Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Nolan is known for creating compelling stories full of stunning visual elements, and his latest film, theory, Is no exception.
The story of a talented special operative played by John David Washington, recruited by a mysterious organization to save the world, theory Its characters grapple with the inverse concept – the ability to move against the time flow of people and objects. In bullets and vehicles, which lead to back-breaking buildings rather than explosions, theory There is a wide range of scenes that make clever use of the inversion, telling a deeply layered tale of high-stakes espionage.
Working with nolan theory Visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson, who previously worked with the acclaimed director in 2017 Dunkirk, And earned an Oscar nomination for 2015 Mad max fury road. talked to Jackson about her work theory And how he found the balance between practical and digital effects to back the clock.
: Christopher Nolan’s films always feature less visual effects than you would see on screen. How many visual effects were in the shots theoryThe
Andrew Jackson: It was slightly less than 300. This is quite typical of the film Chris Nolan. Working with him is a very collaborative experience, though. We collectively look at all the effects, be they visual effects or special effects, and approach everything holistically while looking at the best to achieve something for the film. I work closely with Scott Fisher, special effects supervisor. I myself used to make practical effects, creating miniatures and thus, so I am very comfortable in that place and am finding the right combination of visual effects, practical and CG. And if it requires a visual effects shot, we find ways to use as much filmed material as possible, which works very well with Chris’s aesthetics.
What were some sequences in theory Did that visual effects work rely?
The biggest thing was the Finale Battle Scene. There is a large building that is stuck together and torn down. It reinvents itself [in the scene], Only to be destroyed again. And we did it very collaboratively with special effects. We built two large, one-third scale, 10-story buildings. We then blew the two up – one down, one up – and then reversed the footage of one of them. We filmed them with two matching cameras, so we could reverse the footage of one and stitch them together. This creates the illusion of a building that is simultaneously exploding and trapped, and was probably one of the biggest things for the visual effects team in the film.
On the surface, many effects just feel as if you are missing the footage, but when you look closely, you realize that it is much more than that. What challenges did the film’s time-shifting element face?
One of the biggest challenges for everyone working in the film was just your head around whatever was happening at any given time in time. It would have been lovely if it was a matter of filming everything and then reversing it, but we always had forward and backward action in a single shot. Therefore only half of the action could be performed normally, and the other half had to be performed in reverse. So what we did was get many actors to learn their performance in reverse. Half of his shot will be in the back, and those in front will perform in the front.
Sometimes, however, we have to reverse the whole thing. We will decide which elements are going to be the most difficult to do backwards, and then we will let them take further action [when we filmed]. Those who had easy jobs would then perform backwards in that shot, and then we would reverse the whole thing at the end to get the hardest parts, the way we wanted them to.
Did you learn or appreciate something new to work on the unique time-shifting shots of this film?
Early in preproduction, I set a little primitive scene [a conceptual, 3D visualization] Car chase scene – Because in that scene, there are cars and people who are moving back and forth. They interact with each other, and people who both cross from one car to the other in front and cross, and sometimes the car themselves are inverted, driving backwards and forwards. There is also a case that an inverted person is thrown from a leading person, so it is a really complex interaction between the front and the inverted world. Viewers view this scene first from the point of view, and then later in the film, we go back to the exact same scene, inverted, and see it upside down. We see all the same events again, this time from an inverted point.
It was really important that all of those stories work and logic makes sense in both directions, so it changed the instrument – which reinforced visual effects – was incredibly valuable. [With previz], We can test those key moments in time and space, and then go through that forward and backward and check that they worked in both directions. And that was really the only way we had to do it.
Because this is not something you can explain on the fly because you are directing a scene…
No, and it was also a very difficult thing to do on paper, because you cannot include the exact length of everything on paper.
We had these prevalent scenes on a laptop which became important whenever we were filming any scene that had intricate inversions and further action. This laptop with a 3D view on it became our reference, so we can quickly go and say, “Well, while this is happening, it should be.” This was actually very important for one of those scenes – especially the car chase scene and also the scene where the plane crashes into the building. There is a very complex set of interactions that take place inside the building when that plane crashes, as there are multiple versions of the same character inside the room at the same time. So it was a really important tool.
You mentioned the plane crash, and was a little surprised to learn that the 747 crash scene was shot in camera and not the visual effects. What is your job with such a brilliant shot with minimal visual effects?
As always with Chris, we put in the effort to get as much as we can. With such a view, we look at various options from one end of the scale to the other. At one end, the entire CG plane is crashing into a building as a CG effect, and then somewhere in the middle, there is the option of building a miniature plane and crashing into a miniature building, and then one at the other end of the scale. Is using a full-size aircraft and crashing it into the camera, and then amplifying what you shoot.
In that particular situation, there were a lot of sightings around the plane, on the Tarmac, and up to that point inside the plane, so we needed the plane to go towards the thing that goes over it. And by the time you got to an airport, got a plane, and are filming in and around you, it was a relatively small step to continue on it and make the final crash. So we built the set for the plane crash at the airport where the plane was, and we combined it with big trucks. Its visual impact aspect was cleaning the tow ropes, getting rid of any interactions between tow ropes and things on the ground, and adding that jet blast effect as it drives through the car park.
The inverted bullet shots in the film are particularly attractive. What was development like to that effect?
We did a lot of work on bullet hits. There was always a desire to feel that it was as easy as possible and not fantasy or magic. So the question arises what an inverted object looks like when interacting with the advancing world. Apparently, bullets have to come out of the wall and out of the gun, so that the main event is reversed. But being in the wall, how long does the bullet last? And what does it look like when that moment is happening? Bullet holes need to appear at some point, right? It could not be there since the building was built. So we experimented with different ideas and we talked to theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who Chris has collaborated with before other films.
Is there a theoretical basis for this reversal effect?
Yes, there is a theoretical idea that it may be possible for the entropy to run backwards. So this is not a total fantasy. The whole thing is based on the idea that it is indeed possible. We then came up with the idea that when an inverted object interacting with the world can get 70/30 percent pushback from the world, it is happening. So the way it looks in the film, if you actually look closely at some of the bullet hits, you’ll see a little bit of debris falling before the bullet hits, and then later. Further, the real world has a small impact on this reversal phenomenon.
I think that really helps to tie those things together. You will see that the idea of 70/30 is when there is a big explosion or when a car blows up. Inverse effect is a type of pushing time back from the real world.
The visual effect is often at its best when the audience is not aware that they are seeing the visual effect. Had a visual effect in theory You can be especially proud of an audience that couldn’t feel it was a visual effect?
What I really like is when people don’t know if something was CG or practical and how it was achieved. Towards the end of the film, there is a scene with lots of land mines, with vehicles plying a hill and land mines. Some land mines are inverted, and some are further away, so some of them are a combination of filmed in-camera and some of them CG that make up the scene. Combining the two together so that you can tell the difference is important.
We also added CG choppers in one-two scenes, and all sorts of little things that I think people wouldn’t know are all effects. For example, in the yacht-racing scene, there are a pair of shots where we had to sail boats without a mast due to safety issues with the actors, and we later had to add a CG mast to those scenes.
Christopher Nolan’s theory Now available in select theaters and as streaming rental or on-demand video.