David Fincher’s Panic Room turns 20 years old this week. The film starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart featured a somewhat memorable troubled production history, partly because the original principal actor Nicole Kidman had to pull out of the project after shooting had began, among other events.
From a visual effects perspective, however, the film is memorable for different reasons. One is the incredible approach taken to extremely long takes inside the main location–a New York brownstone townhouse built on a stage in Redondo Beach–featuring ‘deliberately’ impossible camera moves. These were the result of meticulous previs, motion control and other camera work and a photogrammetry approach to VFX orchestrated by BUF, which had done some similar work on Fincher’s Fight Club.
Another memorable aspect of the film is its unsettling opening titles in which cast and crew names appear as giant lettering framed within New York buildings and locations. The work here was done by Picture Mill and ComputerCafe.
Overseeing those two key visual effects components of Panic Room was visual effects supervisor Kevin Tod Haug, who had also worked with Fincher on Fight Club. He revisits the production in this anniversary chat with befores & afters, looking back at the planning, previs and shoot, and the approach to those impossible camera moves and the unique titles.
On this episode of VFX Notes, Hugo Guerra from Hugo’s Desk and Ian Failes from befores & afters are joined by Craig Barron. Barron is creative director at Magnopus, and previously worked as a matte painter at ILM and co-founder and visual effects supervisor at Matte World Digital. Barron won a VFX Oscar for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and was also nominated for a VFX Oscar for Batman Returns.
They talk about his amazing career and his work in Zodiac, Casino, Empire Strikes Back, Batman Returns, and so much more, what those original days of matte painting in the optical era were like, and how the transition to digital happened. Matte World Digital’s work on Zodiac, amongst other films, was also discussed in a previous episode.
This episode is sponsored by ActionVFX Black Friday sale. It begins November 25th at 8 PM EST and will end on December 3rd at 11:59 PM EST. All VFX elements in the library will be 55% off the first 24 hours, & 50% off the remaining days of the sale. All Annual Subscription Plans (Individual & Studio Plans) purchased during the sale will receive 2x the amount of monthly elements. Learn more here.
Chapters: 00:00:00 – Intro 00:04:30 – David Fincher and DVD extras 00:05:35 – Craig’s career 00:08:16 – Ray Harryhausen and influences 00:12:08 – Matte paintings in Empire Strikes Back 00:18:13 – Physical correct vs artistic direction 00:32:07 – Matte paintings in Batman Returns 00:34:12 – Casino and the first radiosity render 00:43:37 – 3D projections in Zodiac 00:55:02 – Blade Runner VR 00:59:48 – The Criterion Collection and history 01:07:05 – Patreon, Twitch Subs and YouTube members credits
On this episode of VFX Notes, Hugo Guerra from Hugo’s Desk and Ian Failes from befores & afters dive deep into the visual effects in David Fincher films. We take an especially close look at Digital Domain‘s work for Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Chapters: 00:00:00 – Intro 00:04:20 – Zodiac and the rise of invisible VFX 00:09:09 – The rise of D2 and Foundry‘s Nuke 00:18:31 – David Fincher’s methods and Zodiac‘s murder scenes 00:30:03 – Environments by DD and Matte World 00:43:41 – The VFX of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 00:57:27 – The VFX of The Social Network 01:03:15 – The VFX of Mindhunter 01:09:51 – Wrap up 01:12:45 – Patreon, YouTube members and Twitch Subs Credits
Mank is nominated for 10 Academy awards in this year’s 93rd Oscars in categories such as Best Picture, Lead Actor, and Best Director. It is also nominated for the VES award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature. The film follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941).
There were several VFX supervisors nominated, Simon Carr (Territory Studio), Wei Zheng (Artemple), James Pastorius (Savage VFX), along with Peter Mavromates. In many respects, director David Fincher could have also been nominated for VFX. The director is himself an expert in visual effects and was a very active contributor to the film’s effect work. Peter Mavromates is a long-time collaborator with David Fincher and was officially the Co-producer, Post Supervisor and VFX Producer on the film. Additionally, Pablo Helman at ILM was key in creating the CG animals at the San Simeon zoo.
The film had its roots going back over 20 years. “We had a false start about 20 years ago, around 1999. The script had been written at that time but it never happened for a number of reasons,” Mavromates comments. “Probably a contributing factor was that it was black and white and if you weren’t Woody Allen in the 90s, you couldn’t shoot black and white. Even Mel Brooks had to change producers for Young Frankenstein because the studio wouldn’t let him shoot black and white and he had to find another studio.”
The movie finished filming about 2 weeks before the W.H.O. declared the COVID pandemic in Feb 2020. This meant nearly all the VFX was done using remote protocols at each of the VFX vendors.
Mank visual effects supervisor Simon Carr walks you through his team’s subtle work in David Fincher‘s award-winning film and the use of time-tested techniques like rear projection to bring Hollywood’s Golden Age to life on screen.
Take a look behind the invisible visual effects of ‘Mank’. ILM contributed a series of shots to the film including the various animals housed at the Hearst Castle private zoo. We created a host of photo-real CG animals to complete the scenes featuring capuchin monkeys, giraffe, elephants, and their environs such as the ornate wrought-iron victorian-era monkey’s enclosure and the gated grass area housing the roaming elephants and giraffe.
Director: David Fincher ILM Visual Effects Supervisor: Pablo Helman ILM Animation Supervisor: Mathew Cowie ILM Associate Visual Effects Supervisor: Sherry Hitch ILM Executive Visual Effects Producer: Erin Dusseault ILM Visual Effects Producer: Flannery Huntley ILM Associate Vfx Producer: Andrew Poole ILM Studios: San Francisco, Vancouver
Shot in black and white, David Fincher’s Mank transports audiences through the sights and scenery of Golden Age Hollywood and 1930s and 40s California. With the help of soundstages, matte paintings, and a lot of research, the team behind Mank’s locations communicates the glamour and history of an epic era of moviemaking.