to dark and stormy nights.
The Lab Sydney’s sister company Digital Pictures Melbourne ran the daily rushes, and then the reports and tapes were sent to The Lab. This allowed Hansen and Taylor to review the tapes on the Lab’s DI theatre screen and solve any potential problems very early on. Neil Wood, Senior Colourist (The Pacific; Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) at Digital Pictures Melbourne ran the telecine and did the best light on the rushes. He would ring Hansen daily to discuss the reports. If issues were identified Hansen could ring the production to find a solution.
With the production in such a remote location, Hansen set up a “look” for the rushes early on. This meant that the DOP could trust the accuracy of the footage and there were no ‘surprises’ on footage being sent back to Sydney from Melbourne.
Hansen believes in collaborating fully and as early as possible and as such provided support and significant research to help the Director and DOP to decide on the best way forward. Anna Howard explains, “There were a lot of weather problems on this film and the weather was such an important component to the storyline. So rather than be restricted by the lack of stormy weather, I had the freedom and confidence to know that Al and Vincent would create great work.’
‘Al is technically brilliant and was very collaborative with us on our project. He was extremely generous with research and showed us numerous tests and clips from other projects he has worked on. Combine this with Vincent Taylor’s DOP background and his understanding of the emotion of the film, we just felt fully supported the whole time.” explains Anna Howard.
The grade and DI was a two-stage process that involved complex DI grading plus a grain reduction process.
‘Anna shot the film on 16mm which can be a very unforgiving format with less room for error in exposure and focus.’ says Al Hansen ‘The grain reduction process involved extensive testing and film outs prior to shooting. After tests were completed for stock and cameras, the stock was selected and the method of grain reduction was chosen’.
Hansen continues ‘It was a completely non-stressful production and Anna Howard is a true collaborator. Because of this partnership we were able to deliver exactly what the director wanted from the project. Hats off to her as it was a tough environment to work in, a very isolated location, cramped shooting space in a lighthouse and rugged terrain.’
Prue Fletcher concluded “South Solitary utilised a full service post production workflow that was done using the best creative and technical talent at both The Lab Sydney and Digital Pictures Melbourne. This seamless level of integration furnished the production with a high quality end result.”
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