Tag Archives: VFX

Compositor Ranran Meng takes audiences back to 1970s NYC for HBO’s ‘The Deuce’

For Ranran Meng, compositing is like decorating a building; as the final step of the filmmaking process, her role as a compositor, is to make a scene look complete and beautiful, just as an interior decorator would a room. She makes the footage look the best it can possibly look, ready for audiences all over the world to be taken in by the story, transported to different places and time, and to be purely entertained.

Meng has put her extraordinary touch on many of the world’s most popular recent films and television shows. These include Netflix’s hit rom-com Set it Up, Amazon’s award-winning television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the Emmy-nominated film Fahrenheit 451, to name a few. Her talents extend to commercials, collaborating with iconic brands like Microsoft, as well as virtual reality, having worked on the Harry Potter franchise award-winning video game The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR Experience in 2018.

Last year, Meng also worked on the second season of HBO’s Golden Globe nominated series The Deuce, starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Based in 1970s New York, this show gives a raw and gritty portrayal of the prostitution business that was so publicly executed at that time. As a result of police crack-down, the characters are forced to venture towards relatively safer and more discrete forms of the same work.

Meng, already a fan of the show’s first season, was happy to use her talents on such an enticing story, even if it meant she would be exposed to some spoilers.

I have not watched any show talk about the porn industry before, so this was a really unique project to be a part of. The story involves the government and police corruption, the violence of the drug epidemic and the real-estate booms and busts that coincided with the change. It really allows viewers to imagine what 1970s New York City was like,” she said. “I love the old stories and the older looking sets, it’s like seeing something from the past, even if it is not a true story. It gives an idea of what the old society was like, making it real for audiences.”

When working on The Deuce, Meng had a tremendous amount of responsibilities, making sure the VFX would really allow audiences to transport back in time to the 1970s without being noticeable. To do this, she used compositing techniques like 2D tracking, 3D tracking, roto and paint skills. In the original footage, there were modern things in the background that wouldn’t work with the time period, so she used her software to replace this with older images, making every detail work for 70s New York City.

These small details included erasing modern road stripes or signals and replacing them with the older styles, which meant she had to 3D track the scene and simulate a 3D scene of it, and then use paint techniques to paint out a newer, cleaner, no-stripes road image. She would then project the new painted road image on the 3D space and bring in a 2D plate, and then add new render stripes footage. Finally, after bringing back the cars, she used 2D tracking and roto/paint skills to do the motion work and to simulate the exact same traffic lights and shadows to bring them back to the scene. This made the scenes still have the same shooting elements, but with a perfect, older environment. Viewers may not notice things like the road signals in the background of a dramatic scene, but they would notice them if they were modernized, which is why Meng takes such care and pride in her job.

“This project is the story about the 1970s in New York, so it is interesting to make a modern city into an old-time city. I enjoyed the process of seeing how the city changed. It let me know how accurate the scene should be for output, as even a little light sign should be changed back to that period. It really magnified my attention to detail,” said Meng.

Meng’s work allowed The Deuce to be more believable and precise, allowing viewers to have the ideal entertainment experience from the couch of their homes. She used advanced high compositing techniques to achieve photoreal effects, making her indispensable to putting together such a high-end television show.

“I am proud of myself to have been a part of this great project. The post-production did a very good job and presented a real 1970s New York City to the audiences. I had a good experience working with my team and I am very much looking forward to the show’s next season,” she concluded.

The Deuce will return later this year on HBO.

Advertisements

Visual Effects Artist Jie Meng is living his childhood dream

One of Jie Meng’s most distinctive childhood memories is watching The Lord of the Rings movies for the first time. After watching the first film, he was left speechless. Not only were these movies entertaining, but also artistic masterpieces. He began watching the films over and over again, constantly overcome by the magnitude of the stunning visual effects. He realized, even at that young age, that filmmaking could make fantasy a reality, and that was when he knew he had to be a part of that world.

Now, Meng is an in demand Visual Effects Artist. He is known for his work on countless films, including Avengers: Infinity War, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and more. His talents extend to television, such as The Americans, and Freaky Friday, as well as video games, like Quake Champions and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

“I worked with Jie on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIand later on Captain America: Civil War.

Jie is a talented FX artist. He strives to create the highest level of quality and is constantly pushing himself to learn new techniques, either independently or from the team around him. He listens to positive feedback and can build FX setups and tools that are used by multiple artists. This makes him extremely productive, a pleasure to work with and I hope to work with him again in the future.” said Peter Claes, FX supervisor and Lead VFX artist at The Mill.

Captain America: Civil War was Meng’s first true taste of movie blockbuster success with his work. The film, the third Captain America movie and the 13thof the Avengers franchise, grossed over $1 billion at the box office. It was nominated for 17 awards at various festivals and award shows and took home five. Meng worked tirelessly to make this a possibility.

“It was a huge pleasure and honor working on this film. The success made me think of those days when I devoted myself to the work, and now I realize that all my efforts paid off,” said Meng.

The movie sees the beloved Captain America pitted against Iron Man due to political differences. A vast array of Avengers appear throughout the film, taking sides. It’s a story about friends and brothers. It’s a debate between freedom and obeying the rules. Meng had always been a fan of the Marvel franchise and the Captain America films, but he knew this film would be something special and that he had to be a part of it.

