True Heroes

VFX Breakdown

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A Story of Guys and Guns

For this project I not only completed several VFX shots, I was also the VFX Supervisor. The project as a whole originally had 45 or 50 VFX shots and we were looking to have about four people from various locations to help do the VFX shots. Once the time came, two of the other artists got pulled onto other movie projects and it was down to me and the director Chris Ganucheau. We culled the shots back to 40. Chris took all the tracer round, muzzle flash and bullet hit shots (which were the majority of the shots), while I took on the tougher remaining shots.

Taking on the task of Supervisor I had to figure out the workflow for getting the shots conformed and ultimately transferred to Chris. I worked with Chris and the DP to narrow down and focus which shots we actually needed for the film and how best to shoot them so that I could do the compositing work once they were done with filming. It was a huge learning curve and I still feel like the systems I created could be better, but it worked over all. It’s something I would like to continue to learn more about and get faster at setting up. I think as a practice it will make the projects that I do for myself much faster to turn around.


Jet Fly Over Shots

For these two shots I used the wonderful plug-in for After Effects Element 3D from Video Copilot and used their Jet Strike Pack to get the Russian MIG model. I brought in the DPX files that I created from the original Red Camera footage. I camera tracked them both then animated the planes flying across the sky. I then masked and graded the jet to match the background plate, as well as built a contrail coming off the plane for the second shot.

Drone Design

I did a lot of research to come up with the design of the drone. I didn’t want it to look too futuristic because I wanted it to feel at least a little grounded in reality. Ultimately I ended up exactly copying Lockheed Martin’s Surveillance Drone that was designed to fold up and carry in a small pack. Seeing this I figured it was the perfect thing a Seal team would have. All it needed was the gun turret to replace the camera turret.


Drone Flyover

Once I brought the DPX files into Nuke I camera tracked the footage, spit the tracked camera out to Cinema 4D where I modeled it, and animated the drone. I rendered a single pass of the drone flying over and then color corrected it to match the background plate in Nuke.

Drone Kill Shot

Like the previous shot, I camera tracked the DPX files and brought the camera data into Cinema 4D and animated the drone taking out the Russian. I then exported the multipass EXR to composite in Nuke. I graded the render to match the background plate, matched the depth of field to the background plate, and added a silenced muzzle flash to the drone.

Juggernaut Shots



This shot was done completely in After Effects. I created the textures and used the default After Effects plug ins to create the spherical energy shield.



After a lot of roto work to get the one Navy Seal masked out, I layered a few advanced lightening effects, mixed in some heat distortion and lens flair, added some stock smoke elements and added an effect to the body of the Navy Seal so that he would glow as he is hit with the lighting bolt.


Force Push

Most of the heavy lifting was done on this shot with the great camera and wire work from the guys that were on set. All I needed to add was some dust blowing and a blurry air blast effect.


Red Orb

This shot was a tough one. It went through several iterations until we landed on the look that the Director was wanting. In this shot I think it would have been fun to do more to the environment and do a lot more particles around the orb. Due to the time limitations and the requirement to get other shots finished up we had to call it done at a certain point.

Wizard Shot

On this shot I needed some mountains to build up the background. Luckily a photographer friend had recently returned from New Zealand and had a large assortment of pictures he willingly allowed me to use. I keyed the wizard from the plate, built the scene in 3D using Nuke, animated some lightning flashes, and did the digital camera move to complete the transition from the previous clip in the film.

T-Rex in the Woods

In this shot the Director wanted to hint at the T-Rex and not really show him much. We purchased a decent looking inexpensive T-Rex model from Turbo Squid. I added in a few nice looking 3D trees and matched the lighting. I then loosely matched the camera angle from the original background plate in Cinema 4D, rendered out a few passes, and brought them all together in Nuke.

Battlesaurus Rex

For this shot we needed a completely crazy armored T-Rex so I took the model that we already bought and cut off his arms. I then mostly kit bashed the armor and weapons except for the helmet, the robotic arm (which you can barely see after the final grade was done) and large gun on the far side of him, which I had to build from scratch. Once he was textured I got him rigged for animation.

I knew I was going to build a matte painting of destroyed buildings in Nuke for the T-Rex to stand in front of, but I couldn’t think of what I actually wanted him to stand on until I was driving in New Orleans on an over pass and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I took a model of an over pass, fractured it and bent everything up to help it fit the background’s semi post-apocalyptic look.

For the lighting, I finally landed on a sky dome with a black and white gradient to make a very large soft box that I could control the diameter of through the gradient.

After spending a very long time rendering out several passes I finally got it back into Nuke and composited everything together. I needed to add several smoke elements to help add atmosphere to the shot.

The other crazy part to this shot was that the Director wanted the Navy Seal to be riding on the back of the T-Rex. On set they built a blue barrel for the actor to ride and told him to look “bad ass” and that they were going to put him on the back of a T-Rex. Later the actor told me that had no idea what it was going to look like, but was blown away when he actually saw it during the Louisiana Film Festival. Once I had the actor keyed, I graded him to match the lighting of the scene and tracked him to the camera movement. Then all that was left was the final grade.

This was such a huge project to be a part of and there were so many talented people involved. It was a lot of fun to work with this particular Director and DP. I’m so proud of the work we did, and equally excited that the film won the film festival.