Children of Men: Invisible VFX for a Future in Decay

Alain Bielik talks with the visual effects wizards given the task of transporting audiences into a believable, bleak near future in Children of Men.

Set in the near future, Children of Men (which opened Christmas Day from Universal Pictures) is a gritty thriller in which humanity faces the perspective of its own extinction. Due to a mysterious global phenomenon, women have lost the ability to give birth. In this childless world, even the most civilized societies are collapsing. The only hope lays in the hands of a small group of British rebels that tries to bring the only pregnant woman in the world to safety. Adapted from P.D. James' best-selling novel, the movie was directed by Alfonso Cuaron with a unique naturalistic documentary shooting style. The entire movie was filmed hand-held with wide lenses (mostly 18mm or 21mm) in order to give the footage the feeling of an actual newsreel. The director also favored extremely long takes - there are no more than 460 shots in the final cut.

For lead visual effects vendor Double Negative, London, this approach implied the creation of more than 160 "invisible" effects shots of the highest complexity. The core team included vfx supervisor Frazer Churchill, vfx producer Rupert Porter, CG supervisor David Vickery and 2D supervisor Andy Lockley.

"There were two main categories of effects," Churchill explains. "First, we had to enhance environments to make them look like the action was taking place in 2027. Then, we had to combine several takes to create impossibly long shots. One of them is a nine-minute hand-held tracking shot made up of six different takes. Obviously, the shooting style created a true challenge for us. The handheld camera meant that there were no tripods, no dollies and none of the usual points of reference. It also meant that the height, tilt and roll of the camera were always varying, making them impossible to measure and to repeat precisely. Our matchmove and tracking team really out-did themselves on this project!"

Visualizing a World in Decay
Although the movie is set in the year 2027, Cuaron didn't want the action to take place in a futuristic world. This is the world that we know, only with a slightly more sophisticated technology. The London of tomorrow was mainly realized by the integration of multiple animated billboards on buildings and vehicles. These elements were blended as much as possible into the background, as not to draw unnecessary attention. Some billboard images were purposely created in poor quality and projected onto screens in a bad state of repair -- this is a civilization in decay.

The lengthy opening shot features many of these subtle enhancements, but the viewer focuses immediately on lead character Theo (Clive Owen). In one continuous shot, the camera follows Theo out of a coffee shop when an explosion blows the place apart right behind him. The impressive shot was created by Double Negative from two different takes shot over two consecutive days.


congratulation from an argentinian film student. the best FX work i ever saw.
diego lumerman (not verified) | Sun, 02/04/2007 - 00:00 | Permalink

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