With the Director’s Cut arriving on DVD & Blu-Ray for Hercules on December 1, 2014 in the UK, Trevor Hogg chats with Joshua Wassung about the previs and postvis work contributed by The Third Floor…
“Our team at The Third Floor provided close to thirty minutes of previs over eight sequences,” states The Third Floor Previsualization Supervisor Joshua Wassung as to work contributed to Hercules . “This was our first collaboration with Brett Ratner [Rush Hour]; he was referred to us and came to visit and talk about his vision for the film. We clicked pretty quickly and began work the next week!” There was a regular line of communication with the American filmmaker and John Bruno (The Abyss) who was the visual effects supervisor for the project. “We collaborated directly with Brett on the ground in Los Angeles and held reviews regularly with him via Skype and cineSync while he was on location in Budapest. We also worked alongside John Bruno and the Art Department as they built the real sets, as well as with visual effects houses like Double Negative. To kick off our work, Brett would describe the energy of the scenes to us and what was important to him. John would show us inspirational artwork, references and storyboards he put together himself.”
“Previs was chiefly used to explore scenes and pacing of the action,” remarks Wassung. “But we were also helping to outline logistics for filming and visual effects, to support filmmakers in getting a sense of what needed to be filmed on the shooting day and plan accordingly. Brett first wanted to figure out the style and pacing of the action sequences, but it was also really important for him to balance out all of the hero characters within those scenes; he wanted each character to have something interesting to do, with the heroes ideally always helping each other, not just showing off. We spent a lot of time bringing those pieces together in previs. After Brett was happy with previs for the sequences, we would work with the Art Department to help break down how certain complex shots could be filmed with dimensions, speeds and camera placement. We sometimes did detailed techvis diagrams that included camera position, key CG elements and stage limitations for shooting. Previs was also helpful in giving the studio a good idea of the ‘big screen moments’ in the movie in advance. We also delivered select scenes in stereo to get a sense of the effect.”
“We tried incorporating the plans, requirements and logistics of many of the key departments into the previs,” explains Joshua Wassung. “Sometimes the previs is reflecting known choices the production has made [such as creating a character or city in CG] and sometimes new ideas and plans are made after discussing the previs about how best to achieve the shots. Ultimately, it is up to the Art Department to decide exactly what to build based on the needs of the approved sequence.” Not all of the imagery had to be created from scratch. “Early on we had some great artwork from Weta Workshop that helped with all of the character designs, and inspired several of the locations and sets. For the end battle, the Art Department sent us full plans for their massive set, which we were able to replicate in previs. Later we got to see it during postvis. It was incredible!” Eight sequences in particular received the previs treatment. “Our previs sequences included Hercules and the Three Labors, which we delivered in stereo, the Bessi Battle, the Dungeon Cerberus Attack, Hera’s Temple Battle and the Istros Forest Battle. It was a fun challenge working on multiple scenes at once as it allowed us the opportunity find themes and arcs throughout the film that we then could incorporate into the previs. Our artists enjoyed the challenge of conveying unique emotions with the previs characters to help sell the scenes as a whole.”
“We did a substantial amount of postvis throughout the film,” reveals Joshua Wassung. “We targeted shots or portions of sequences to help fill in the gaps for editorial, as well as help the VFX producer obtain accurate bids from VFX houses.” Video game quality imagery was produced when it came to the animation, lighting and texturing. “We fully animated and motion-captured all of the hero characters, creatures and props in the previs scenes. Background characters and armies are usually intentionally low res to keep scenes light. We build in lighting, texture, and atmosphere to sell the feeling of the sequences. I would compare the look to that of an Xbox 360 game cinematic.” A number of conversations were had with the Editorial Department. “We spoke with Mark Helfrich [the editor] extensively, especially during postvis. Mark would often call us to discuss the key story points within a particular beat or sequence, and exactly what elements we could provide to help him sell it to the audience. The production designer and cinematographer were in Budapest, so John Bruno helped be our liaison, making sure we had all the information we needed from their teams.”
Hercules images © 2014 Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures, The Third Floor and Double Negative.
Many thanks to Joshua Wassung for taking the time for this interview.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.