4 VFX-life horror stories to help you through Halloween

We asked artists to share shocking tales of visual effects life from the field: on set and back at the studio.

It’s Halloween–the perfect time to share these horror stories from artists around the world about some of their crazy experiences in the world of visual effects. While we’ve kept their names anonymous, anyone also working in the VFX trenches might recognize the kinds of craziness that can sometimes happen like these in production.

OK, be prepared to be VFX-spooked!

Horror story 1: precomp Hell

I think one that sticks in my mind was a show that was taken from one post house and given to another. I got a short notice call-up by the new post house to work for a fairly short window and I had the availability so I was happy to step in. The particular shot that I was working on probably had about 10 other people prior to me that had touched it and was a complete spider’s web of Hellcomping, with loads of precomps everywhere.

I was asked to do a pretty specific task, which didn’t require unpicking, and the turnaround needed to be quick. I picked up the latest render, fixed the issue, then notice a bunch of issues. I assume everyone already knows about these issues and submit my render for review. In the review session, the supe starts picking the shot apart as though it’s the first time he’s seen it and he starts to list out multiple things he’d like me to ‘take a look at.’

As I start getting into the script, I notice bad tracks, branches being switched on and off, precomps with issues baked in, and I can’t find the actual comps for the precomps. It was horrific. I did what I could with the time and had to explain to pretty unsympathetic ears about what my limitations were with some of the precomp issues but eventually managed to get the shot out. But there were many late nights, many frustrated conversations and a deflated feeling that I’m being held responsible for being the last person in the chain.

I managed to stay professional and in the end I was pretty proud of what I achieved with what I was given. When the show was released, the shot was only up for 2 seconds. I learned a lesson with that one.

Horror story 2: color spaced out

Once upon a time, I was working on a fairly large project. Working with the post team and director, we settled on the working color space to use throughout the show early on. Things were going fairly well, as we showed the QuickTimes to the director, getting approvals, notes, revisions, the usual.

Fast forward about a year. We deliver the finals to the client and the DI house, and they decided to use a different color workflow, thus changing the look on everything we had worked hard to align with the director’s vision. In summary, nothing looked like it was intended to, and there were many late nights to band-aid the problem. A true horror story.

Horror story 3: when extras revolt

This one is more of a production tragedy, involving hundreds of extras on set. The costumes were supposed to be washed daily, however, they were only being sprayed with some sort of disinfectant for efficiency purposes. These were daytime shoots in extremely hot weather, wearing costumes that included car tire on the inside for bulkiness.

The extras were not permitted to wear their own undergarments and needed to wear ones provided by production. One day several of the extras came to talk to me privately and revealed that the provided undergarments had given them a horrible rash. Of course, I went and relayed their concerns to the production, but nothing changed.

After day three of this, every extra took off their undergarments, at the same time, and threw them into a pile, while some of them were mooning the director and refused to go back to set until they were allowed to wear their own underwear. Around 150 extras quit that same day. It was quite the sight.

Horror story 4: the case of the CG car

We filmed a car commercial that was intended to be entirely practical, since they wanted to show the car driving for real on narrow European city streets. We filmed all the content using the car provided then returned back to the office to start processing the footage and start the edit.

A few weeks later, the client comes in to review the first edit. As soon as they see the first shot they say: ‘that is not the correct car model.’ Apparently a mistake had been made.

We now had to replace the car with CG in all shots without any HDRs or onset data. After weeks of painfully tracking and VFX, we delivered the commercial but were not allowed to say there was any CG, and to this day, everyone thinks it’s a real car driving the narrow streets! We were kinda proud of that one, but also frustrated!

Do you have a VFX horror story? Share it in the comments! (Please don’t mention individual names or studios)

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