Hollywood design studio yU+co combined graphics, animation, and clever lighting techniques in the creation of the title and a four-minute opening sequence for John Woo’s latest thriller Paycheck.
Taking as its theme the elusiveness and transience of memory, the title sequence sees words and names form out of random characters on a computer screen before being quickly erased. These vanishing graphics serve as a metaphor for the film’ plot – the desperate struggle of the main character, Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck), to reconstruct his past, explains yU+co’s creative director, Garson Yu.
“We wanted to convey the idea that Jennings has had his memory erased,” explains Yu. “The computer screen is a symbol for his memory. Words emerge but are immediately erased. Those words are like the clues Jennings receives during the course of the story, clues he needs to reconstruct his past and understand what is happening to him.”
The four-minute opening sequence that plays under the main title graphics, introduces Affleck’s character – an engineer who makes his living by stealing other engineers’ designs. The live-action sequence shows Jennings engage in an act of industrial espionage. Having obtained a new holographic computer at a trade show, he takes it into a laboratory and, by reverse engineering, reproduces an improved version of the device.
Working with Woo, yU+co designed the sequence and created the visual effects and CG animation featured in it. These include a hologram of a woman whose three dimensional face emerges from a computer monitor and who later appears as a standalone 3D character. To create this, yU+co artists shot the woman against greenscreen, and then applied 2D lighting effects to give her the ephemeral quality of a hologram.
Several animations were created for the sequence to show the process Jennings uses in his work. As he deconstructs the computer in a laboratory, its internal parts become visible as 3D projections, allowing him to divine the secrets of the underlying technology.
“Our task was to develop a visual means for explaining the process of reverse engineering,” explains yU+co lead designer, Yolanda Santosa. “As reverse engineering is accomplished through trial and error, Jennings tests and examines individual components of the computer in turn until he understands how it works.”
As the live-action footage of Jennings was filmed before animation work was begun, the team had to match Affleck’s physical actions as he moves around the lab. “We had to build the sequence around the live action,” Santosa says. “The film production provided us with dailies so that we could find shots that worked with our idea. It involved a lot of editing and a lot of experimenting with shots to see what made sense in terms of the whole sequence."
“John wanted to portray Jennings’ character as slick and confident, really smart,” adds Yu. “Editorially, we strove to express that, using devices such as jump cuts and speed frames to make the sequence contemporary and hip.”