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Visual Effects for Fast & Furious 6
Posted on June 04, 2013 at 05:10 pm IST
The special and visual effects work includes crashing a massive Russian cargo plane, to battling a tank and destroying a parkade and driving around city streets.
The stunts and action of Fast & Furious 6 may well be the biggest yet. Here's a look at the special and visual effects work behind them - from crashing a massive Russian cargo plane, to battling a tank, destroying a parkade and driving around city streets.

Perhaps the most audacious stunt in the movie, nay, the series, is the bringing down of an Antonov AN-225 as it attempts to take off. In the film, the team tether the plane to their vehicles and drive into and out of a ramp in the rear of the aircraft, which finally ends up crashing on the runway. At one point, Dominic (Vin Diesel) drives his car through the nose cone of the plane.

Like many of the action sequences in the film, director Justin Lin wanted to capture the stunt practically as much as possible. "That's all...good...until you start looking at the previs and realize they're trying to throw tanks through the air and have them jump and race alongside an aeroplane at 100 miles an hour," notes visual effects supervisor David Vickery, from Double Negative, which handled effects for the Antonov crash.
"So you go, 'How are we going to do that for real?', and Justin comes along and says well we can't get a real plane but we can build most of a real plane! So he'll go to whatever lengths he can to shoot stuff in-camera to get stuff for real."

Special effects supervisor Joss Williams built three practical set-pieces that would be filmed on an RAF base at Bovingdon, Hertfordshire:

- a 75 foot long, 50 foot wide section of the fuselage completely finished up to a height of 25 to 30 feet, with rolling wheels.
- a ramp piece dressed like the tail piece of the plane - about 100 feet long - that allowed the cars to drive in and out out the back of the plane.
- a 1:1 scale partial build of the center of the fuselage and the wings and engines, and the nose, that could be set on fire.

"The second unit shoot crew was often made up of more that 200 people," notes Vickery. "Stunt drivers, camera operators and technicians, special effects and safety experts, electricians, painters, carpenters, art department, hair and makeup artists and of course the visual effects crew to name just a few. In pre-production there would have been dozens more technicians involved in fabricating the rigs and planning the work. When it came to post production we had over 350 artists working on the project at Double Negative alone. A typical Antonov destruction shot would take well over 100 man days to complete and would have perhaps 10 different people working on it."

Vickery says that the practical elements, which also included plenty of practical fire and smoke elements, were invaluable. "I think a lot of the time in visual effects you assume we can do anything now. And you can do anything, but everything’s limited by the time constraints you have, and the artist's imagination. Building these huge explosions from scratch requires a lot of effort and time, and a lot of detail. It’s one of those things - you have to plow so much detail into one of these renders / simulations in order to throw it all away when you composite it. Because if you don’t have all the detail in the first place it becomes very apparent that it doesn’t have the complexity and layers of effects required to make something real and believable."

In particular, Double Negative could reference aspects of the pyro and smoke effects from the shoot to work out the exposure and detail required for their digital augmentations. "We spent a lot of time making shots dirtier," says Vickery. "Justin referred to them not being dirty enough - I think he reacted to the clarity and fidelity of any digital work or any 3D where you tend to see a little too much detail in the surface of the plane or exposing perfectly for the fire and the actors' faces. He would spend a long time just throwing detail away. We were being very precious with our work and people spent a lot of time doing a huge amount of fantastic detail, but what it came down to in the end was that the shots themselves have to work when you watch them, and if you've got pieces of debris trying to centerstage themselves and become really obvious and visible in a shot - it wasn't working anymore."

This extended, also, to matching the look the camera operators achieved, and even the behavior of film to "match the strains and stresses that are put on cameras and cameraman and DOPs when they go and film this stuff," adds Vickery. "Just with the amount of available light they had as we shot the plane being destroyed was very little. And the stock got very grainy and the camera often had terrible artifacts in it where the film was moving around in the gate because of the stresses that were being put on the rig that the camera's on."

In terms of digital effects work, Dneg used their proprietary tools for fire and smoke sims, and also concentrated on the plane's first impact with the ground. "We spent a lot of time doing lots of really complicated simulations for tarmac being thrown up," says Vickery, who was assisted at Dneg by internal VFX supes Paul Riddle and Sean Stranks, "and for the way the plane shredded itself when the plane hits the ground to these shockwaves that the first impact of the aeroplane - we spent a long time looking at the dynamics of the construction of fuselage - the way the rib structures were clabbed with a fairly lightweight metal and as the plane impacted the ribs compressed and the plane basically started to shrug its metal surface off and you get this little ripple running back through the plane."

