CG in Horror, with Dread Central

FX is a very touchy subject for many genre fans. There are those that are diehard practical FX fans while others are embracing the use of CG for specific events that could otherwise not be accomplished. With Legion VFX, is there a sense of needing to honor past practical traditions while growing and embracing the future of CG?

James Hattin: Visual effects can be used for good or for evil. There will always be a place for practical FX on set. It helps the actors act, and the crew to film the right thing. The idea of a full CG creature in a horror movie isn’t impossible, but horror movies are generally done on the cheap, and that is what what usually causes the problems. We worked on Insidious 3, and the main character starts to lose limbs in the Further, clearly this could be done with some kind of make up effect, but it wouldn’t really sell the look. People would know it was fake. This is the real world problem… not enough money, or poorly spent money leaves creatures or VFX sorely lacking.

We worked on a short project for a friend, and he had a person in a rubber suit. It looked like a rubber suit. So, we augmented it by matching the rubber tentacles and adding a ‘sheen’ to it, so that it looked more wet, creepy and alive. This is the marriage that, I think, we are going to see going forward.

VFX-Legion-–-Gore-1CG has clearly come a long way over the past couple of decades but there’s always room to grow. What are the ways in which audiences will see improvements to the medium in the coming years and how are those being accomplished?

JH: CG really has come a long way. From the perspective of movies in general, I think we will see a flawless human in the next decade. Right now, that ‘uncanny valley’ where things look ‘real’ but not quite, is the place we are sitting in. It’s really hard to take a fake character seriously. More and more the mix of practical and CG is going to be the way to go. To augment what can’t be easily shot in camera. pIf you think back to Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, there were a number of times they extended the jaws on the apes when they roared. This was a subtle effect, but one where we could still suspend disbelief and not be pulled out of the story. (not that I missed, it…. but I’m not an average consumer of feature films) If you look at the evolution of those movies, they’ve gone completely CG, and I don’t think it is any worse for it.


Read on here for the rest of our head-to-head with the good ghouls at Dread Central!

On Set with Legion

Matthew Lynn and Matthew Noren, on-set VFX supervisors at Legion, share their on set experiences. Often found working together, Lynn takes the lead, talking the big picture with the directors and DPs, while Noren carries out the essential VFX groundwork, including collecting on-set data and taking reference photos for artists.

Our job starts way before we hit the set. Our involvement in a project can start as early as the script development. At Legion, we pride ourselves on maximising our involvement in table reads and budget talks, so that from the very first step in the journey everyone is on the same page as to what’s expected.

Pre-production allows us to play a hand in weighing up what’s the best bang for your buck. We work out a methodology that will ensure we get the best work possible, with considerations of budget, time constraints or any other nuances that arise.

murder_housegoboom_thenfix_compressedAnother part of this pre-production process is also going off to create mock-ups, concepts, head on tech or location scouts and do some low-level previs, which helps everyone on the production team understand those techy VFX terms. This whole process can take anywhere from a couple of months to as little as a few days, depending on the medium. Episodic television, like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, we’re usually booked for two weeks of pre-production and are generally in the conversation about a week into the process. With feature films, like the work we did on The Purge: Election Year and Hardcore Henry, can vary hugely film to film.

Probably the most important part of the pre-production process for us is to not be afraid to say what we really think. The worst thing a VFX team can do is fail to prepare a director for a surprise later in the project, so when it starts heading down that road it’s our responsibility to steer them in a direction that might work better, that allows the director to get what they want, within the budget, and to a timetable that everyone understands and is happy with.

The whole process is a collaborative discovery – we piece together what the producers are saying, what the Post team needs and the director’s vision, and ultimately find a solution that pleases everyone. We often offer plans A, B and C as suggested methodologies, so we have a backup incase something doesn’t go right first time, or under the understanding that plan C is more expensive but could prevent problem x.

VFX-Legion---Hardcore-Henry--compressedSo! After we’ve concluded that preparatory part of the project, we get to the actual set. At this point we’ve reviewed the latest version of the script and our pre-production bid, so we know exactly what we’re working towards. Preparation is everything at this stage. You need to be there seeing everything from a 30,000 foot view, but you also need to know how many blades of grass are in each square mile.

We’ll bring with us backup gear ready to go for plan B if necessary, as well as a lightweight on-set kit that we always take, so we can get some reference shots, some video and lay tracking markers down.

