Interview with ‘Project Power’ VFX Team Ivan Moran and João Sita

Review Ethan / 2022-10-18 15:18:29

Project Power is one of Netflix’s biggest entries into the superhero world to date (at least on the movie front) and behind the stunning visual effects for the movie is Framestore. We managed to get our questions over to Ivan Moran who served as the overall VFX supervisor and João Sita who served as VFX supervisor.

Frame Store currently works on Away, which will be available on Netflix in September.

In case you haven’t seen Netflix’s own Film Club channel’s coverage of this, they breakdown how they lit Machine Gun Kelly on Fire.

Ivan Moran’s filmography is amongst the most impressive we’ve ever seen. He’s had a hand in the VFX in titles like Ghost in the Shell, Arrival, Salt and Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.

João Sita has worked on the visual effects for such titles as Jurassic World, Source Code and Chappie. He’s also had a hand in Netflix’s Lost in Space where the VFX is handled by Image Engine.

And now, let’s move onto the interview:

WoN: What are your top two favorite improvements in visual effects over the last 20 years? Are technological advances making it more difficult or easier to gain entry to the industry? Would you rather be in the field now or when you were younger?

Ivan Moran: Education may be the most important. There were no visual effects courses available when I began. When I first started, I was really interested in animatronics and nearly pursued a US PhD in Robotics because that was the closest thing I could find.

Technology as well obviously although that’s a funny one though: despite how fast the computer is you always want to push it to its limits. Today, it takes twice as long to finish a shot than in the mid-1990s when my first shots were made. It was kinda like my first job, when I was an expert in all things. Now, as an artist, you need to be very specialized.

WoN: Are there any considerations when it comes to designing movies that will be designed for smaller screens (where Netflix is most likely viewed) when compared to theatrical release on the big screen?

Ivan Moran: Because of the aspect ratios of different film formats, there is a lot more creative freedom on the large screen. For extra peripheral vision, there are theatres that have two screens. Good storytelling can be described as good storytelling. My impression is that today's young-uns are more open to different formats. They’d watch something on an Apple Watch if it was cool storytelling I bet.

WoN: What was the most complex scene you had to do for Netflix’s Project Power?

Ivan Moran: Art’s Power was incredibly challenging to design, devise, shoot and ultimately execute in vfx from a technical and storytelling perspective. Directors and I were very concerned that the visuals conveyed the physical effects that caused the explosion. This is why the film is slow-motion and because it's cool.

For the movie, my pseudoscience theory was that the Power Pill amplifies subatomic vibrations in us (and leftover animal DNA) and that these are transformed into strong infrasonic waveforms that radiate from him. These waves cause liquid water (steam), to evaporate (steam), and eventually ionize(plasma). Do you remember ever heating two grape halves in the microwave? You should not, but it is possible to see the video on YouTube. The same principle applies to waves, which transform the water from grapes into plasma. This is possible because of a clever animal reference Art makes earlier in the film: The Pistol Shrimp. You can also see it on YouTube.

The reason this power was so tricky was because if I closed my eyes I could imagine the sequence in my head but for everyone involved, from the directors to all of the film crew, actors and my VFX team, they would all look me at various times and ask: “Ivan, this is ummm, this is gonna work right? It’s gonna look cool right?”

project power coming to netflix august 2020

It was a difficult decision. I needed to trust my intuition, my experience and my imagination. This is what led me to this beautiful outcome. It’s just so awesome, I love it.

WoN: What else are you watching on Netflix right now? Is there a particular series with great VFX that we should watch?

Ivan Moran - I enjoyed The Old Guard, which Sara Bennett, my dear friend was the production's VFX Supervisor. I love flawlessly executed invisible visual effects. Seeing people heal in front of your eyes like that is clearly movie magic but when it’s executed that subtly and expertly, who cares?!

WoN: Can you please explain what happens to the shot that Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes in his head? Do you think any effects were done in a practical way? Which of the following is true?

João Sita: The shot with Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting shot in the face is one of those examples where practical effects and VFX just work together in a seamless way. Joseph was photographed in camera, and then hit with high-pressure air with the Phantom camera at high speed. This created the hyperrealistic effect of Joseph's skin being pushed, generating ripples through his face.

A couple of witness cameras were also purchased that allowed us to get the exact location and lighting setup reference.

Although plate photography is amazing on its own, there are two key questions:

  1. How to seamlessly add CG ripples at the impact point that would naturally merge into those in the plate along with adding and replacing his skin with an armor texture to show the power’s effect.
  2. How to make that effect look more like the kinetic energy of the bullet hitting his face instead of an air gun.
joseph gordon levitt shot in face

Project Power – Joseph Gordon Levitt Shot in Face – Picture: Netflix

To solve the first question, we had to recreate the plate ripples in CG sculpting our digital double to match Joseph’s plate performance and then add the additional ripples and impact point transition.

We combined these two elements to create a skin texture/look that is based on his armadillo shell as well as the Kevlar fiber. It spreads along the sides of his face. To make it more realistic, we added slow-motion smoke and CG muzzle flash to create the act of pulling the trigger. We then recreated his hair in CG so that the muzzle flash could be used to match the airflow on the plate.

We used the muzzle flash energy to push the hair, and we then returned the position it was in. It was added to the shot as a bullet. As it leaves the barrel, the bullet collapses on its own and pushes through his skin. This effect is very similar to real bullet energy being taken up by a bulletproof vest. For this shot, there was a lot of research on all the slow-motion elements that were added, so, we stripped down the motion, look of various references such as lab tests of bullets been shot at Kevlar vests, videos of firearms been shot in slow-mo and also looking at non-newtonian fluids (material that changes to either more solid or more liquid under a force applied).

This shot proved to be a great challenge for the VFX team, as well as a unique look.

WoN: Project Power is predominantly set at night – are there any additional challenges when it comes to darker shots? Are you currently watching anything else on Netflix? Is there a particular series with great VFX that we should watch?

João Sita: For the night shots, the main challenge was making sure that we would have a digital version of the set that could be fully rendered to replace sections of the plate and create an accurate light interaction from the CG elements into the set. What else am I watching on Netflix? I enjoy nature shows. I also find them to be inspiring. Lost in Space, Dark was a great show. Okja's VFX were very engaging with the viewers in an emotionally charged way.

project power vfx night

Special thanks to both João and Ivan for taking our questions!


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