On set, David Fincher prioritizes time with the actors more than anything else, so most of our work is done in the prep. In terms of Mank, we spent much of that prep time discussing how we could incorporate the visual language of black and white cinema into our own version of the story. We wanted to transport the audience to the time period without too much pastiche. It was a delicate balance.
Mexico City-based Ollin VFX specializes in creating computer-generated imagery for television and film. Run by co-founder/president Alejandro Diego, the company works with clients worldwide to provide concept design, previz and postviz, 2D compositing, 3D/CG effects and animation.
Work is spread out between Ollin’s headquarters in Mexico City and artists in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, India and Hollywood. Their visual effects work can be seen in films like Jumanji, Godzilla, Deadpool and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
When COVID-19 necessitated a lockdown that required their artists work from home, they were faced with how to meet fast-approaching deadlines for two major projects: an Amazon-original zombie TV series called Operation 8888 and David Fincher’s Mank, a movie about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s development of the 1941 classic Citizen Kane.
Mank was shot black and white in 6K resolution — much higher quality than the usual 2K or 4K — which made the creation of visual effects creatively challenging due to the variations in shades of gray.
“Immediately, all of our artists started working from home and connecting via VPN to their workstation at the office,” explains Diego. When the lockdown happened in March, the studio needed to figure out a reliable and fast way for everyone to easily access and work on files ranging in size from a few MB to several GB from multiple remote locations.
Ollin had just started using DEI’s ExpeDat, accelerated file transport software, a few months before COVID-19 hit. When the shutdown happened, Diego accepted an offer from DEI to increase capacity to their existing ExpeDat license, from four to eight and at no additional cost, to help accommodate their increased demand for ingest and other file transfer activities. Having this kind of workflow setup helped Ollin as they created and delivered VFX for Mank. We reached out to Diego to find out more about his studio’s workflow.
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.
No movie received more Oscar nominations in 2021 than David Fincher’s “Mank,” a Hollywood throwback about Herman Mankiewicz (Best Actor nominee Gary Oldman), Marion Davies (Best Supporting Actress nominee Amanda Seyfried), and the writing process behind Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” With 10 total nominations — including Best Picture, Best Director for Fincher, Best Actor for Oldman, Best Supporting Actress for Seyfried, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Hair & Makeup, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Score — the lavish black-and-white Netflixfilm is just the 96th feature in Academy Awards history to receive double-digit citations and the second-most lauded Fincher effort behind only “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
With a project comprised of so many academy-endorsed contributions, it might be difficult to imagine one single scene representing the sum of the whole. But nestled within the complex structure of Jack Fincher’s time-hopping screenplay is a sequence that combines all 10 of the “Mank” nominations and shows how each department and performance elevated the next: Mank and Marion’s stroll through San Simeon.
Join Adobe for an exciting discussion with the editorial team from Netflix’s Mank featuring special guests Kirk Baxter, ACE, first assistant editor Ben Insler, and assistant editor Jennifer Chung. The team goes behind-the-scenes of the critically-acclaimed, Oscar nominated film to share their creative editing process and collaborative workflows for in-house VFX. Learn how they crafted a modern-day homage to one of the most celebrated films of all time, and overcame the challenges of a remote workflow using Premiere Pro Productions and After Effects.
Kirk Baxter, ACE, has been recognized with Academy Awards for his work on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an Academy Award nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and multiple nominations from the American Cinema Editors. The Australian native is a long-time collaborator of David Fincher, including five of the director’s films and two of his series, Mindhunter and House of Cards.
Ben Insler currently works as a feature film assistant editor in Los Angeles, most recently on David Fincher’s Mank. He has previously assisted on television series, documentaries, and commercials, as well as edited for television, independent features and numerous shorts.
Jennifer Chung is an assistant editor working in Los Angeles. Originally from the midwest, she graduated with a BFA in Cinema Art + Science from Columbia College Chicago. She works in scripted tv and film, most recently on the “Blindspotting” series and David Fincher’s “Mank”. Along with assisting, she has also edited numerous shorts, music videos and promotional content.
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.
On Mank, VFX supervisor Wei Zheng paired state-of-the-art technology with old-school filmmaking techniques, to help David Fincher craft a singular portrait of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Marking Zheng’s sixth collaboration with the director, the Netflix drama follows alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he finishes the script for Citizen Kane.
By implementing matte painting and rear projection, along with other tools and tricks, Fincher and his team minimized the budget necessary to assemble an authentic period piece, manipulating L.A. exteriors when necessary, or avoiding them altogether. Ultimately, what these tools offered Fincher was complete control of every image, and interestingly, the director himself served as the film’s overall VFX supervisor, though he chose to go uncredited.
At the same time, it took a village to bring his vision to life. Supporting him in his ambitions, alongside Zheng (Artemple Hollywood), were VFX supervisors Simon Carr (Territory Studio), James Pastorius (Savage VFX), and Pablo Helman (ILM). His fourth key collaborator in this arena was Peter Mavromates, who served as co-producer, post-production supervisor and VFX producer.
In conversation with Deadline, Zheng breaks down the shorthand he’s developed with Fincher over the years, and the approach he took to getting “David’s imagination” on each of his longtime passion project’s frames.