Case Study: Moving Picture Company

London is one of the world meccas for visual effects, with the Moving Picture Co., Cinesite, Double Negative and other major vfx shops creating images for major franchises including Warner’s Harry Potter and Batman franchises.

MPC’s challenge on Danny Boyle’s science-fiction thriller “Sunshine,” about a team of astronauts on a suicide mission to reignite the sun before Earth freezes, was to create stunning effects on a far smaller budget: approximately $4.5 million for visual effects, or 10% of the film’s overall budget.

“That didn’t stretch very far,” says vfx supervisor Tom Wood. “We were very realistic about what we could do versus what we wanted to do.”

Wood had to create a convincing close-up image of the surface of the sun. “The big thing for me was to make the production of that effect in line with that budget without compromising the look.”

One way he saved money was by making something simple stand in for something more complicated. “Instead of having fully blown 3-D fluid dynamics for the sun, we rendered a number of stills that we would morph between to get fluid motion. That became a far more economical way of producing the kind of effects we wanted within the shot.”

Furthermore, Wood and MPC had to make the blinding sun effects look like they had been filmed, not just rendered on a computer.

“You see a lot of bright vfx work that doesn’t have the effect that film has when it’s been overexposed,” he explains. A film emulsion actually separates when overexposed, leaving a visible band around the highlights. “We studied that very closely,” Wood says, “so it looks like the film has been exposed to bright light as well as the audience being exposed to bright light.”

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