VFX Legion created over 200 visual effects for ‘Black Box,’ one of the series of films in the ‘Welcome to Blumhouse’ anthology that tapped the LA/B.C.-based company’s end-to-end services. The thematically connected package of dark genre movies marks Amazon‘s first-ever global direct to services deal.
Director/Writer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.’s psychological thriller is the story of Noland (Mamoudou Athie), an amnesiac desperate to return to his former self. Dr. Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) helps the main character regain his memory with the Black Box, an experimental device that immerses him in virtual memories of pivotal life events.
Dylan Yastremski, Head of Production at VFX Legion’s studio in British Columbia, managed all of the effects for the film. VFX Supervisor James David Hattin and Head of Production Nate Smalley oversaw the B.C. studio. Working from Legion’s Burbank location they seamlessly interfacing with the director, on-set supervisor, and the pioneering remote company’s team of work-from-home artists based throughout B.C., and the world.
“Close creative collaboration with Emmanuel was critical to bringing his very specific vision to life,” says Hattin. “Working from the director’s original concepts, we delivered a large volume of effects, including some very complicated sequences, in less than four weeks.”
‘Black Box’ called for both photorealistic visual effects grounded in the real world and abstract CGI that created and heightened nightmarish sequences. The range of digital images includes computer-generated environments, intricate transitions, morphing, set extensions, digital removals, rotoscoping, matte painting, and compositing. Foundry’s Nuke and SynthEyes were among the technology employed.
Nolan’s treatment begins with a computer-generated environment that takes shape as he looks into the Black Box. Artists defined the digital space with CG grid patterns positioned to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space. A plus sign appears at its center, moving back and forth with increasing speed as it deconstructs into lines that emanate light and exits the environment.
The illuminated bars change shape, outlining faintly visible objects as practical footage reveals the new surroundings with photorealistic clarity. This ‘safe room’ materializes throughout the film, interfacing with environments where events manifested by the Black Box play out. Legion’s team animated these cyberspaces into existence using elements created for the ‘staging area’ with 3D tools in After Effects.
Throughout the procedures, Dr. Brooks tracks data on medical monitors as electrodes transmit fluxes in her patient’s brain activity. Guided by the readouts, she controls the Black Box, immersing him deeper into virtual memories and extracting him when vital signs reach dangerous levels. Legion created animated story-driven screen replacements mirroring the look of state-of-the-art medical equipment.
The film called for transitional effects with distinct looks that snaps Nolan into a series of memories. For one of the passages, elements from two blue screen shots were merged and distorted, creating a tunnel-like portal that transports him to a virtual wedding ceremony.
“While all of the memories have familiar elements, Nolan can’t quite make out the
faces of the people,” says Hattin.“We worked with Emmanuel to come up with this murky, ill-defined look, which was achieved by rotoscoping the faces and replacing them with distorted versions. As the storyline moves forward, a
morphing technique gradually restores the faces – and reveals the story’s chilling twist.”
Legion’s On-Set VFX Supervisor Matthew Lynn worked closely with the director, and cinematographer, Hilda Mercado, to ensure that the footage blended flawlessly with the computer-generated images.
“With the help of previz and mockups, we ironed out concepts and timings for the heavier visual effect sequences,” says Lynn. “The collaboration enabled us to efficiently address unanticipated issues during the shoot with creative and technically innovative solutions.”
“I couldn’t be more impressed with Legion’s skills and its team’s enthusiasm and commitment to the film. They went above and beyond, creating visual effects that exceeded my highest expectations,” says Osei-Kuffour Jr. “Working with James was an extraordinary experience. He was always accessible during weekends and late into the night. James and his team met tight deadlines while never settling. They delivered fresh, captivating effects that enhanced the film’s visual story.”
“We’ve created the visual effects for several Blumhouse films and television series over the years, and it’s always a great experience,” says Hattin.
“Our team enjoyed collaborating with Emmanuel and appreciated how open he was to our ideas. The director/co-writer brings a fresh perspective to the thriller/sci-fi film genre in the Amazon Original movie. We’re delighted that we had the opportunity to help bring his vision to life.”
Black Bar Mitzvah
Directed by – Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.
Teleplay by – Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., Stephen Herman
Story by – Stephen Herman
Executive Produced by – Jason Blum, Jay Ellis, Aaron Bergman, Lisa Bruce, Jeremy Gold, Marci Wiseman, Mynette Louie and William Marks
Produced by – John H. Brister
Co-Executive Produced by – Chris Dickie, Kyle Chalmers
Co-Produced by – Terra Mair Abroms, Paul B. Uddo
Director of Photography – Hilda Mercado
Edited by – Glenn Garland
Visual Effects by – VFX Legion LA/B.C.
VFX Supervisor – James David Hattin
VFX On-Set Supervisor – Mathew T. Lynn
CG Supervisor – Rommel S. Calderon
VFX Project Manager – Dylan Yastremski
VFX Coordinator – Joe Soloway
VFX Producer – Nate Smalley
VFX Executive Producer – Reid Burns
Compositors – Nick Guth
John R. McConnell