Interview: DNEG visual effects supervisor Andy Lockley on ‘The Flash’

The VFX studio talks three key sequences: Metropolis destruction, young Barry’s power test run, and visiting the Batcave.

For Andy Muschietti’s The Flash, DNEG delivered more than 1,000 VFX shots, many for the film’s biggest sequences.

These included a new view of the Metropolis environment and its destruction by the Kryptonian World Engine, a fun scene where young Barry experiments with his new powers in Central City, and views of the Batcave and Batwing when the Barrys and Super-Girl meet up with the Michael Keaton Batman.

DNEG visual effects supervisor Andy Lockley takes befores & afters through the work.

You can find all of b&a’s The Flash coverage here.

Buy Me A Coffee

Bringing Metropolis back online

b&a: Tell me about the Metropolis destruction work–were you able to online any previous assets/environments/FX sim set-ups from ‘Man of Steel’? What was your approach to the new build and destruction work this time around?

Andy Lockley: We restored all of the Metropolis environment and assets from the previous movies, which was a huge amount of data. I think it took over a week just to get everything back online. The FX sims, however, needed to be done from scratch as we are seeing the whole event from quite a different perspective this time–entirely from Barry’s point of view as he is telling himself what happened in a flashback.

Most of the heavy destruction work was on mid to background buildings, which was more forgiving from a detail point of view. But, as we were lingering on the view of the entire street, it meant we had to be really careful to get the timing of the lifts and drops staggered correctly along the full length of the street. We had semi-destroyed buildings lifting and coming apart at the same time as other buildings were compressing and smashing down, all tied into the wave of lifting and dropping people and cars rippling towards us. Smashing window glass was particularly challenging as it had to read at a huge variation in distance, from tiny twinkles a mile down the street to the foreground building right next to Barry.

The entire city was digital including the road surface. The foreground building assets needed an extreme up-res as we were much closer to them than in previous movies. There were no ground floor buildings in the photography as there had been in previous versions of Metropolis, so everything around Barry needed extra detail.

b&a: How did they approach shooting any live-action elements for the Metropolis scenes?

Andy Lockley: Plates were shot of Barry for every shot in the sequence–a combination of indoor stage shoot for the wire work, and outdoors for everything when Barry is on the ground. During filming of the outdoor shots the weather was constantly switching from bright sunlight to stormy clouds and rain, which was one of the reasons we had to switch to a digital road surface. A bit of creative grading had to be done from shot to shot to help with the lighting consistency. The wire work was shot against a greenscreen, and Ezra was attached to various rigs to achieve the floating zero gravity moments where the world engine is lifting everything up. We had expected to have to replace some parts of their body to help them feel more floaty, but Ezra did a great job and in the end we only used the Barry digi-double to help with some rig cleanup, for reflections in the bike helmet they were wearing, and for the interactive lighting passes from all the speed FX lighting.

Young Barry tests his new powers

b&a: For Barry running in Central City, can you break down how this hypersonic scene was done?

Andy Lockley: Ezra was attached to various different rigs, harnesses, and treadmills for this sequence. For the shots where we are with Barry in camera and the city is streaking past us, Ezra was on the treadmill against a greenscreen and sandwiched between LED walls to give light interaction. Central City was entirely CG during these moments which allowed us lots of control over the speed and motion blur, and also the animation of people and cars in the street.

Barry’s speed had to gradually increase through the progression of the sequence, but it wasn’t as straightforward as we thought it would be. We had to do a lot of experimenting with different speed ramps as we found that at some values the buildings just didn’t feel like they were moving past the camera quickly enough. We had to make bigger jumps between shots than expected but if we went too fast then any sense of travel was lost, so we had to find the sweet spots where it ‘felt fast’ but didn’t motion blur to the point where it became totally abstract. The speed and frequency of the lightning bolts coming off Barry really helped with the sense of frenetic speed and chaos, giving the shots a sort of strobe effect that made the background feel like it was moving even more quickly.

For the shots where everything slows down, during the pizza grab, Ezra was moved on a dolly to get a smooth movement. We replaced their legs to give them a slo-mo running action and extended the set to include all the buildings. Also, by this point Barry is getting hot from running without his protective suit, so we had to replace his costume with a digital burning version. We worked quite a long time on getting the slo-mo fire sims to look right as it had to animate with Barry’s localized movement, but then slow down and freeze as it breaks away from him.

Once Barry comes to a stop, he is in a hybrid version of the costume that gradually burns away leaving him in increasing states of undress. We had three stages of the digi costume that we ran fire and smoke sims over, with additional passes for embers and a glowing edge of the fabric. We also used the digital Barry to re-light Ezra in the plate for fire interaction.

For the music truck crash, we built the truck to help with rig removals, the interior of the truck, and a small orchestra’s worth of instruments to be thrown out of the back including the runaway grand piano with wobbly wheels and a harp. We spent quite a long time animating the instrument bounces to be realistic but director, Andy Muschietti, really wanted the sequence to have that ‘Looney Tunes’ feel so all the bounce trajectories were exaggerated to give them a more cartoony look. We also extended Central City digitally and added extra crowd and traffic to fill out the background action.

Into the Batcave

b&a: For the Batcave, can you talk about crafting the environment–how did you translate art department concepts and perhaps elements from the original film into the final environment?

Andy Lockley: The Batcave set was enormous! It was all there, barring some extension work for the views down into the depths and up to the roof. We knew from the beginning that there would be fully digital shots of the Batcave, so our lighting supervisor Rosie Draper and her team scanned and photographed the entire set and we built the digital version from that. We created the roof by filling in the missing areas of the set build with detail to match and adding clusters of stalactites.

Areas that needed a bit more design work were the Batwing storage area and the hole through which the kite is flown. The Batwing storage area had to be big enough to hide the whole vehicle in its folded state as we were going to see it being lowered down into place, so we couldn’t really cheat it scale wise. A whole area with a lowering mechanism was designed and built.

The area around the main waterfall had to be revised slightly to make it work with the roof section but, other than that, it is an extremely accurate recreation of the set. The second smaller waterfall next to the Batmobile platform was designed to have some nice impacts with rocks on the way down to introduce spray and splashes.

The finishing touch to the look of the cave was thousands of bats hanging from the ceiling. It really brought some life to the cave as you see all these little subtle highlights moving around up there.

b&a: How was the Batwing fashioned?

Andy Lockley: The Batwing design was done and delivered to us as plans and a CAD model which we used as a base for our build. It’s quite different from the Tim Burton Batwing, much sleeker, but retained the overall shape that everyone loved from the original. It required a rig for the wings to rotate around the body and a complex mechanism for the pilot and passenger chairs to lower down though the underside of the fuselage. We knew it was going to be used close to the camera, so texture and model detailing had to be very high. There was also a practical cockpit built on set that had to fit the model, but apart from some minor adjustments it dropped into place pretty seamlessly.

Leave a Reply