Framestore - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Category: AEAF News
Published on Friday, 15 June 2012 Written by Adriene Hurst


AEAF ENTRYFramestore sequences for ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ including the climactic scene at the Reichenbach Falls and a battle on a speeding train.

Framestore completed nearly 550 shots for the movie overseen by VFX Supervisor Chas Jarrett, also covering many elaborate environmental shots and set extension work, plus a look inside a firing gun. The majority of first unit material was captured on location around the UK and at Elstree and Leavesden Studios. Supervising the shoots for Framestore were VFX supervisor Sirio Quintavalle, Compositing Supervisor Kyle McCulloch and CG Supervisor Ben White.


At the movie’s climax, Holmes and Moriarty tumble over a balcony into the waterfall below with the camera placed halfway down the falls, descending and pointing upwards, as the two figures fall towards it, locked together. They move faster than the camera, and it pans as they pass it, changing to super-slow motion and watching Holmes and Moriarty's heads close-up, inches apart, before the film speeds up again and the viewer sees them plunging and separating as they continue their final descent.

VFX Supervisor Chas Jarrett's intention was to construct the sequence from real waterfall elements. Helicopter searches and shoots were conducted in Switzerland and Norway but in the end, no real waterfall fit the scenario - it would have had to be over a kilometre tall - and so had to be built digitally at Framestore.

The actors were filmed by attaching them with harnesses to two KUKA robot arms often used in car manufacture. While providing precision positioning and performance capture for the actors, this technique needed large amounts of clean-up work from an eight-strong paint and roto team over many weeks to remove all traces of the harnesses and the arms, and patching the outfits with CG elements. The action was shot on a Phantom HD Gold camera at close to 500fps for the central slo-mo section.


The water itself was the major challenge. CG Supervisor Ben White said that fluid simulation software doesn’t always work well for waterfalls but is better for water surfaces. Also, the very high waterfall meant working with huge amounts of data, including pre-roll for a full kilometre, plus the time-warp in the middle of the shot and the camera angle pointing up into the descending water, making it hard to see. they broke up the water into several segments each made of multiple layers to achieve the necessary complexity. One team worked in Naiad on the water coming down from above, and another team worked in Houdini on the lower part of the waterfall blending it into live action. CG and live action elements of water vapour and mist interacted with the falling actors.

Gun Fight Inside Out
On a train speeding through the night-time countryside, Holmes and Watson engage in a gun fight with a band of assassins. Except for one carriage, the entire train and environments it passes through were created at Framestore. The interior required green screen insertion of backgrounds and reflections in the windows. As the fight continues, Holmes and Watson climb out onto the side of the train, where more digital environments were required. Several background plates were shot on panorama-cam and put in by compositing, but the entire foreground of the shot was sometimes digital, for which the CG team created vegetation and scrub.

The sequence includes a CG camera move through the inside of a gun pointing at Holmes as it is fired. We see the pin striking the percussion cap of the bullet and we then see the bullet fly past the camera inside the barrel as it flies towards the end. This needed careful previs and attention to shading and texturing, and depth-of-field work in compositing. The authentically roiling, dynamic, voluminous steam for the train was simulated in Houdini and rendered in fRibGen, an in-house rendering interface, using extensive volumetric shading and using FMote - a proprietary node based particle processing tool allowing manipulation of particle data before rendering.

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