“After watching the movie, I thought a lot. It actually reflects a lot of problems in our current society, an individual always wants to be free but also needs to follow the laws. I like movies that reflect the social status and will bring up a topic and let me think about it, and Captain America: Civil War is one of them,” said Meng.

When it came to the effects, Meng worked on many shots in several different sequences. His focuses were the roof helicopter fighting sequence and the final battle scene. He finished all different kinds of effects for various sequences, with little touches that dramatically added to the film.

Meng’s main task, however, was developing the Ironman thruster tool in the final combat sequence between Captain America and Ironman, the climax of the film. Therefore, he knew that his role was of the utmost importance for the film’s success. The tool needed to be packed and shared with other artists at both Los Angeles and Vancouver studios to finish every shot that contains Ironman’s thruster. It needed to be designed as a “one-click and automatically build the thruster” tool, but also contains all kinds of functions to modify and art-direct the thruster effects. Meng re-designed the thrusters from Iron Man 3and packed in a whole new digital asset. Every time he modified and polished the tool, he optimized it and made the tool easier to use. In doing this, he gathered the feedback from different artists and made it more and more productive. The whole process of building the tool was a very valuable experience for Meng and bettered the film as a whole.

“Being part of this feature film, witnessing the whole VFX workflow in the post-production made me completely understand that the VFX process is never easy. The most comforting, and also most important part was I have learned a lot from this project about how to build a digital asset tool that can be used in the visual effects production and was inspired by all the VFX artists around me,” he said.

Meng also worked on other different effects like the debris, smoke, sparks, snow, etc. Those photo-realistic effects elements completed the movie sequence and created a stronger visual impact on the audience. The experience, overall, was a great honor for the visual effects artist, and he wouldn’t change a thing.

“When I saw the film premiere and my name on the credit list, I was so proud of myself and the whole crew members, and that was the most exciting moment to me for watching all my effort paid off and it was so worth it,” he concluded.

Compositor Aaron Wei talks passion for the arts and working on popular commercials

Coming from a background in fine arts, Aaron Wei had been training in traditional painting since he was only a child. He spent his life imagining what he could do on the canvas, sitting in front of the blank slate for hours before commencing his first strokes. As he grew, he began using his artistic eye for photography. However, when he’d take a picture, he found himself manipulating it into something more. This is what thrilled him; sitting in front of his computer and fusing images together, taking a work of art and turning it into a masterpiece. As this hobby began taking over his life, he began wondering, what if he could do this with a moving image? It was that moment when his astounding career as a VFX compositor began.

With an extensive background in the arts, Wei knows just how to transform a scene in post-production to make his work look like it was part of the original shot. Whether working on the next anticipated blockbuster, like Zoolander 2 or Our Souls At Night, or an award-winning television show such as Quantico or The Affair, Wei knows how to transport an audience with his work. Working with The Molecule, Wei does what he loves on a daily basis.

“Aaron is one of the best talents that I have come across in my many years in the business. He stands out as an exemplary compositor who will make considerable contributions to the industry. He has a great eye and instinct that merges technical and creative skills to achieve a desired look that is extraordinary,” said Andrew Bly, CFO of The Molecule.

Wei’s all-encompassing career has him not only working on prolific film and television productions, but also national commercials. One of the highlights of his career came in 2016 crafting a spot for Toyota.

“It was the best project I hoped I could work on. It meant a lot to a relatively newcomer in this industry, like a milestone, so to speak. This project included some futuristic scenes with spaceships, space and planets, the scale of visual effects work I had never touched at the time. I was crazy about it,” said Wei.

The commercial for the Toyota Prius followed a boy that always looked into the sky, and one day, he realized his dream. He went to another planet and watched earth from there. Wei was lead compositor in this project. He composited the planets in the main scene, and a number of other shots.

One of his shots was from the World Trade Center observation deck, where the child ran over to the window and he looks into the sky. When looking at the city from such height, everything on the ground is very tiny. In the original shot, the view in the window was not recognizable, so Wei had to ensure that the viewer could understand that it was Manhattan. In the shot, he swapped the window view to a much closer up photograph of the Manhattan skyline so that audiences could see everything.

He worked on almost every other scene, responsible for the majority of the visual effects for the commercial, which relied heavily on this.

After the success of the Toyota commercial, Wei once again worked with a car brand in 2016. This time, it was for Smart Car. This commercial project was made to focus on the features of the Smart Car. They turn fast, are easy to park, and capable of going uphill. There were a lot of shots, and Wei helped to clean-up the background, from editing trees and removing the crowds. Smart Car is owned by Mercedes-Benz, and Wei was more than eager to collaborate with such a renowned brand.

“You know when you shoot something in public, there will be a lot of brand names on the street, air conditioners on the wall, satellite disks on the roof, pedestrians, trees etc. I had to clean up all those. I did a matte-painting for the White House background shot. In DC, it’s not possible to shoot a commercial in front of the White House, so for that, I had to recreate the scene from a bunch of photographs. I cleaned up the crowds in the photo, painted the lawn in front of it, and wiped out all the cars in the street,” Wei described.

The entire experience was awesome for the compositor, who loves the fast-paced working environment of a commercial. He looks forward to working on many more throughout his career.