VFX Producer of Nezlamna (ENG: Battle for Sevastopol) Igor Klimovsky: “If You Don’t Stop Our People, They’ll Make Corrections and Improvements Ad Infinitum”

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• 15.01.2016

Visual effects in Battle for Sevastopol are a separate and important topic for discussion. The legendary speech by Lyudmila Pavlichenko in Chicago, the impressive air fights, the huge battle scenes – all this would not have happened without the experts from POSTMODERN, a Ukrainian company. Igor Klimovsky, VFX producer of the film, told me about their meticulous work on a truly Hollywood scale. 


Igor gets down to business immediately: “The film has 58 scenes, and 29 of them were post-processed in our studio. That is, they have between 5 and 100 per cent of computer graphics. Normally the work on visual effects should already start during the early pre-production. As soon as the script draft is completed, previses can be made (these are the schematic animated drafts of complicated scenes) so that director, producer and the film crew in general understood which lenses and cameras to take, what kind of rails and crane to use… What architecture should be there physically and what will be then created in CG.   

The first previses started two years ago. But then we had only three or four of our people working on them, and starting from November 2014 the whole team was working and giving it 110 per cent; that is almost thirty people. Plus we outsourced some work to two Russian studios, FilmDirectionFX in Moscow and Algous in Saint Petersburg, and one Ukrainian studio, Coffeepost in Kyiv. That is, at the very peak of the load we had thirty people from our studio and about thirty-five outsourced employees working on the film.     

- Please tell us about your work process in more detail.

- During the filming period, VFX supervisor and often VFX producer arrive at the set. The supervisor comes with a finished solution: that is, the hows and whats are not decided on the spot, everything must be planned beforehand and work out seamlessly at the set, even though problems might happen. Then the most important stage happens in the studio. If we work with Chroma key shots, composers get down to work. First they do the tracking of the camera, i.e. they animate the movements of virtual camera for them to fully correspond to the movements of the physical camera. It is done for the substituted background not to shift anywhere. They cut out the green background (this is called keying). As a rule, background artists have prepared the matpaint by that point, and it is inserted in the image. We often use a 3D background, and I’ll tell about it separately. Then the composers insert the finished background in the shot, match the colors, lights and the air perspective. Retouching is also done if necessary.

In “Battle for Sevastopol”, a big block is dedicated to the 3D work: 3D models are prepared with assets, which are scripts with basic physical simulation of certain process. For example, a plane flies and shoots, we see a trace and the flashes of explosions – and two different assets are responsible for that. If the plane’s exhaust is visible in the shot, the asset for exhaust fumes is included, and so on. Then, when all elements are ready, they are loaded into one scene and we activate what is needed.  

Another important stage is the animation: all objects in the shot, including the camera, come to life and start moving. It is a very important moment; at the set, they prepare the mise en scene and tell the actors where to go, and we do something similar with the animation. As a rule, it is a rather lengthy process – one shot with the planes needs one to three days to complete, depending on complexity, and there may be corrections afterwards (smiling).  


“The most important stage is at the studio”

After the animation the whole scene is prepared for rendering; virtual lights are put up. This is also a very interesting stage: for example, the surface may be glossy or matte; therefore, it will reflect the light differently. Then it is all visualized; a special render farm starts working, and the obtained renderings undergo the stage of final composing.  

Our task is for the picture to be as realistic as possible. We are happy with the result but… Naturally, there are always lots of internal wishes and requirements. And if you don’t stop our people, they’ll make corrections and improvements ad infinitum (smiling).

- And when did you make the final corrections?

- The Friday before last, two days before the pre-premiere screening in Kyiv. We handed the project in but still wanted to make small adjustments here and there… Perfectionism is normal for our work; if the person is not passionate about it, good quality can’t be expected. Equipment and technology are just tools. The most important is our team, there is no other like that in Ukraine. 


“I want to separately mention Dima Ovcharenko, our supervisor. Everyone participates, the work is a collaborative process, but Dima is the person whose vision, taste and feeling of the image, colors and lights are the most important. What you see is how he sees it.”

- What about you, what do you do?

- First of all I organize our work process and coordinate it; I work with the director and producer. I don’t draw anything myself but I understand and know for sure what the director and producer want. I see how the result can be improved; it often happens that the person looking at the same image for a long time loses the sharpness of perception. Here a fresh eye is important. And, of course, the producer is to control all financial issues, that’s also my responsibility.   

- Please tell us about your work with crowd scenes.  

- We filmed the crowd separately in our Chroma key pavilion. We took our concepts and street sketches, came with them to the studio, opened on playback, cut the Chroma key draft and positioned the actors on the set the way they were supposed to be in the final shot. Actually, there were not enough extras; we cloned them afterwards. We knew which lenses were used at the set to film the main scene and used the same lenses to film actors for “cloning”. 


