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47 RONIN

Visual Effects
Academy Award-nominated visual effects supervisor Christian Manz and award-winning effects house FRAMESTORE were charged with creating the fantastical creatures that appear in 47 Ronin, as well as the background extensions for the film's magnificent sets.

Manz advises that Rinsch's approach was fundamentally artistic. He states: "In initial discussions with Carl, we talked about the craft and creativity more than the technical side. I was drawn in by seeing all these beautiful pictures he showed me. He was very open to listening to other people's ideas and wanted everything to look amazing."

A director who cut his teeth in the world of commercials, Rinsch's influences came from multiple sources. Still, the two men kept referencing one name. "We talked about the film looking like a live-action version of a Miyazaki film," recalls Manz. "The challenge was to make it feel that everything is of that world. We wanted the design to feel grounded, but with the hint of the fantastical running through it. It's a Japan that everyone thinks existed, but likely only existed in Hokusai prints."

Manz worked closely with Roelfs and his team to enhance the practical work that the production designer achieved. From extending Ako's multiple courtyards and paddies to creating a dark and dramatic backdrop for Kira's fortress-one placed atop snowy mountains and amid plunging ravines-the department worked around the clock.

Certainly, the most obvious work of Manz's department was on the film's fantastical creatures: the Witch's dragon, the Oni of Dutch Island and the fearsome creature called Kirin. One of the film's most spectacular sequences-a high-energy hunt in a forest to take down the Kirin-opens the film. Abdy laughs: "It's our big car chase. Obviously, we don't have cars in this movie, so how better to create that pace and vibe than with a big, giant creature in the middle of the forest? The Kirin has energy, power and movement."

For Manz, that scene was the most complex action piece throughout the production. He shares: "The whole idea is that it's a majestic beast that's been poisoned and gone rabid. It's been one of the biggest challenges: to design the creature and work with the stunt team and the production design team to fit it into the scene."

Making the sequence work meant getting the action beats precisely right. Explains Manz: "It's all about designing a path where the Kirin will be, making sure that the actors are looking at it and making sure that there's real-world interaction with the physical creature. We needed to do this so that later on, when it could be put into the scene and people are reacting to it, it comes off as a believable element."

Sanada says the scene is an essential moment in the adventure. "It establishes that this is a samurai film, but with grand elements of fantasy," he explains. "With the Kirin monster you explain the kind of taste the film will have. You also come to learn about Kai's character, because he has spiritual power and fighting skills. For all of the actors, it was very hard to play, because we could never see the real Kirin there. Acting and imagination became the only weapons, and we had to make sure that the audience believes it."

For Fingleton, playing the Oni in his pivotal fight scene with Kai at Dejima meant accepting the realities of acting for visual effects. "Basically I was in a carrot suit for about a week, which was not a good time," he muses. "The Oni's got a sickle and a ball and chain, and he's this big monster. It was a great fight, though Keanu beheads me at the end, which was not cool for me."

Manz explains the practical work that went into achieving the pivotal scene between Kai and the Oni: "Gary Powell created the fight between Keanu and Neil. Essentially, Carl directed that fight with the real guys there, and we overlayed Neil with our creature later on."

With the help of Manz's effects team, in postproduction, the Oni became a giant, red-hued fighting ogre. Rinsch walks us through the process: "Neil wore a red tracking suit and spandex, and we used him as our base. Then we built our CG character on top of him, so that he was fighting with Keanu, who had the advantage of fighting against a real person. We had the advantage of understanding lighting and real body movement, so that the CG character would look real."

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