If there are things on the day that don’t work out as expected, the most important thing to not do is express that it’s a problem. The problem must be voiced to the relevant people, but always followed with the reassurance that we’re rolling straight into plan B and that we even have a plan C if all else fails. Having a confident, quick response, rather than a slow, calculated dodge is absolutely vital.

Two of my pet peeves that are often present on sets are the ideas that you can ‘fix it in Post’ or that you can ‘Hollywood’ something. The former is a mentality by a director or a crew that can snowball really quickly, even though it might allow them to move on with the shoot faster, we sometimes have to step in to let them know that leaving a significant amount of work for the Post team could come back to bite them.


The idea of ‘Hollywood-ing’ something stems from some directors thinking logic doesn’t apply when making a movie. Directors are free to Hollywood a story as much as they like, but you can’t Hollywood an object in VFX – sometimes, it will simply never look right if it disobeys the basic laws of physics. So, there are times where we step in and let directors know when it’s good to take creative liberties and when it’s best to rethink the timing or pacing of a specific shot.

The atmosphere on set as we’re all on this journey from conception to final product is one of the best parts of the job. Working in Post, it’s easy to feel a disconnect between your facility and the client, but on-set you get to see a different side to them – you were in the trenches together and that camaraderie is truly rewarding.

Action VFX: Interview with Legion’s Kyle Spiker

Our lead compositor, Kyle Spiker, has been interviewed on Action VFX!

He chatted about using ActionVFX in his most recent work, including How to Get Away with Murder and Legends of Tomorrow. Read an excerpt of the interview below, and follow the link at the end of this post for the full story.


We had the chance to interview Kyle Spiker, Lead Compositor from VFX Legion that has used ActionVFX in his most recent work on two popular television shows, How to Get Away with Murder and Legends of Tomorrow.

Tell us about your work on Legends of Tomorrow and How to get Away with Murder.

Right when your Muzzle Flash Collection came out, we used it for some gunfire shots inside of Legends of Tomorrow. Having full range in the Muzzle Flash images is fantastic! Usually it’s just a clipped flat still.

On How to Get Away with Murder, we were in charge of anything fire related throughout the entire series, which is where we made use of your Ground Fire and Structure Fire Collections. My favorite shot of the series is a pan up to the main character and from there to the burning house, with the fire gradually getting bigger and bigger.

How was your experience with using ActionVFX assets inside of your workflow?

I first found out about you because of the free products on your website. Since I was in charge of all of the house fire scenes for the previous season of How to Get Away with Murder, I decided to pick up the Structure Fire Collection.

I built a huge matte painting with tons of layers that fit a scene from the show and then went back to the website to grab your Atmospheric Smoke & Fog Collection, as well as the free Smoke Plumes.

What motivates and inspires you and your team to create?

I’m personally driven to find interesting solutions to creative problems.  I’m constantly looking for the best approach and modifying my technique as I go.  Compositing and visual effects in general seems to fit how my brain works.

I love Sci-Fi. There’s a vast library of great work to pull from and right now some of the best is being made.  My current watch list includes Legion (not just because of the name) and The Expanse.  Very interesting stories and some solid work.

If it has energy effects, holograms, space ships, future UI, mechs – I love all of that.


SIGGRAPH 2016 Roundup

We had a super busy time at last month’s SIGGRAPH, sitting on three Birds of a Feather panel sessions and flying from meeting to meeting! It was a blast. The three panels James took part in were all discussions close to our cause:

  • Keeping Filmmaking Collaborative

  • Managing Time Zones: maintaining consistency in global VFX

  • Remote Studio Productions – online collaboration

We dissected and discussed our remote studio production pipeline, explaining how we’re founded on the idea that people can work wherever they want, and dug deeper into the benefits and challenges of operating a truly global squad of some of the world’s most elite talent.

See below for some photos of our time there:

Anaheim was warm.
Inside the convention center was cooler … and less warm.
“You do still need the big facilities. Disney, please don’t close ILM!”
James relaxed with a robotic massage…
And was interviewed by Randi Altman from postPerspective…
We caught up with Animation Magazine…
IMG_20160726_161943 (1)
“We’re founded on the idea that people can work wherever they want, whether it’s rural Pennsylvania or Spokane, WA. But in the end, we’re artists, and we’re all doing it for the pretty pictures. We’re doing this work out of love.”
A full house for 'Remote Studio Productions' with Animatrik, director Ciaran Foy and MasterKey, hosted by Ian Failes from VFX blog
A full house for ‘Remote Studio Productions’ with Brett Ineson of Animatrik, director Ciaran Foy and Rajeev Dassani from MasterKey, hosted by Ian Failes from VFX blog


VFX Legion satisfies its urge to Purge with cineSync

We’ve been featured on the cineSync blog!

