VFX Case Studies


The Blaine Brothers, a filmmaking duo from London have just released their first feature film, and have an extensive experience of all kinds of film and video work.

The Blaine Brothers make award winning short films and sketches for the UK’s FILM4 and the BBC. They’ve been BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) nominated and BAFTA shortlisted for some of their prodigious output, which you can see on their website.

They’ve even had a retrospective of their work at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London) and recently completed their first feature film, Nina Forever (98 minutes, prod: Cassandra Sigsgaard, 2015) which had its World Premiere at SXSW 2015.

The Blaine Brothers are filmmakers foremost, and turn to VFX when they need to, just like they might use any other tool available to them.

“The films we make generally have something quite odd or fantastical about them” says Chris Blaine, so it’s easy to see the attraction VFX holds. The Blaines are self-taught, and learn as they go. When they need to do something in VFX, they’ll find out how.

In many ways they exemplify the guerrilla filmmaking spirit. We were surprised to find out that until last year they were still using an almost 10-year-old piece of VFX software called ‘Shake’, (no longer available) kept alive on a computer with an old operating system in order for it to run. In a way, this seemed to give their work a different flavour from other filmmakers.

"HaZ" Dulull and sci-fi guerrilla filmmaking

HaZ started his career in video games, creating cinematic CGI sequences before moving into film visual effects as a compositor, eventually rising up to Visual Effects Supervisor and VFX Producer roles. He’s now a Visual Effects Creative Director in the Motion Pictures Industry, and has been nominated for several Visual Effects Society (VES) awards for his Visual Effects Supervision work.

HaZ transitioned into writing and directing with his self-funded sci-fi short - ‘Project Kronos’ (2013) which earned him representation and status as an emerging filmmaker.
He is currently attached to several studio projects as writer & director while still working in the visual effects industry as a VFX consultant. His latest film is ‘Sync’ about cyber espionage and rogue androids

Monsters (2010) 

Although many films use tracking, Monsters (2010) was created in a guerrilla filmmaker style and was Gareth Edwards’ first feature (he went on to direct Godzilla (2014), and will direct the epic space opera film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), the first in the Star Wars Anthology series.

Edwards was a CGI artist who worked on programmes for the Discovery Channel and BBC, so he knew what VFX could do, and this probably reassured Vertigo films who forwarded the funds.

It was filmed whilst travelling through five countries (Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala and the US) with minimal “prosumer” (high-end consumer) film equipment, and features only two actors mixed with the use of improvised dialogue from locals. This was truly a film shot on the move, as you can see here - over 3 weeks.

Edwards did not storyboard or script the film, but allowed his two actors to drive the plot by their interaction with locals, and the duo knew the detailed specific points Edwards needed to shoot for the story.

“When we got back to England we had over 100 hours of unique footage”recalls Edwards, “Not the same takes again and again like a normal drama, but ad-libbed moments that never repeat. We cut the film and I did all the effects using off-the-shelf Adobe software”.

Famously, all 250 visual effects shots were created on a laptop in his bedroom. Edwards painted in or rubbed out many things in the footage to make his composited shots often contain eerie or menacing objects.

The film makes extensive use of tracking as he places many objects into his ‘road movie’ style scenes. If you get a chance to see a copy, look out for “Infected Zone” signs by the roadside, smoke billowing from places on the horizon, and shelled out buildings and ruined military vehicles. A lot of these are composited and tracked into moving shots.

MPC and the VFX industry

As audiences demand ever-more spectacular films and TV, the VFX industry seems to be growing. The UK is a global centre for VFX with well known companies based here.

The UK’s VFX capabilities are now a major draw for Hollywood’s big budget films and they helped drive inward investment in the film industry to 920 million dollars as far back as 2010. Now there are around 6000 personnel working in the UK industry.

Like most multinational VFX companies MPC, originally known as The Moving Picture Company, started out small. It was founded in 1970, and started life as a production company in Soho, London making TV commercials shot on film. They soon became early adopters of video technology, and eventually digital post-production. By 2005, MPC had became part of Thomson, now known as Technicolor, and became a leader in digital film.
Today’s guerrillas are tomorrow’s top box office

It’s helpful to understand the difference between how a company like MPC does visual effects as compared to what the guerilla filmmaker can accomplish.

“It’s like an small car customization service compared to a major car manufacturer”, says Andrew Schlussel, Global Head of Training and Development at MPC, “An independent filmmaker can make an individual shot or two look good, but they can’t scale up to doing a large number of shots with a high level of complexity demanded for big box office feature films”.

MPC has hundreds of people working in its various departments and many others supporting them, like the production team and software department. So you shouldn’t expect to be able to achieve VFX work at the level of MPC. However, if you plan well, have realistic expectations, and an understanding of what goes into the process, you can create effects that can enhance your work and get you noticed.

You may want to read a short article on LinkedIn by Andrew Schlussel here on tips for becoming a visual effects artist.

Today’s guerrilla filmmakers become tomorrows hot shot directors who seek the services of experts like MPC. Tarantino, Lynch, Scott, all cut their teeth on small productions before getting into features- so this course has worked with MPC on a series of video interviews and articles that we hope will give an insight into complex and startling VFX, as increasingly today’s high-end techniques makes their way down to tomorrow’s guerrilla filmmaker everyday use.