Encore Supplies Fire and Rain for “Population 436”

Encore Hollywood expertise in crafting seamless visual effects was recently put to the test in Population 436 a new psychological thriller from Sony Pictures and Pariah Entertainment. The studio completed more than 150 visual effects shots for the film, including an intensive storm sequence and a fire that nearly consumes a small town.

Directed by Michelle McLaren and starring Six Feet Under Jeremy Sisto, Population 436 is about a census taker (Sisto) sent to investigate a town whose population hasn’st changed in more than 100 years. The film was shot entirely on 4:4:4 high definition video.

The visual effects that Encore created for the film are not the type designed to elicit oohs and aahs from audience members. Rather, the studio team of artists was brought in primarily to help the producers create realistic images that would be difficult if not impossible to produce practically. ‘I’sve worked with Encore before and am a big admirer of their work and they way they go about achieving it,’ said Population 436 Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Linden. ‘I’sm especially impressed with the work they’sve done on Deadwood for HBO. It is truly the model for what is possible in realistic visual effects work for television.’

One of Encore major challenges involved a storm sequence. Weather forecasts for the shoot day called for rain, but when the crew arrived on the set, they were greeted with what Linden termed ‘pouring sunshine.’ As a result, it was left up to Encore to provide what Mother Nature did not. CG artists produced rain and lightning elements on desktop systems using Maya software. Compositors replaced skies with stock elements and new elements produced in cloud tanks.

Adding storm elements to one or two shots is a relatively straightforward matter, but creating a storm that extends through a long film sequence, as was the case here, is considerably more difficult, explained Encore Hollywood Director of Visual Effects Tim Jacobsen. ‘The storm has to be very carefully choreographed if it is going to come off as believable,’ he said. ‘It all got to gel on a timeline.’

‘We had a dozen artists working on various aspects of the sequence and they all had to be aware of how each element they were working on fit into the overall scheme,’ Jacobsen added. ‘The minutiae can be daunting.’

In the finished sequence, the rain, lightning, clouds and other effects elements are so tightly integrated with each other and with the live action that audiences will never guess that what they are watching isn’st natural. ‘When you watch it, it just rolls by,’ said Jacobsen.

Similarly, a scene where fire envelopes several buildings in the town is meant to look as though it was shot in camera, something that for practical and safety purposes would have been impossible to do for real. ‘For legal reasons, we could only make the fire so big,’ recalled Linden. ‘We also didn’st want people to get near the real fire, even though in the script people were supposed to be all around it, either trying to escape or fight it.’

As a result, the scene was shot twice, once with the talent moving around the building and a second time with the building alone set partially ablaze. In post production, Encore artists carefully rotoscoped each of the actors out of one scene and composited them into the shots with fire. They also added additional smoke and fire elements to make the blaze seem bigger and to integrate the talent into the background.

Encore approach to creating painstaking visuals like that differs from other visual effects houses, observed Linden. Its artists collaborate intensely with one another and the whole studio functions in workshop environment. ‘It rare to have this kind of open arena and an open dialogue for problem solving,’ Linden said. ‘Often, the work is done by guys in a back room that no one talks to. I feel more comfortable working in an environment where people are relating and solving problems in a way that I would myself. I think that why the work comes together so well.’

Creative sound services for the project were provided by Todd-AO. Credits go to Supervising Sound Editor Eileen Horta and Re-recording Mixers Dennis Kirk and Mark Fleming.

Encore Visual Effects is located at 6344 Fountain Avenue, Hollywood, California 90028. For more information, call (323) 466-7663 or visit www.encorehollywood.com.

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