News 25.06.20

CUTTING EDGE BRINGS THE INVISIBLE MAN TO REALITY



In the current climate of COVID-19, we take the opportunity to reflect on The Invisible Man and talk to the team behind the VFX.

Marking the sixth collaboration between Cutting Edge & Blumhouse, and second with Director Leigh Whannell, Cutting Edge was appointed the sole VFX Vendor on The Invisible Man.

A testament to the continuing relationship and trust established between the involved parties. Cutting Edge’s Head of Feature & Television, Marcus Bolton describes the synergetic relationship between studio & Director. “We were incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to continue the working relationship, after such a successful partnership on Leigh’s last film, Upgrade. We developed a rapport and shorthand with him, which very much carried through the multiple projects.”

Instrumental in this relationship was Cutting Edge’s VFX Supervisor Jonathan “JD” Dearing, who had previously worked with Leigh and Blumhouse on Upgrade and was fortunate to continue carrying the legacy forward on The Invisible Man.

However, delivering over 300 shots in a 3-month-period was not an easy task, but a challenge that JD and the Cutting Edge team were eager to take on. Knowing the creative brief and the timeframe, it was vital to secure a skilful and dedicated team to execute all the elements. And with Universal already committing to a release date, the importance to get the right team for the job couldn’t be more crucial.

Cutting Edge utilised every viable minute to get the shots not only completed but to the creative standard Leigh and Blumhouse expected from the VFX vendor. And it came close! Delivering the final shot at 2 am on a Saturday morning, just in time for the deadline.

The Invisible Man celebrated its world premiere on Monday, 24th February 2020. Just a few weeks after the final delivery. Screening at the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, Marcus and JD were able to share the moment alongside the filmmakers.

“JD & I had the privilege to attend the world premiere, to see the Cutting Edge team’s world-class work on the IMAX big screen no less, was incredibly special indeed!”

“We not only delivered for Leigh, but for Goalpost Pictures & for the Universal Studios / Blumhouse relationship. They entrusted the production to not only be shot here in New South Wales but to have its VFX completed in Australia too.”

JD, I & the entire Cutting Edge team see this as our finest work and are so proud of what the team delivered.”

Marcus Bolton, Cutting Edge Head of Feature & Television

Now three months on from the premiere, the world is a vastly different place and has gone through some major changes and upheaval. Following the initial release of The Invisible Man on over 3,600 screens in the US and 48 markets worldwide, the film was released to digital retailers so audiences were able to stream at home while social distancing.

With COVID-19 continuing to challenge people’s notion of normal, many have been taking the time to reflect and reassess. Cutting Edge wanted to take the time to reflect on the work their team accomplished on The Invisible Man.

We sat down with JD (over a virtual coffee) to discuss Cutting Edge’s experience working on The Invisible Man.

It looks like you and Leigh worked together for the first time on Upgrade. What did you learn about collaborating on that film and how has that translated to The Invisible Man?

I led the VFX team at Cutting Edge, working alongside Director Leigh Whannell on Upgrade which revealed our mutual understanding and approach to VFX. Specifically, we both see the role of VFX as supporting a practical (i.e. real) approach wherever possible. In the case a practical effect is not achievable, our shared approach would be to exercise a level of restraint to ground all VFX in the real world. In all cases, our mantra is the same, that VFX should be as believable as possible. One should not be tempted to create something so out-of-this-world that the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

Let’s start with the suit. Tell me anything and everything you can about the challenges with the design and what you wanted to accomplish?



First and foremost, we were tasked with recreating a CG version of an existing physical wetsuit and then finding a way to display and demonstrate the technology visible to the audience, within the confines of that suit. We then had to introduce the CG components and the hardware that was capable of moving hundreds of CG lenses that created the camouflaged surface of the suit. This 3D suit had to animate and mimic the exact movements as the stunt man’s green suit performance, whilst also maintaining the integrity of the surface. This meant hundreds of hexagonal-shaped cells working and keeping together as the suit moved through a range of motions.

When did your team and Leigh begin to imagine what it would look like, what were some of the different options you considered? How did you land on the ultimate design?

One of the great things about working with Leigh is his conviction in the things he likes. They invoke a strong, immediate emotional reaction in him. He’s able to quickly hone in on that feeling, and commit to a way forward. The first meeting the Cutting Edge team had on The Invisible Man was focused on the suit. We sat around the table throwing out ideas and design concepts. As soon as we sighted references of a dark, simple, wet-suit style suit and various hexagonal detailed shapes, they struck a chord with Leigh, myself, the art director and the costume designer. We quickly settled on a design after Odd Studios were tasked with mocking up some tests based on Leigh’s brief. It was a very decisive, efficient concept & design phase that never really deviated from start to finish.

Can you talk about VFX challenges on a few key sequences?

One of the major VFX challenges was removing the green suit performance and providing The Invisible Man’s performance. This was particularly difficult when the stuntman’s green suit was in front of talent, or on backgrounds that we didn’t have motion control passes for. The obvious technique for the task of removing the green suit is the use of a motion control rig. This enables one to capture a matching clean plate to facilitate any clean-up required. Unfortunately, this option wasn’t always available to us, for example when faced with physical limitations of a given space. An instance that springs to mind is when the motion control rig couldn’t fit in an attic space. 

