Prime Focus World (PFW) was the exclusive VFX and 3D conversion partner with Troublemaker Studios and Aldamisa Entertainment Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, and based on Miller’s cult graphic novels.
Tasked with more than 2,000 visual effects shots and stereo conversion to be completed in around 8 months, Prime Focus leveraged its offices in Vancouver and Mumbai to complete the work. Visual effects supervisor Jon Cowley oversaw Canadian production, while visual effects supervisor Tim McGovern was based in Mumbai. Overall visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier also came on board to creatively spearhead the global effort.
Achieving Rodriguez’s vision for the film - and translating Frank Miller’s unique style from comic book page to big screen - meant that each and every shot would be heavily reliant upon the talent of PFW’s global VFX and stereo teams. The massive 2,282 shot workload needed full concept and production design, VFX and stereo creation within a short schedule of just 8 months, requiring PFW’s engagement on a global level and putting the company’s business model to the ultimate test.
Every PFW department was engaged on this project. Technology teams worked closely with the R&D department to generate and deploy tools that promoted consistency between shots and seamless integration across all locations; production put in place workflows that would deliver the shots in the short timeframe.
The creative challenge
Early conversations with Robert Rodriguez revealed that the vision for the Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, was a complete upgrade from his original 2005 movie; he wanted to deliver a film in which each frame was stylized to match the look of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. Unlike the previous film, which used partial sets and production design, Robert Rodriguez sought to push the visual effects further by shooting entirely against green-screen, requiring PFW to develop the world of Sin City from the ground up.
Director Robert Rodriguez was full of appreciation for PFW’s contribution to the film. “It was a lot for a single company to take on. They were the underdog, trying to compete with these big f/x houses, and at the end of the day, they delivered.”
90% Film is CG
Almost every location, prop and asset seen in the film was digitally crafted – in fact the final number of assets created was 1,572, with 65 locations built as CG environments.
“Essentially, everything except the live action performances had to be created by the artists of Prime Focus in the computer, which was a very exciting opportunity,” said Sin City: A Dame to Kill For VFX Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier.
Sin City Visual Effects
2,282 visual effects shots with a VFX crew of 702 and a stereo team comprising 1,502 artists.
“Our production teams worldwide were managing a show of immense scale, which would traditionally go to multiple VFX companies,” said Merzin Tavaria, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director, Prime Focus. “We have a track record of taking the impossible and making it possible, and this is what we did on the sequel of Sin City.”
In India alone, 550-600 visual effects artists worked on this big-ticket Hollywood movie, coupled with 1502 artists from the 3D conversion team who collaborated on this project. With 2,300 shots to be delivered, planning and production management worked seamlessly to create this visual extravaganza. In addition, Prime Focus India team supervised and delivered major parts of the movie including decisions related to asset drilling, layout for all the shots (environment and cameras to be used) etc.
Prime’s main toolset involved Maya for CG work, rendering in V-Ray and compositing in NUKE.
The Stereo Process
Another advance on the original was that this time the action was in 3D. The stereo process required a separate workflow, its own pipeline, and its own team of artists in Mumbai and in Vancouver. PFW Senior Stereographer Justin Jones led the stereo teams, working directly with Rodriguez to create another layer of style and design through the 3D, in order to fully engage the audience.
“Our hybrid approach to this show was the only way to go,” said Justin Jones, PFW Senior Stereographer, “We had the best of both worlds: the native photography that Robert captured looks beautiful, with fantastic levels of detail; and we also retained full control over the stereo in the environments because we were creating them from scratch. Also, due to our proprietary toolset, we were able to adjust the stereo in the native capture when we needed to, giving us full control to design the best possible stereo experience.”
Talking about teams efforts, Namit Malhotra, Founder, Executive Chairman & Global CEO, Prime Focus said “I’m incredibly proud of the team and the way whole global construct of Prime Focus has come together in achieving something that I don’t believe any other single company worldwide would have been able to do,” concluded Namit Malhotra. “This movie has given us a great opportunity to showcase our creative and technical capabilities. This was a huge commitment to our filmmaking partners, in helping to make this movie happen and will mark a milestone in our journey. I’m delighted with the way this has played out”.