Behind the scenes of Dredd 3D
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Dredd 3D VFX Supervisor Jon Thum gives 3D Focus exclusive insight into the making of the sci-fi box office hit. We ask if Dredd 3D marks a change in direction for 3D success
Posted on Oct 01, 2012 at 06:30 pm IST
Dredd 3D is a futuristic British thriller closely based on the 2000 AD comic strip Judge Dredd. Its plotline and setting is reminiscent of the original Robocop movies with a crime ridden city known as Mega City One, a drug (SLO-MO) offering a mind altering escape to the city’s 800 million inhabitants and a law-enforcing officer to battle the drug barons.

Dredd is unusual because it is a 3D film awarded an 18 certificate by the BBFC. Refreshingly, the producers did not shy away from violent scenes, often enforced by studios and it seems this brave approach has not damaged Dredd’s potential. In fact, it is the first 18 rated movie to have topped the UK and Ireland box office since Saw 3D in 2010, taking £1.05 million domestically during the opening weekend.

The $45 million movie was shot over a gruelling 13 week schedule in Johannesburg in 2010 and the team were the first clients of Cape Town Film Studios, a move which provided significant cost savings.

The majority of the movie was shot in 3D with Paradise FX rigs and London based Prime Focus World delivered 650 stereo VFX shots (90% of visual effects) produced by 70 artists over a 24 week VFX production period, under the supervision of Jon Thum (Matrix).
Written by Alex Garland in collaboration with the original comic-book creators, the movie was produced by DNA Films and features a wide variety of styles, the most notable being the SLO-MO drug sequences. SLO-MO is a drug dominant in the plot. When inhaled, it tricks its users into believing time has dilated to 1% of normal speed. Through 3D and other visual effects, the audience is taken into a POV trippy experience of what it would be like to consume the drug. Colours are enhanced, motion is beautifully hypnotic and the 3D is extended to create a sense of surrealism. "It was clear from the script that a lot of the plot revolves around the look of the SLO-MO so we were very keen to put a lot of energy into those shots." Jon Thum told us.

High speed Phantom cameras on 3D rigs recorded the scenes at 2000 frames per second (sometimes higher) and CGI elements were added in multiple layers. One particular SLO-MO scene that stands out is when a character’s face gets blown apart by a bullet, causing stringy 3D blood to fly out of the screen as his torn skin ripples to obliteration which was all produced in the realm of a computer.

Jon Thum told us “That scene was entirely CGI. We shot the actor and blew some compressed air into his mouth to get a reaction. It didn’t actually do very much but it gave him something to react against. His head flew back and we reconstructed his head in CG. We could reference the way the blood would fly away from live action shoots. There wasn’t really any reference for how a jaw would fly apart; that was more our understanding of what might happen using the reference of bullets going through bottles of water”.


He continued “We like squibs and we wanted to use squibs as much as possible. If it works and you have it on camera you don’t need to spend any more time and money on that shot. The downside to squibs is they take up a lot of set up time so if you don’t get it on the first take there is a lot of time spent to get the squib back in the actor. On this show we had a very tight shoot and we couldn’t waste any time.”

The final SLO-MO scene at the end of the movie required complex compositing of CG FX, green-screen elements and digital doubles inside a fully CG environment.

Like most modern 3D movies, certain shots had to be converted from a mono plate. Conversion was achieved using the Prime Focus View-D process (as will be used for the upcoming Star Wars 3D conversions) and was required for 84 shots including the aerials of Johannesburg which were shot in one day using a single camera.

A specially designed small rig was deployed for small spaces but unfortunately it did not work very well so about two thirds of the scenes shot with that camera were later converted due to alignment issues.

We were interested to know why the Dredd 3D team chose to shoot in 3D rather than convert to 3D later, especially as conversion increases in quality. Jon Thum explained “We were all novices in terms of 3D but we really wanted to experiment and learn about it and try new things. There was an element of using stereo for creativity that excited everybody and that’s why we wanted to shoot it in stereo. The argument we have is if you have a creative DOP on set he can see the stereo while shooting it; that’s a huge advantage and some people will want to shoot that way. Also it’s authentic - every single detail is correct. On the other hand, if you convert, you have that creative thing at the end of the film so you can change the stereo and do all sorts of things with it which you can’t do when you shoot it for real. Conversions are getting better and better and closer to the real thing so there is a saving by using your creativity later rather than on set. There are arguments for doing both. It’s much more difficult for us to do the effects with stereo footage so from our point of view we would embrace the conversion process because it makes our visual effects quite a lot easier but I’m quite proud of having done a film in real stereo.”
Dredd 3D features many dark sequences, especially during the second half of the movie, which can always create problems for 3D presentation due to the dimming effect of viewing the screen through polarising glasses. We watched Dredd 3D on the Cineworld 02 Sky Super Screen which is a very bright but regular theatres may not invest so much attention to the illumination of the screen.

Dredd 3D deployed extra lighting on set which increased production costs and air conditioning requirements. As with other 3D movies, Dredd 3D was brightened in the DI process but the darkness of the glasses was a major consideration for the production designers according to Thum…

"We did a lot of tests and it was very important for us in the production design that we were catching edges with light - as long as you see edges you can still see the stereo. Putting objects in the scene filled the space so when you watch Dredd 3D you probably notice that, on any of the sets, there are lots of things going on. We knew it was going to be a dark film but we wanted it to be dark, we wanted to make this genre of movie and make it in stereo, so sometimes we needed to throw the rule book away".

Prime Focus VFX artists also created the main ‘Peach Trees’ mega-block and its massive 200 storey atrium (a CG creation in which much of the action in the film occurs). There were also many CG FX heavy sequences, the biggest of which was the ‘76th Floor Destruction’ scene, which sees Dredd and his rookie sidekick Anderson battle it out with drug-lord Ma-Ma and her ruthless clan. Live-action on-set FX were hugely extended with CG FX to create a fully-fledged firefight and the annihilation of an entire floor.

Supporting the intense visuals was some notable sound effects which literally shock the seats of the auditorium and we were not even watching the movie on D-BOX seats!

Technicolor’s’ London facility provided an array of sound for the sci-fi feature. The production, specifically commissioned to Technicolor by Supervising Sound Designer Glenn Freemantle at Sound 24, saw Technicolor Recordist Adam Mendez spend two weeks shooting the Foley tracks with Sound Editor Hugo Adams and Foley artists Jack Stew and Andrea King, to produce the complex array of sound tracks required.

Dredd 3D could potentially mark a turning point in the direction of 3D entertainment. With a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating (as of September 17th) it has been very well received and box office takings have been good, so does this mean 3D films will find more success in adult themed movies featuring violence and gore?

Passed without cuts Dredd 3D was rated 18 by the BBFC due to “frequent strong violence throughout the film, much of which is bloody and gory in nature, and some of which dwells on the infliction of pair and injury”.

With the exception of My Bloody Valentine 3D and Saw 3D, most mainstream 3D movies have been aimed at family audiences but perhaps this was the wrong direction with 3D versions of films like Brave and Harry Potter proving to not be popular with families. Perhaps the extra people in a family are too expensive due to the ticket premium so can we expect 3D will be more successful for films featuring scenes of shock value and horror?
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