Computer Graphics World

July-Aug-Sept 2022

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40 cgw j u ly • a u g u s t • s e p t e m b e r 2 0 2 2 V FX Legion was recently called on by Blumhouse Pro- ductions to create the visual effects for director Scott Derrickson's supernatural thriller, The Black Phone. Co-written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill (Sin- ister, Dr. Strange) and starring Ethan Hawk as the maniacal villain, the chilling tale is an adaptation of Joe Hill's short story of the same name. Legion, the company that provided the effects for Sinister 2 (2015), re-teamed with Derrickson, Cargill, and Blumhouse, deliver- ing over 200 shots for their new psychological thriller, which opened in theaters on June 24th. Set in suburban Denver, Colorado in 1978, The Black Phone is the story of Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), the latest victim of a sadistic serial killer dubbed 'The Grabber' (Ethan Hawk). The boy is held captive in a basement where help comes in supernatural form through calls from his kidnappers' previous victims on a discon- nected phone. Led by co-founders senior VFX supervisor James David Hattin and VFX producer Nate Smalley, Legion's team designed and pro- duced a wide range of shots that run the gamut — from complex sequences combining animated digital doubles with practical stunts, greenscreen, set extensions, CG environments, rebuilt camera transitions, crowd duplication, and a mix of dynamics — to removing rigging and digitally deleting elements out of place with the authentic look of the era. The LA and B.C.-based visual effects company contributed to every phase of the creative process — from pre-production and on-set supervision through post-production. Brought on board early, Legion visualized digital options and worked closely with the director, helping develop the tone of the film before shooting began. Pre-production "Working with Scott to find the right look for the visual effects was a very collaborative process," says Hattin. "There was a lot of back and forth and quite a few iterations as the effects-driven otherworldly elements of The Black Phone evolved from magical ab- errations to a look firmly grounded in the everyday life of suburban Denver circa 1978." Derrickson's decision to keep the horrifying events experienced by Finney and the other children rooted in a true-to-life environ- ment came from a personal place. Fear was part of everyday life in the rough area of Denver where Derrickson grew up during the 70s, and the trauma that children experience in The Black Phone is set in the reality of that era. Legion was relied on to meet the challenge of designing dozens of nuanced visual effects that heighten the visceral impact of paranor- mal events without ever taking the audience out of the seemingly real world where the story unfolds. On-set VFX supervision VFX supervisor Kent Johnson was on location during practical pho- tography in North Carolina — capturing references and calling out issues revealed during production. Working closely with the director, cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz, and editor Frédéric Thoraval, Johnson identified problems and put solutions in place that maxi- mized the impact and efficiency of effects-driven scenes. "Having our VFX supervisor on the set was invaluable to the production and post-production process," says Hattin. "Equally important, Kent ensured that the director could move forward with confidence knowing that the shoot would run smoothly, practical footage and CGI would come together seamlessly, and the final film The Black Phone ANSWERING THE CALL FOR SUPERNATURAL VFX FIRMLY GROUNDED IN REALITY Images ©2022 VFX Legion

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