The signature stunt of Dom's car launching through the nose cone involved, of course, a practical stunt. Explains Vickery: "They got a charger, they put it on a pneumatic air ram called a canon - they mount it inside a ramp that's being toed by a very low slung 4◊4 truck. Then they dressed the nose on the front of the plane. They dressed it in a black wadding that they're able to then completely soak in petrol and fuel and flammable gel. They run it down the runway and there are obviously limitations in the speeds this thing could go - so they could get certain speeds out of it and they go as fast as they could safely, and then they fire the Charger out the front."

The benefits of this practical approach to the plane crash were, to Vickery, certainly obvious. "The cameraman can go out and react to something. The DOP can expose for the fire correctly. The stunt drivers in the cars are basically driving for their lives because they've basically got a 40 ton burning plane rig chasing them down the runway. All that stuff adds to the realism, I think."

Another of Double Negative's visual effects challenges was to enhance, again, practical photography of a tank shootout near a NATO Spanish military base. It was a sequence full of some ambitious practical setups, notes David Vickery. "We approached this beat of the tank leaping out of the front of a huge convoy vehicle - an 18-wheeler - and went, 'Wow, that's a CG shot, isn't it?í and Justin was like, 'No, we're gonna do that'. Itís a real tank jumping out of a real truck, and it's just amazing."
The tank attack does make use of extensive digital work, however, starting with initial previs by Proof, Inc. under the supervision of Alex Vegh. And Dneg enhanced the scene with rig and car removal, digital cars, explosion effects, digital debris, face replacements and environment work.

Shooting at the Canary Islands on the island of Tenerife, the production filmed real cars, trucks, the tank and elaborate stunt work, with Dneg initially painting out camera vehicles and crew. "The whole of the motorway we filmed on was a 5km stretch of road and it had hotels along the side of the road all along the coastline and you could see all of the Tenerife holiday resorts," says Vickery. "We had to have this deserted road so we had to paint those out."

At one point the tank shoots at a bridge, causing an explosion and a large amount of debris that Dneg augmented with digital sims. "For the bridge explosion," explains Vickery, "it was shot over three days, and each of those days we got a slightly different component to the explosion. One day was a big drop tank of styrofoam rubble that the art department had built. Another day with a big explosion on the bridge itself which SFX rigged, and then a third day with a helicopter rig with another smaller pyro explosion."

Dneg's Singapore office also worked on the sequence, including shots of the tank firing at cars on the road. "There's a great little beat in there," recalls Vickery, "where they had to augment the explosions, but then when they shot it, Dom and Brian's (Paul Walker) car were way behind that set of explosions, so our job in there was to make it feel like they were right next to it. They basically had a couple of greenscreen shots in the middle - to show that Dom and Brian were being enveloped by all of the smoke and debris from the tank explosion. Then we were doing digital vehicles racing past really close to camera."

The end of the sequence involves a spectacular jump and the flipping of the tank. "We built a completely digital bridge and digital environment and we kept little bits of plate photography and reprojected them back in," says Vickery.

In a sequence known as the Shaw Trap Raid, the film's villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) brings down the pillars of a London parkade to escape a police raid - another scene informed by practical work. "Justin was really concerned about doing all of the destruction in CG," notes visual effects supervisor Kelvin McIlwain, who was on hand to supervise the sequence. "So we came up with a system where we had some columns that we could shoot on set that would explode. Then we set big dust mortars all around and blew them knowing they were never going to give the look we wanted, but they were perfect reference material for knowing how to light and get the right look on the CG destruction and massive dust cloud that results in the CG work Image Engine did."
Having done a fair amount of dust sim for the recent Zero Dark Thirty, Image Engine’s team ramped up for the parkade shots quickly. "It was also one of the biggest shots that featured in the trailer," notes IE visual effects producer Geoff Anderson, "so basically production was wrapping principal photography just before Xmas and it had to be done mid to late January."

The studio scoured the internet for building demolition reference. "It was that kind of explosive charge that would go off and then sink down into itself," explains IE visual effects supervisor Chris Harvey. "Then they set off a couple of huge dust canons on set that in the end weren't useful in terms of shots but very useful for lighting reference - how detailed the dust looked, the densities, texture of it."
"We post-vis’d and blocked out the sequence with a very low-res simulation," adds Harvey. "Once that was refined we built the whole sequence up. It was all about dust simulation and had full rigid body dynamic destruction. Then huge amounts of dust plumes, as well as a few fire explosions as the pillars went off. It was all done in Houdini with a variety of different solvers, and then the guys did their magic hooking up and connecting different things together."

The team also rendered everything through different cameras for re-projections as window reflections and for other needs. "We had a lot of separated out lighting AOVs," says Harvey. "We had lighting AOVs for police headlights, sirens and keylight and backfill for parkade lights. So we had a lot of different volumes and could re-balance them in comp and try to find this very moody look."
Fast & Furious 6 VFX Breakdown by Image Engine
Fast & Furious 6 VFX Breakdown by MPC
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