We chatted about Legion’s work on The Purge: Election Year, which hit theaters earlier this month. Read an excerpt below, and follow the link at the end of this post for the full story!


When The Purge hit theaters in 2013, its inventive premise made for a hit with more than just hardcore horror fans. In The Purge‘s grisly universe, the United States makes crime legal for one night a year, allowing citizens to act out their darkest urges with the aim of keeping them buttoned up throughout the remaining 364 days. It’s devilishly alluring stuff – as enticing as it is unsettling.

With The Purge attaining cult status a sequel was more than likely. And now, following 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, the series is back once again with The Purge: Election Year, cementing its status as a trilogy.

While the films are anything but politically correct, the third entry digs deep into the American political system: there’s a government-led Purge-night plot to kill a presidential candidate, who also happens to be an advocate for abolishing the grotesque anniversary.

As you’d expect, mayhem and murder ensue, but it was intricate VFX trickery that brought this over-the-top carnage to life.

From bullet squibs to explosions, Blumhouse Productions turned to VFX Legion to create the visceral visuals. With experience on past horror productions like Sinister 2, Insidious: Chapter 3 and Ouija, Legion is something of a staple studio in the horror wheelhouse. However, with Blumhouse’s editorial team in New York and VFX Legion’s workforce working remotely from locations scattered all across the world, a reliable communication solution was needed to ensure consistency within the chaos.

It was cineSync that brought this into focus, keeping The Purge crew on track from shot to shot – and bullet hit to bullet hit.

Bloody brilliant
The Purge has developed its own distinct look over the years, and it was important that was maintained in the series’ grisly third entry.

Legion worked closely with the editorial team to develop a visual aesthetic that rung true to The Purge’s roots. From this the team went on to deliver a variety of digital effects, including blood hits, squib effects, bullet ricochets, gruesome headshots, and, naturally, exploding people. Legion’s artists also built a fully digital helicopter asset that was shared with other studios.

This wasn’t Legion’s first shot at the franchise: the global team had delivered clean-up work on The Purge: Anarchy, including scrapping billboards and addressing clearance concerns. For the third-entry, however, Blumhouse wanted to take Legion’s talents to the next level.

“This one is a completely different beast,” says James Hattin, creative director at VFX Legion. “It’s a bigger scope, and definitely more creative. The work demanded much more – the volume was really cranked up on this one.”

Hattin’s team tackled 136 shots over the course of five months. Around 15-20 artists were working on the project at any one time, including a Houdini artist who was brought in specifically to create dynamic 3D blood spatters that matched the practical photography – the results of which are near identical to the real thing.

“We created very specific blood hits that would match the practical, on-set squibs,” explains Hattin. “We did a one-to-one comparison where we put a blood hit on the left and the real one on the right, and you couldn’t tell the difference between the two.”

Ultimately, much of VFX Legion’s work on Election Year involved making the ultra-violent shots as realistic as possible, rather than adding elaborate effects. In some cases that meant developing digital blood, in another it meant creating a fully CG van asset so believable that it even fooled the editorial team.

“There’s a lot of fun, invisible stuff that no one’s going to see; even when people get hit and blood sprays out, they’ll think it’s real,” affirms Hattin. “We got to have a lot of fun on the project, doing stuff that really pushed our gore skills into new and interesting places.”


3D World: Can GoPro VFX films succeed

Our team at VFX Legion are thrilled to see our work on Hardcore Henry featured in 3D World magazine.

Check out the below excerpt from the magazine and then pop over to the 3D World website to find out where you can purchase your own copy and read the full article!

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 17.39.56


VFX Legion used Maya, Redshift, and 3D Equalizer for tracking and After Effects. When asked for a standout sequence, James is Clear: “The brothel. It was one of the first scenes we were able to get done and it was just this epic fast-paced run through a brothel.”

“Insanity,” exclaims Christopher when we ask the VFX Legion’s VFX producer about his experience of using a GoPro for VFX filmmaking. The trouble with distortion and resolution only added to the problems caused by using innovative headcam setup.