In the shot where Cecelia (Elizabeth Moss) throws a can of paint from a man-hole in the attic opening, at what appears to be an empty ladder, it’s revealed to be the outline of The Invisible Man (TIM), only a foot or so from her.

Originally Leigh had envisioned this shot with the camera finding the man-hole as a point of light in a sea of black, and then in one consistent smooth move transitioning it’s way to looking down through the opening, at which point Cecelia would overturn the paint tin revealing TIM. Leigh was eager to utilise extended single-shot camera moves throughout the film in favour of a more traditional action cut.

If we had shot this scene without a motion control rig, the results could not have been guaranteed. It may have risked the clean plate required to clean off the green suit being highly mismatched, thus compromising the shot. After various attempts at repeating a steadicam move to mimic a motion control rig, and discovering this too was compromised due to the tight confines of the attic space, Leigh agreed to lock the camera. This enabled us to focus more closely on the green suit performance and its interaction with the paint being thrown, without the complication of combining two moving plates with motion blur in low light conditions.

The suit used in this shot was a bespoke green version of the black suit seen in the film. We’d requested this version and were keen to embrace the suit’s uniquely textured surface as it would be visible when the paint covered it. The practical elements worked seamlessly, and the VFX work was completed in 2D by our compositing team.

Tell us about the key moments of the psychiatric institution. So amazing!

The hospital corridor fight scene is a great example of what motion control passes can offer; not only to gain clean plates but to seamlessly stitch multiple choreographed big-hit action moments together.

These passes could include clean-up of wire-rigs, stunt mats, squibs or window breaks. All these key singular moments could be rehearsed so the action occurred with the camera in the optimal position. Breaking up the action moments meant the timings of the sequence as a whole were not affected.

The end result was a very tight-action sequence, with big camera moves that somehow seem to predict the impending action. The VFX team at Cutting Edge had a lot of clean-up to do; we replaced a lot of the floor with a CG creation, and obviously, the CG TIM character was added. We also replaced the practical gun moment with a CG gun that TIM used halfway through the sequence.

Finally, we stitched all the passes together which also included us blending into a steadicam shot as we follow Cecelia into a stairwell, followed by another blend into the foyer before we exit the building and the shot. 

Was there any new or innovative tech you used?

Another aspect of working with Leigh that is terrific and worth mentioning is his flexibility to embrace new ideas or technology, and his openness to finding a way to incorporate them. One instance of this that made it into the film is a new 360-degree camera I was testing on the tech scout days.

I had decided to update my on-set kit and wanted to put my new camera through its paces to get familiar with it, as I use this type of camera on shots to get quick HDRI’s and even scan sets.

Whilst reviewing some of the earlier shots with Leigh on the bus, I showed him how I could pan around the image on my tablet during the location scout, and how cool it was to be able to interactively look wherever we wanted.

Leigh loved the shots and the technology, and we started discussing how it could be incorporated into a TIM point of view. The conversation around tech continued, and before I knew it Leigh had gone away and written it into the script.

In the lab scene where Cecelia first discovers the suit, we filmed her interacting with my 360-degree camera and tablet live and all her movements on the film camera and the tablet are in-camera. This is another prime example of the joys of working with Leigh, as he’s so highly collaborative.

Tell us about working with SFX Supervisor Dan Oliver’s team on key sequences?

Working with SFX Supervisor Dan Oliver and his team is a big part of the Leigh Whannell parcel. Dan is fantastic with a lot of experience in the industry and similarly incorporates a highly practical approach to filmmaking.

Our team is always happy to support Dan’s first idea at attempting any FX as a practical approach if he feels it’s achievable. We know from experience that there’s little point in pushing a CG visual effect if it can be achieved in-camera for a number of reasons. No one questions the results if it works, however, there are normally unforeseen bi-products that can add extra detail or value that no one could have predicted. It’s also always desirable for the actors to have something tangible to react to. However, sometimes a practical special effect may not work or may need assistance – which is where we step in! If a passenger car window needs to explode, VFX could offer a solution. But if the glass does actually shatter in the camera, we instantly capture an element that has been created in the correct lighting environment and behaves in the correct physical way. The shatter may still need to be shot against a blue screen, and if we need to shoot silicon pieces from an air cannon to increase the effect, post is happy to take these practical elements and composite them together, rather than doing the whole effect in CG. We call it FX synergy. 

What was Cutting Edge team’s greatest accomplishment? Do you have a WOW moment?

Our biggest success was the suit. In the end, it was heavily relied on to be a CG suit. Originally going into principal photography production we were envisioning that we were going to be using a practical suit. But when production and the team saw it on camera and compared it to the early tests of the CG suit the approach changed.

I had started getting the CG team (a big shout out to CG Supervisor Matt Ebb and Senior CG lead Aevar Bjarnason) to create the suit with a close macro look so we could explain the technology of how the camouflage hologram would work with lenses moving up and down. We showed this to Leigh on set. We also showed a full body standing in one of the environments before the principal photography had finished. It was extremely difficult to tell the difference between the real practical suit and our CG one. They ended up going with the CG one. A complete success! And a real feather in our cap!