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November 2014
Issue: June 1, 2013

Rodeo FX creates 350 VFX for 'Now You See Me'

MONTREAL — Rodeo FX (www.rodeofx.com) served as the primary visual effects vendor on the new film, Now You See Me. The studio delivered 350 complex VFX shots for the film, representing 23 minutes of screen time.
 
Rodeo’s work involved producing the VFX for dozens of sequences. These included creating CG crowds to fill in thousands of seats of the MGM Grand Hotel and the Savoy Theater; millions of CG Euros; a magical prop named the “Crusher;” Manhattan and Chicago city matte paintings; Las Vegas “Four Horsement” signs; and a holographic design rising from CG water and smoke. Of particular note was Rodeo’s creation of projections onto buildings and the complex “Five Points” motion graphics-driven sequence. Rodeo created numerous additional CG images, including playing cards, large bubbles, cars and helicopters, a police chase, actor doubles and even a CG rabbit.

“This project was one of the largest and most comprehensive we’ve ever undertaken since the founding of our company,” notes Sébastien Moreau, president/founder of Rodeo FX. “As the main VFX vendor, we worked on this film for more than a year. Every sequence involved a great detail of advance planning and we had to develop new techniques and workflow pipelines to accommodate the demand. Over 100 of our artists were involved in total. While we are still, perhaps, best known for our innovative matte paintings and digital environments work, this film was a true milestone in the evolution of Rodeo FX.”

“This was a very interesting project for us,” adds Isabelle Langlois, Rodeo FX’s head of production, “one that involved a number of complex solutions to creative challenges. Every sequence we delivered for this film was so different, and each involved a good amount of communication between director Louis Leterrier, VFX supervisor Nick Brooks, and VFX producer Tom Elder-Groebe. We enjoyed highly productive back and forth conversations with Louis to fine-tune his vision, and Nick Brooks came to Montreal twice to visit with our artists and to work closely in tandem with them. We created numerous simulations and even handled significant motion graphics work on the ‘Five Points’ sequence. I believe we delivered on this show beyond expectations — our clients were super happy with our work.
 
“This show was definitely a fun and stimulating project for our CG team,” says Rodeo’s CG supervisor Sébastien Francoeur. “Each sequence had a different challenge. The demands for this film varied from creating realistic, light, flexible bubbles, to making crazy car chases in New York City. I think the fact that we had to manage so many different kinds of shots and not concentrate all of our work on just a few big ones made this film even more exiting for us. The ‘Five Points’ motion design, the flying bills of Euro money, the magical bubbles — all of these shots were a perfect opportunity for us to showcase our range of skills. For me, personally, the biggest challenge was to create realistic crowd shots through motion capture and scanning. This sequence even allowed us to establish a new pipeline step that will be useful to us in the future.”

For the major sequence inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the studio filled the entire arena with a mix of 2D crowd elements and CG crowd. The used off-the-shelf solutions such as Kinect and PS3 cameras for motion capture and 3D scanning.
 
Rodeo used particle simulation to add millions of Euros falling onto the audience for the MGM sequence, and created and animated the Crusher compactor that teleports a lead character into a Paris bank vault.
 
The first shot in the MGM sequence was more than a minute long. Rodeo created this shot by stitching and morphing three different cable cam plates together to form a 720-degree spinning shot of the stadium.
 
For the car chase sequence set in Manhattan, Rodeo FX created photoreal CG cars and a helicopter. And for the sequence set in the Savoy Theatre in New Orleans, Rodeo designed and animated enormous CG bubbles, developing new techniques during the process. The company filled the theater with a CG crowd, tracked and composited a giant check and designed the number transformation on it, and animated CG playing cards that were thrown into the audience by the cast.

For the prominent holograph animation, in which blue-prints to magic tricks are shown to the four lead cast members, the studio integrated fluid simulations to create the water animation that leads to the holographs. Other Rodeo FX contributions included the recreation of a night-time city with digital matte-paintings and a greenscreen shot of the actors in an office featuring a Las Vegas backdrop. Rodeo also did a good deal of plate photography using the Red Epic camera. These included a night-time city shoot (generic and shot-specific actions,) lens flares, smoke and water elements.
 
Rodeo’s André Ü Montambeault supervised a sequence called “Five Points,” which presents the third and final magic show within the film by the Four Horsemen cast members. The show takes place in an abandoned building covered with graffiti, where the performers present their final illusion in front of a cheering crowd. The magicians present their illusions with a blend of animated projections on the walls, along with rock-and-roll show style lighting, and classic mis-direction, as they mislead the police who are trying to apprehend them. 

“For this sequence, we had to come up with a design that would serve both the show visual and the theater canvas for the magicians,” notes Montambeault. “We created all of the animations that are projected, and integrated them to the plates. We also designed the lighting rig that we see on the rooftop of the Five Points building. The backgrounds were shot with an Alexa camera for all the aerial shots, and in 35mm anamorphic for the rest. A big challenge was to maintain continuity between all the shots and the different cameras. We ended up using all of our available software for this sequence, and even put in place a motion graphics department. We match-moved all the shots in the sequence, and published all the scenes that include cameras and layout of the building. The animations that were projected were created in Cinema 4D and XSI. We used the ICE module of XSI extensively to create complex procedural animations, and After Effects and Nuke were used to pre-comp many layers. This entire sequence was composited on our Flame and Flare systems."

Rodeo FX’s VFX supervisor Ara Khanikian adds, “This was a really fun project for us – one that allowed us to really push our creative boundaries and create a very wide range of VFX. We found quick and efficient solutions to solve a lot of complex shots, and the end result is a seamless blend of artistic and technical know-how."