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Multiple houses add to “Heist” vfx and post

Company 3, Method, Gravity, Phosphene all contribute

Several vfx houses contributed to the post-production and visual effects of Universal’s Brett Ratner-helmed, Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy action comedy.

Working under the same roof in Manhattan, the Gotham facilities of Company 3 and Method Studios, both subsids of Deluxe Entertainment Services and part of Deluxe Creative Services Group, collaborated on effects and DI color grading. The joint effort yielded 138 vfx shots, with Company 3 prexy/co-founder and head of Deluxe Creative Services Group Stefan Sonnenfeld performing the DI color grading. The collaborators shared a single color pipeline and a theater, and were thus able to use the same projector for both visual-effects reviews and DI grading. As visual-effects shots took shape under the direction of Method vfx supervisor Greg Liegey and his team, Sonnenfeld could immediately contribute his input.

“As we developed the visual-effects shots, the filmmakers could review exactly what they would later see in the DI theater,” said Method Studios’ exec VP Dan Glass. “If there were questions about how a shot would look during the final grade, we consulted with Stefan, who was right there in the building. If Stefan wanted to see how a shot was evolving and possibly augment or modify his pre-grade, he did that as well. This created efficiencies that saved the production time and eliminated any surprises throughout the DI grading process.” Added Sonnenfeld: “This is an excellent example of the synergy our companies strive to provide our clients. It’s especially exciting because it demonstrates how we take on complex and challenging feature films in our New York operation.”

Vfx and design house Gravity was also contributed to “Heist,” producing more than 200 vfx shots. The company’s work included digital set extensions, photorealistic CG buildings, a CG car, CG stunts, CG face replacements, digital matte paintings, and simulations. Under the direction of digital effects supervisor Yuval Levy and VP of features and TV Karin Levinson, the Gravity team provided helmer Ratner and vfx supervisor Mark Russell with a series of pre-visualized sequences and style frames that illustrated the most climactic scenes of the film. These previs scenes became the blueprint for the shooting of the heist sequences.

The majority of Gravity’s work focused on the sequences involving the heist, in which characters played by Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick steal a classic Ferrari from a corrupt billionaire’s penthouse apartment through an exterior window on the 65th floor. For these scenes Gravity created a series of greenscreen window comps so that views of Manhattan seen from inside the penthouse and the views of the tower’s opulent apartments would be appear authentic. “Working with Gravity from the beginning on the previs gave us a head start in making these sequences work down the road,” Russell said.

In addition, design and vfx company Phosphene created CG environments for the pic, building such elements as the tower’s rooftop swimming pool and deck and the interior of a three-cab, 60-story elevator shaft. In all, the Phosphene team, under the direction of creative director John Bair, augmented and manipulated the physical environment in approximately 70 complex 3D CG set extensions.

“New York’s vfx infrastructure and community is growing at a very fast pace,” said Phosphene co-founder/exec producer Vivian Connolly. “We are experiencing a trend of wonderful directors finishing their films here.” Added Ratner, “It would have taken any other huge vfx company months to pull off what Phosphene did in a matter of weeks with perfection.”

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