You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

VFX and VR Tools Help Give ‘Allied’ an Authentic Look

Director Bob Zemeckis is well-known for conjured places long gone. He “rebuilt” the World Trade Center for “The Walk” and crafted a “Zelig”-like series of impossible historical encounters for
“Forrest Gump.”

He’s back at it in “Allied,” the upcoming Paramount release starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, which depicts several vintage locales across Europe and Africa — often invented whole-cloth out of digital.

“Bob wanted a believable snapshot of what things looked like during World War II,” says visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie of Atomic Fiction, who has worked with Zemeckis for a decade. “Some things obviously had to be stylized. For example, during the London Blitz, nobody kept lights on in their houses, so all our night exterior shots had to be played under moonlight. There was no reference footage because film was really slow back then, and making something stylized feel authentic was a huge challenge.”

Adding to those constraints was the fact that “Allied” was shot mostly indoors, on stages in the U.K.

Popular on Variety

Traditionally, shooting against bluescreen requires actors and directors to rely heavily on concept art and rough pre-visualization to understand the context of a scene. But VFX artisans like Baillie, who came of age in the digital era, are exploring a broader tool kit that includes virtual reality gear.

“I think it’s a natural evolution for directors to view virtual images of a scene while they are on set,” Baillie says. “And VR tools will become increasingly important for actors as sets get sparser and sparser. It will allow actors to experience what it’s like to walk around inside a scene rather than simply see it printed on a page.”

Baillie is primed to push the digital envelope further. He co-founded Atomic Fiction after stints at the now-shuttered shops The Orphanage and ImageMovers Digital. Over five years, Atomic Fiction amassed a 200-person crew at three locations and worked on major franchises.

Despite his technical savvy, Baillie believes the best effects continue a through-line that began with classic techniques. In “Allied,” he updated rear-projection methods from vintage noir films.

“In scenes where the actors were driving cars, we built a 100-foot-long U-shaped wall of LED panels that wrapped around the car. On those screens, we played back footage filmed on location or digitally generated. That gave our visual-effects team useful reflections on the car, and it gave the actors something to act against.”

This kind of thinking is likely one of the reasons that Baillie was invited this year to join the Visual Effects Branch of the Motion Picture Academy. He’ll be one of the “digital natives” who are increasingly making their mark on how the craft evolves.

More Artisans

  • Queen & Slim

    How 'Queen & Slim' Production Designer Karen Murphy Mapped Out the Duo's Route

    “Queen & Slim” is a social commentary packaged as a film, beginning with a bang. It kicks off when Queen (Jodi Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) shoot a police officer in self-defense and find themselves on the run. Slim somewhat innocently thinks his action will be justified in court, but Queen, a weathered prosecutor, knows [...]

  • Harriet Movie BTS

    How the Three-Part Arc Helped 'Harriet' Editor Wyatt Smith in the Editing Room

    It has taken us until 2019 to have a film about Araminta “Minty” Ross. Better known in history as Harriet Tubman. In Kasi Lemmons’ new film “Harriet,” the story breaks away from the typical slave narrative of an upward journey. Rather, we get a story that delves into the woman, her humanity and inspirational life. [...]

  • Klaus Storyboard Visuals Netflix

    Holiday Movie 'Klaus' Launches Netflix's Animated Feature Ambitions

    Filled with humor and emotion in equal parts, Netflix’s first animated feature, Sergio Pablos’ hand-drawn, feel-good family holiday movie “Klaus,” checks off all the right boxes. The “Despicable Me” creator included something for everyone in this clever Santa Claus origin tale wrapped in the idea that one simple act of kindness always sparks another. Oscar [...]

  • Hustlers Movie Penthouse

    'Hustlers' Production Designer Painted a Complex Picture and Avoided Clichés

    When Jane Musky signed on as production designer for “Hustlers,” she had the luxury of spending four weeks discussing the film with its director, Lorene Scafaria. The main challenge, she says, was “how do we let everyone know that this is not a story about girls stripping, even though they do strip?” Her goal was [...]

  • Avengers Endgame

    How an Army of Artists Around the World Mobilized to Create 'Avengers: Endgame'

    For “Avengers: Endgame,” the VFX-rich conclusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the team raised the stakes higher than ever for one last time, complete with an epic battle. To pull off the biggest fighting scene Marvel had ever created for any of the franchise’s 23 movies—a showdown between the Avengers and Thanos (played by Josh [...]

  • 1917 Movie BTS

    Sam Mendes on Taking Audiences Through the Hell of War in '1917'

    Sam Mendes’ “1917” finished a week before it started screening on Nov. 23 for audiences, first in New York and then Los Angeles. The positive reactions put it near the top of the Oscar best picture race. The film, which follows two World War I soldiers on a mission as they carry a message to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content