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Immersed in Movies: How VFX Supervisor Farrar Fixed the Zombies in 'World War Z' (CLIP)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood June 21, 2013 at 2:22PM

So much for decrying the "fix it post" mentality that plagues so many big budget movies. It evidently saved the trouble-plagued, $200 million-plus zombie thriller, "World War Z." After production snafus, cost-overruns, and a significant reshoot to streamline the third act, VFX supervisor Scott Farrar ("The Transformers" franchise) was loaned out from Industrial Light & Magic to salvage the zombies.
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"World War Z"

So much for decrying the "fix it post" mentality that plagues so many big budget movies. It evidently saved the trouble-plagued, $200 million-plus zombie thriller, "World War Z." After production snafus, cost-overruns, and a significant reshoot to streamline the third act, VFX supervisor Scott Farrar ("The Transformers" franchise) was loaned out from Industrial Light & Magic to salvage the zombies.

"I came in after they shot everything and just saw that [director] Marc [Forster] needed some simple things to help put his movie together," Farrar explained by phone during a break from the set of "Transformers 4" in the Austin, Texas farmhouse that caught fire a couple of days later.

"We talked about what's working and what's not working. I said to him, 'Don't worry about how we're going to do it.' It's not about technical stuff at all. If you have previs or postvis or any vis, let's only cut in the things you really like and if we're missing something, we'll make it. Let's do a rough edit."

Farrar, who's known for his great photographic eye, liked the concept of the zombies as swift, athletic predators that move in hordes. He thought that was exciting and original. However, the concept hadn't been exploited enough in the footage, so he worked primarily with the two London-based VFX companies engaged from the beginning, MPC and Cinesite, to fine tune the look and performance of the zombies, going back to the original art work for inspiration and studying ant farms and schools of fish.

"What had happened is that [animation supervisor] Andy Jones was really good at setting the rules of zombie behavior. They would run very fast and lead with the teeth without a care in the world for their own safety. They don't even think about falling off of buildings and breaking all their bones. They crawl all over each other. So once you develop these ideas, and different stages of behavior, you play it out.

"If you're going to have an ant pile of zombies climb up a wall, let's see how it forms, let's see how they do it, let's explain that to the audience, let's plus it out," Farrar continued. "The helicopters can be flying; they're overwhelmed and trying to shoot the pile down and let's do that and raise the bar. This is going to be hard work. There are going to be more shots than we thought."

This article is related to: World War Z, Brad Pitt, Marc Forster, Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.