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‘Bloodshot’s’ David S.F. Wilson Brought Broad VFX Experience to Directing Debut

Bloodshot (Vin Diesel) in Columbia Pictures'
GRAHAM BARTHOLOMEW

Everyone wants a piece of the superhero genre’s oversize box office, which can engender a certain sameness among wannabe blockbusters. But standing out amid the well-defined brands of Marvel and DC is a challenge Sony’s “Bloodshot,” which bows in theaters March 13, met with a high-energy, realism-based approach to its 1,500 visual-effects shots.

First-time feature director David S.F. Wilson brings decades of experience to the film as co-founder, along with “Deadpool” director Tim Miller, of acclaimed visual effects house Blur Studio. Wilson says that as a stylistic starting point, he aspired to give “Bloodshot” the energy of a Tony Scott film.

“It was a big part of how we carve out a little slice of the [superhero] pie for ourselves,” says Wilson. “The best head start I could give [visual effects supervisor Chris Harvey] was a look that didn’t already feel” like Marvel or DC. Wilson aimed for the appearance of science-based “plausible reality,” but visualized in an “energetic and aggressive filmmaking palette.”

Taking cues from the real world is much easier for visual effects than inventing a look from whole cloth, Harvey says. “You just want to fit into that same language and help tell the story.”

“Bloodshot,” the first film to be adapted from a Valiant Comics property, stars Vin Diesel as soldier Ray Garrison, who is killed in the line of duty and resurrected with implanted memories by microscopic nanites injected in his bloodstream that give him enhanced healing, strength and other powers.

Harvey says the breadth of the work was as much a challenge as the complexity. For a set-piece battle in an elevator shaft, the 200 visual effects shots filled in not just the immediate environment but also the world outside the windows, including crowds  and traffic on the street below, vegetation and birds.

“It’s all the little things,” he says. “It’s the fine particulate in the air. It’s the dust that dislodges when they hit something. It’s all those little subtleties that bring it to life and add that level of realism that otherwise would feel somewhat sterile.”

Wilson credits Diesel’s dedication to doing many effects practically — without VFX. But for the most extreme visual effects sequences, extensive facial performance and motion capture enabled Harvey’s crew to create a convincing digital double. 

Wilson says coming from the world of VFX was helpful, and that he found directing actors on sets easier and quicker than doing performance capture in a sterile tech environment. “Directing for animation or visual effects is sort of meticulous,” he explains. “I like to think about it as directing in slow motion. You give a note, and then two weeks later that note manifests on a screen somewhere — which is the complete opposite of live action.”

“Bloodshot” was made in 55 days, with August reshoots in Montreal. The film’s 1,500 visual effects shots come from Rodeo FX, Method Studios’ Montreal facility, Cantina Creative and Image Engine, which met the deadline for a lengthy final digital double shot with only minutes until the movie had to be 100% locked.

An in-house team at Sony did close to 700 shots of mostly invisible work — monitor composites, muzzle flashes and painting out wires or other unneeded elements — that made it possible for Wilson to work so quickly. “It means I don’t have to throw takes away because there are rigs or crew in there,” he says. “I can just keep going.”