M for Mastergrade

It is the near future, and Great Britain is now a fascist state. A masked vigilante known only as “V” conducts guerrilla warfare against the government. When he rescues an ordinary young woman, she joins his struggle against the forces of oppression…

V for Vendetta, which opened in the UK and US on 17th March 2006, is a new dramatic thriller with a political twist. Based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd, the Warner Bros. Pictures ?Äì Virtual Studios film is directed by James McTeigue from a screenplay by The Wachowski Brothers. The producers are Joel Silver, Grant Hill, Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Framestore CFC created the film DI (digital intermediate).

Much of the VFX work for V for Vendetta was handled by London-based facilities, and Framestore CFC’s contribution was chiefly to the grading of the film. The overall grading of the film was created by Colourist Adam Glasman, who says, “We helped provide a consistent look for the film, with much of it looking quite harsh and ‘contrasty’. But some sections needed something different. For instance, there’s a flashback sequence for which we created a golden sort of look, with lots of diffusion. Similarly, the anti-hero’s hideout ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® the Shadow Gallery ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® contains many objects and works of art, and we helped bring out the pools of light on these items.”

However, there were particular aspects of the post production service that required a little bit extra from the Framestore CFC team ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® aspects that the company was uniquely placed to offer. During the film, the anti-hero (V)’s pure white Guy Fawkes mask was always intended to be partly in shadow. This look allowed the filmmakers to use shadow to create expression on the otherwise unchanging masked features. But this stylistic device wasn’t always possible to achieve during filming, particularly in fast-moving scenes.

At first, Glasman tried drawing relevant shapes on the mask and move them with the tracking system in the grading software. “Unfortunately, the drawn shapes only looked realistic enough on a few occasions,” says Glasman. “So we used a second suite (Framestore CFC has three) specifically to create these shots ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® as well as another VFX issue which arose. These were supervised by Colourist Adam Inglis.”

So the team looked across the company to Senior Compositing Artist Jonathan Fawkner. Fawkner and a small team built a 3D model in Maya from a scan of the real mask and, using boujou and Matchmover, tracked it onto the character. They then lit the mask, rendered out a grayscale matte in RenderMan, and imported that matte into the grading suite. There, with Fawkner sitting in, Adam Inglis applied corrections through the 3D matte to increase the density and create shadows on the filmed mask.

The advantage of this was a process that eliminated the toing and froing that would have been the inevitable result of doing the VFX aspects of the work separately. “We could have done this in compositing,” says Fawkner, “But we would have had to deliver it for comments, go back and change it, deliver it again, and so forth. Instead, we basically had a client session in which we were able to increase and decrease the contrast in the mask and make it lighter or darker so that it not only matched the rest of the lighting, but it also did its job in telling more of a story and giving V more character.”

Framestore CFC uses the Baselight grading system from FilmLight, which provides real-time processing on films scanned at 2K. For V for Vendetta, the DI team began by making a digital version of the feature. Over several weeks in the autumn of 2005, Glasman sat in one grading suite correcting the colour with Cinematographer, Adrian Biddle (who sadly died recently), the director, James McTeigue, and with occasional visits from the Wachowskis. Meanwhile, Inglis was able to feed his VFX-oriented work into the central database.

One other long sequence, which takes place in a smoky alley, caused the DI team some difficulties, which were once more solved by integrating the process with VFX work. “Usually, you grade everything, send it to visual effects, and they’d add atmosphere,” says Inglis. “We tried that at first, but we felt it wasn’t working. It was quite a long sequence with a lot of cuts, and we needed to see the atmosphere in context.”

The visual effects crew rotoscoped the foreground characters and rough shapes of the alleyway to create mattes and created visual effects plates of smoke. The smoke plates were a combination of practical library elements from and smoky noise generated in Shake. Because the compositing was grade dependant, changing as the smoky atmosphere was increased or decreased, doing the work via the Digital Lab made a lot of sense. “On the Inferno, we could have made the changes on a background plate, but then the grade would have been made bluer, so we would have had to redo the smoke,” says Fawkner. “On the grading system, we just dialled down the smoke. So, it was slightly more interactive.” Also, by using the Baselight system the colourist-compositing duo could access the entire film at 2K.

Does their experience on V for Vendetta offer the DI team a glimpse of a more VFX-oriented future? “Only in a limited sense,” suggests Glasman, “Economically, it’s hard to see how it would work on a big scale.” On the other hand, says Inglis, “Everyone knows you can colour correct, and clients are asking what else can be added on top. When we first started doing DI, we’d send shots to visual effects to have images flopped. Nowadays that would be absurd.” As is so often the case with emergent technologies, it’s hard to guess which way things might go.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Virtual Studios, a Silver Pictures production in association with Anarchos Productions Inc., Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta, starring Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea and John Hurt. Directed by James McTeigue, the film is produced by Joel Silver, Grant Hill, Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski from a screenplay by The Wachowski Brothers, based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd and published by Vertigo/DC Comics. The executive producer is Benjamin Waisbren. The director of photography is Adrian Biddle, B.S.C.; the production designer is Owen Paterson; the editor is Martin Walsh, A.C.E.; and the music is composed by Dario Marianelli. V For Vendetta is a United Kingdom-Germany co-production. V For Vendetta is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

V for Vendetta

Digital Intermediate
Colourist Adam Glasman
Producer Marcus Alexander
Additional Grading Adam Inglis
Digital Grading Assistant Mike Morrison
Film Editorial Gavin Round
Production Executive Jan Hogevold
Scanning and Recording Manager Andy Burrow
Scanning & Recording Jason Burnett, Paul Doogan, Joe Godfrey, Kevin Lowery, Dan Perry
Digital Clean Up Tom Bunnell, Jonathan Dredge, Peter Forson, Ben Gillingham-Sutton, Adam Hawkes, Gareth Jones, Annabel Wright, Paola Varvaro
Data Operators Dianne Gordon, Stuart Nippard , Charlie Habanananda, Maria Michalopoulou

VFX Supervisors Jonathan Fawkner, Adrian De Wet
VFX Producer Sarah Dowland
Compositing Kate Cuffin, Corrina Wilson, Alex Payman, Travis Porter
Roto Martin Taylor, Aled Prosser, Howard Protheroe, Tim Young, Tara Walker, Tom Baskaya, Tony Peck, Dan McRae
Lighting Mark Tudor-Williams, Davide Nicolosi
Tracking Mark Tudor-Williams, Melvyn Polayah, Simon Carlile, Frederic Heymans, Davide Nicolosi, Nicholas Reed, Michael Thompson, Tom Bunnell

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