“Actually, there were not enough extras; we cloned them afterwards.”

- Is it hard to make this “cloning” imperceptible for the audience?  

- If you look carefully, you can see it (smiling). Well, at least I know where to look. It is the same with the battle scenes, they also have lots of “clones”. There were about thirty Germans on the set, but there are over a hundred in the shot. Still, it is not the most difficult task.

- Which scene took the longest?

- If we calculate man-hours spent for the scenes, one of them took up much more than the others; it was the scene of air fight. These are fully digital shots, they are the hardest.  


“Now I’ll scare you a bit. This little circle is an explosion.”


“This is how it looks in the film.”

- Is it when Yulia Peresild’s character is on a ship?  

- Yes, and the planes are circling above. On average, the work on one shot not taking into account the pre-production lasts for two or three weeks; for very complicated shots more than a month may be needed. First we prepare all the basic elements, i.e. models of ships and planes, we prepare the geometry of the space and develop computer water so that it behaves exactly like in reality. For example, we spent about five months on creating water. One person needs three months to make a model of one plane. Do you remember the shot when the plane dives and the ship explodes with fireworks? One person creates this explosion for almost three weeks. If we add up all our work on the film, about 30 per cent of the time was spent for the air fight scene.

- How long does it last in the final cut?

- 3 minutes 40 seconds. The events happening to Lyuda Pavlichenko on the ship were filmed in the Crimea, we managed to do it before all the events. We worked on a real ship though we could have done it with a set. But these details are important: for example, the pavilion would not give the right light… It is very subtle, the audience either believes you or doesn’t. The golden rule is the following: if you can film something, film it.  



“In the first shot we have a Soviet aircraft TU-104 landing.”

- Are all the planes CG-ed?

- Absolutely. In the first shot we have a Soviet aircraft TU-104 landing. We found this plane in Kyiv aviation museum, arranged the shooting and took pictures from all sides, stuck special markers all over it and then created a 3D model in software. Naturally, we corrected the results afterwards, but it fully corresponds to the real prototype, up to the tiniest detail. Even though we see the plane in the shot for not more than five seconds.  


“The amount of Chroma key shots in the film is rather significant. And the final speech by Lyudmila Pavlichenko in Chicago is fully made on matpaints, the drawn backgrounds. These are not 3D images; actually, these are regular but very complicated pictures with a lot of detail brought to life at the final stage of works. They are absolutely credible in physical and geometrical sense; the perspective and angles are also right. I hope the audience gets the impression that it is a real city.”  

Незламна, Игорь Климовский

“We receive a naked detail, which is not completed yet. The final shots are for people to watch in cinemas.” 

Незламна, Игорь Климовский

“For example, we made over 30 working versions of the background only for one angle (and it was the same for almost every shot) – that’s a huge amount of work! But the audience sees it in only two shots.” 

Незламна, Битва за Севастополь, Игорь Климовский, POSTMODERN

“Here all the explosions in the shot are real, only the background has been drawn. The scene was filmed in Kyiv region, and on the left we drew some sea and mountains…”  

Незламна, Игорь Климовский

“At this stage we didn’t like the result for a long time, there were lots of claims, we searched and searched for the right solution… Then we just threw everything away and started drawing new sketches; we decided to give up the open street project.” 

Незламна, Игорь Климовский

“Here we had a bit of a laugh and drew a golden French bread. We wanted to go even farther and write our names somewhere, but we didn’t have enough time.” 

Незламна, Игорь Климовский

These are references. You google those for hours because you need to find exactly what you need.” 

Незламна, Игорь Климовский

“This is a rather complicated scene. The shot lasts for about fifty seconds, in one piece, without joins. We see a hole from an explosion in the wall, a ship in the background, a monument to the perished sailors… We wanted Sevastopol to be seen. If you look carefully, you can see a powder depot far away and an exit from the bay – this all totally matches the geography of Sevastopol. We have looked for a solution for this shot for a rather long time, there were lots of versions until the snowstorm in late January. I was driving to work and saw this incredibly thick snow falling, I literally felt the perspective and transparency the way it should be in the shot. Then I came to the studio and asked Taras Burlin with whom we were making that shot: “Have you seen it?!” We understood each other and decided to make the reference “the way it was in today’s snowstorm”. This is what we did, and the shot worked.”

- It seems to me that when such meticulous work lasts for months, in the end you simply hate the project and want it to finish as soon as possible.

- It’s not that you hate it, you simply get tired. In February, we worked without weekends – 80 per cent of the teams went to work on Saturdays and Sundays. You get tired, the sharpness of perception is somewhat lost, but here you just need a two- or three-day break for it to be okay again.  

The creators of visual effects for “Battle for Sevastopol” are gluttons. Now it’s official.  

Source:  Mediananny