FMTY: April Update and a VFX Story

My descent into cinematic warfare continues, leaving me little more than neck-deep in one of the most challenging film projects I’ve ever done.

You can read the last blog post here and follow my continuing adventures in this post.

I was originally worried that maintaining momentum would be difficult, even though I’ve shot part of my film. But with the rest to complete, a crowd source to run and publicity strategy to work on, I feared such a work load would be too much.

The truth is, nothing has really stayed stagnant as I strive to make something as genuine and true to my heart as possible.

My editor James Burt and I threw ourselves into the edit and now we only have one scene left from the footage we shot in Vietnam, those being the cool street scenes where character Ryan wanders down back alleys and coves of Ho Chi Minh city.

I decided that it would be best to edit these scenes once we shoot the remaining scenes in London later this year. The concern being that the pacing in the scenes we’ve already edited may change slightly.

We finally got to a stage where we were happy with the teaser and, the film went straight into the grade with my DOP Jan Belina Brzozowski and kick-ass grader Clémence Thurninger in Poland.  The teaser became the priority, so that we’d have it ready to launch for the crowd source campaign I plan to launch in the coming months.

In between this, I met up with Mark Spevick, my VFX Consultant who I’d worked with previously and who’s been an all-round advisor and supporter when it comes to questions I have about the big-bad-incredible-world of visual effects.

With Mark’s standing and work with the Escape Academy at Pearson College, he introduced me to Davi Stein. Davi is the Head of Compositing at Escape Academy and a VFX Compositor who has garnered credits for working on films such as The Dark Knight.

Davi then orchestrated the 2D and 3D students at Escape Academy and together our post-production team formed.

Enter Cenay Oekman.

Mark introduced me to Cenay Oekman, a VFX and Concept Artist who has helped me see how art and VFX work together hand in hand, making the VFX process less scary. I was always aware of my limited VFX knowledge technically speaking, yet working with Cenay has made me see how the artist-abstract side which I’m comfortable with, works in tandem with art.

My knowledge base is certainly growing now and I even want to train up with Houdini, a 3D animation software, so I can specialise in at least five or six years-time. And, I know exactly what I want to make because I can create them photographically, but I really want to master the VFX side and push my skills further. But this is another exciting prospect and as the saying goes, one step at a time!

Cenay and I sat down and really spoke about the Alien Girl in my film. How she would appear and move, as graphically written in the script. The original appendage I had for her was too similar to a film I had seen a year previous and Cenay suggested that we start from scratch. I expressed the key features I wanted such as textures and to keep some of the original elements I had. I showed Cenay my favourite clips from Deep Blue Planet and other natural, human biological phenomenon. He had his own gross-favourites too which he shared before devising the concept for the new appendage.

It was great watching him piece the concept together and brainstorming also, from hairstyles, to lingerie, and even skin markings – every inch! We’ve had many a debate, but at the end of the day, this is an artist whose worked on three Oscar winning movies for visual effects. And, in short, horror, fantasy and sci-fi has always been his passion, specifically creatures.

Cenay is now our VFX Supervisor and Post-Production Art Director. When he looked at my teaser, he tore it apart and said quite simply ‘Simi this needs to be Hollywood, you have great footage here, but it needs to be bought to the next stage and enhanced with visual effects!’

He began to paint over the original footage, arranging a pre-visualisation stage of how the final shots might look like.

Davi, Cenay, Allar Kaasik (another VFX Supervisor heading the 3D animation team) and Mark organised the VFX teams. Everything was broken down for concept-artwork, for example drone shots, scenes in the restaurant, tail-appendage and general street scenes. You can see screen shots of the original footage which will have holograms applied in my last blog post.

Presenting my film to the team was nerve wracking as the students/artists are all young professionals in their own right and working on other projects. These are artists who’ll be working on blockbuster films in just a couple of years if not sooner and are a faucet of a new era of film-making.

Questions were fired at me and my mind was forced to adapt. Before, I felt like I was holding back on some of the ideas I wanted, but new opportunities flourished, and I was even presented concepts that I never thought were possible.

All about the Pipeline

The concepts were devised by the artists and they began matchmoving the shots from the film footage using a programme called 3D equaliser to recreate the camera movements in the virtual world.

We also had to resize our 6K footage to 2K, since in reality, even the big movies are using 2K in VFX because 6K isn’t readily available at the moment, well not everyone have the resources to view 6K.

Matchmoving the environment, allowed 3D models to be created and composed onto of the shot-2D footage.

The teams were split into Modelling, Layout and Matchmoving.

The CGI Asset Modellers model objects such as vehicles and drones using Maya, another 3D and animation simulation software.

The teams working on the layout have to block out concepts such as holograms and signs.

Another team then uses Nuke, a digital compositing software to do 2D tests for the holograms. This can also be used to compose any facial reconstruction such as face warping effects and generally combining the 3D elements with real footage of the environment.

This has been a serious learning curve and continues to be. I only had to look at Mark’s formulas on circle packing, Voronoi and Worley noise to know that there’s a definite science and math to visual effects. It’s worthwhile knowing…especially if you’re a horror fan with a tendency to devise narrative-concepts surrounding viruses and general body-horror like myself.

Every week I visit the academy and the artists show me what they’ve worked on. In total we have around sixty VFX artists working on my film.

There’s a constant dialogue with signing off and sharing of concepts. We use a nifty programme called Slack to communicate which helps, actually it’s quite addictive.


In the meanwhile, we’re prepping for a test shoot, so that we can add key action scenes into the teaser which will feature the alien and her horrific appendages and some other gross stuff needed to pimp the hell out of what I already have.  The shoot will also give me an idea of what it’ll be like when we actually shoot the full scenes later in the year. More on this to come, once we’ve completed the test scenes.

And whilst this is going on, I’m re-working my feature film treatment off the back of new constructive criticisms from fellow writer friends, so that I can blitz the feature in a couple of months’ time. As Kim Newman said to me a few months ago ‘Simi you can just write that in a week!’ and I believe I will.

Another factor which has helped me is that I got to the second stage of the BFI Emerging Talent fund last year December and received positive comments and criticism. Although I wasn’t successful, I was happy that I got a response. It makes me realise that I can apply for another project in the future whereas I didn’t feel it was a possible to even get a look in before. Thanks BFI!

My main fear of stagnation has been eradicated as I continue forth, working with my international team who can’t wait to shoot. It also helps that I’ve amassed quite a strong support network, one that when I begin to falter come together and push me ever onwards.

This has made me realise that the notion of the collective spirit lives, but even so the hard work shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

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