The invisible visual effects of Judd Apatow’s ‘The King of Staten Island’

Pixomondo breaks it down in this exclusive video.

At befores & afters, you’ll see coverage of the biggest effects-heavy films and TV shows, but I’m also a huge fan here of projects that feature invisible, but crucial, VFX work.

One of those recent projects is the Judd Apatow film, The King of Staten Island, starring Pete Davidson. Here, visual effects studio Pixomondo pulled off some subtle alterations to scenes shot in and around New York City. One shot might be augmenting tattoos, another could be adding in extra smoke. The studio also enhanced a dramatic fire rescue.

I asked Pixomondo Toronto visual effects supervisor Bojan Zoric how the invisible effects work was approached. You can also check out the video breakdown of the work, below.

b&a: Can you give me an overview of how the filmmakers came to PXO for some of these invisible fx? Were they typically planned out before shooting or more considered in post? What did you have to keep in mind while working on these kinds of effects?

Bojan Zoric: After an initial discussion and the script review, PXO VFX producer Celine Zoleta and I took part in the early pre-production planning stage in order to establish where VFX enhancements or replacements would be needed and how best to approach the shooting to allow for seamless yet budget friendly results.

Judd and producers outlined the major story points which needed our help, such as the driving or the firefighting sequence and allowed us the freedom to tailor our approach to individual shots. PXO compositing supe. Mike Stadnickyj and FX supe. Bahador Mehrpouya led their teams in designing the approaches to bg replacements or FX enhancements that would work with evolving editorial process, providing Judd with variations and options to choose from.

During the shot work it was important to keep in mind that the VFX work needed to enhance the emotional content of the scenes without attracting attention to itself and that it had to be done in such a way as to allow quick adjustments and iterations. The need for cleanup work and some specific invisible effects and enhancements in the tattoo or shootout sequences became obvious during the editorial process and Pixomondo compositors were able to provide quick solutions for these despite the timeline restrictions.

b&a: People might think adding a lot of smoke in the smoking scenes might be ‘easy’, but what were the very particular challenges of doing this?

Bojan Zoric: Subtlety of approach and the need to completely match and integrate our work with the practical FX was the most challenging part of the dorm smoking sequence. PXO senior FX artist Farhad Hosseinpouri developed Houdini smoke simulations by replicating the air-pump forces expelling practical smoke and tweaking speed and spread of the simulated smoke to get a perfect match. Rough digi-double animation was staged to mimic interactive forces and smoke density variations were created to allow Judd to select the overall appearance.

Some 2.5 D solutions were used for the smoke filling the room where pre-rendered elements were mapped to cards stacked in depth and distorted to cheat interaction and volume. Subtle spark enhancements were added in compositing and cg smoke was dialed in to provide wedges of varying density for the filmmakers to test in editorial. Subtle variation was then selected with the aim of not obscuring performance while enhancing the comedic effect of the practical FX.

b&a: How did PXO approach the building on fire enhancements?

Bojan Zoric: The firefighting sequence involved careful pre-production planning and on-set prep in order for the VFX smoke and fire to be effective and convincing. As per PXO on-set guidance, practical light interaction and minimal practical FX smoke provided a base onto which our simulated fire and smoke elements were added to effectively tell the story without being overly theatrical. PXO FX department simulated the smoke using a lidar scan of the building ensuring the accuracy of physical forces and interaction that would shape the fire and smoke in real life.

Rendered AOV passes from the FX department allowed the compositing team to dial in the smoke, fire and sparks depending on the editorial needs, keeping in mind that a visual progression of the firefight was needed. To ensure this, our in-house VFX editors, Michael Tanton and Nicole Cedic were working in tandem with the editing dept. for an internal check on the chronological accuracy of our work. Combined efforts of these departments enabled Judd to tune the emotional pitch of the scene and enable VFX enhance the sense of danger and scope of the event without being overwhelming and unbelievable.

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