The Subtlety of VFX

Working on “Love And Mercy”

Not all visual effects involve car explosions, buildings toppling over, or satellites circling the earth. Sometimes in order to keep continuity or better tell a story, visual effects are used in subtle ways leaving the audience oblivious the image was ever affected at all.

In the case of the newly released film “Love And Mercy” starring John Cusack and Paul Dano, these covert techniques were sprinkled throughout the film. Whether it was enlarging a sailboat in the water to emphasize it’s appearance, or replacing a pair of shoes for continuity, many visual effects go completely unnoticed.

A simple pair of clean, new sneakers shot at the beginning of production no longer resembled the scuffed, dirty shoes worn down by John Cusack at the end of production. In order to replace the original shot, The Molecule was sent the exact shoes worn by Cusack. Our team then photographed the shoes resting on top of glass (on our very own conference room table!) in order to mimic the reflection of the floor. We shot many different angles of the shoes, and once we picked a winner, the old shoes were painted out of the original shot and painted in the floor.

Next, the selected photograph of the dirty shoes was composited into the shot. An additional backlight was added along with grading to integrate the shoes into the atmosphere. In the end, the final shot displays worn-down, beat-up shoes matching the continuity of Cusack’s footwear from the rest of the film.

In another scene, deep in the background sits a small sailboat, while in the foreground Cusack and Elizabeth Banks emerge from the water and embrace. The objective was to remove a sailboat from the footage and replace it with a much larger sailboat closer to the shoreline.

First we selected an image of a larger sailboat with proper lighting and angle to the shoreline. After painting out the original sailboat, we added an animated 2D sail to our new boat with slight movement creating the appearance of a small wind. At the base of the boat where the haul meets the water, we added splashing waves and a small wake in order to incorporate the boat into the water. Once completed, this simple and subtle effect was added in order to strengthen the believability and vision of the story telling.

Towards the end of the film, we take a trip through Brian’s ear canal. We were able to simulate the journey in 3D space:

Recently The Molecule took a trip to Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg to catch the film on the big screen, and with surround sound. The VFX were absolutely a team effort, so it was fitting that we were able to all enjoy it together.