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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.
World War Z
World War Z

Some of the highlights (already touted in trailers) include the pyramid wall in Israel (shot in Malta), pulling down a chopper, and going after the UN specialist played by Brad Pitt and the other passengers in a plane. The result of all this additional work, which took more than a year, is staggering. The "zombie tsunami," as they call it, redefines the ghoulish creatures in a way that's totally believable. For pyramid formations and tentacle-like shapes, MPC shot motion capture clips, adapted its proprietary ALICE crowd system, and created special ways of rendering these huge swarms.

But the zombie close-ups needed special care as well. Strangely, the CG animation looked too human and the live actors or contortionist dancers looked too fake, so they worked with MPC and Cinesite on a new approach. "Andy and I wanted more people in makeup intermingled with CG zombies. I want to create illusion and keep the audience guessing as to whether they were live actors or CG characters."

This entailed re-timing movements to make them quirkier and enhancing eyes, popping veins, and other abnormalities. Farrar is especially proud of an opening attack that's close to the camera and totally animated by Cinesite with convincing cloth sim and hair. "A well-executed illusion -- I'm in."

And Farrar applauds Paramount for taking such a financial risk. "It was brave and scary and an uncertain thing to decide, but it was absolutely the right decision. It's what's best for the movie."

Now let's see what the box office impact will be for "World War Z," particularly in light of last week's industry implosion/meltdown prediction by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

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

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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.