Sean Devereaux, VFX supervisor reveals how ZERO VFX transformed the swamps of Baton Rouge into the drier climates of Santa Fe, Texas for Magnificent Seven.
How did you turn Baton Rouge into Texas? What were the key parts of the environment that you had to change?
We weren’t attempting to match any particular landscape since this story stands alone as a bit of a fairy tale. A classic tale of good versus evil – we wanted to create a place that would be picturesque, expansive and most importantly encompassed so there would be no escape when the battle begins.
We shot in Baton Rouge and in Santa Fe, and each location brought its own unique look. Baton Rouge has lots of thick, dense vegetation and foliage and the high deserts of Santa Fe bring majestic vistas and tall peaks. So we created a hybrid of both that we affectionately referred to as Santa Fe, Louisiana.
We did a lot of research and spent over six months designing the look of the environments. The inspiration we kept going back to was the paintings of Thomas Moran who painted highly detailed landscapes that had a magical feel. We created everything from pastures and valleys to sunsets and dozens of mountain ranges. Although they are beautiful, they should be unnoticed by the audience as visual effects.
What was the most challenging part of the VFX for the film?
To not be noticed. This film is not about visual effects; it’s gritty, it’s thrilling, it was shot on film with anamorphic lenses and it was vital that none of it felt digital or enhanced. With over 900 visual effect shots, including all CG shots, massive explosions and hundreds of cowboys on horseback, our biggest challenge was doing all of this without being noticed.
What kinds of tools did you use and how many people from your film was involved on Magnificent Seven?
We used Houdini, Maya, 3ds Max, NUKE, NUKE X, Flame, Photoshop, MARI, ZBrush, Syntheyes, PFTrack & Silhouette. All 80 of us at ZERO were involved in this film and several of us worked on it for over a year.
Can you run through a typical day working on the film?
We did more concept work and look development on The Magnificent Seven then any film we worked on previously. We created lookdev, animation, stills, previs, tests for every aspect of the story. We mapped out the battles, where each character would be and when, we went through hundreds of iterations of mountains, landscapes, skies, munitions, towns and buildings, and worked on it until we found what was exactly right. At the end of the day that’s what makes our work so invisible: we didn’t stop until we got it right for the story and director Antoine Fuqua’s vision.