VFX boutique uFX has revealed details of its extensive work on the forthcoming 'anim-action' feature Jackboots On Whitehall, which features the voices of a wealth of British talent. The company was responsible for delivering over 1,200 VFX shots on the film, a satirical alternative history of WWII, played out by 1/6th-scale puppets.
In Jackboots On Whitehall, Hitler and his gang of ruthless Nazi drones take over London and England, forcing Winston Churchill and a band of brave Kentish farmers to amass at Hadrian’s Wall to prevent an all-out Nazi invasion of the UK.
The production, shot on 35mm and Viper cameras at 3 Mills Studios in London, employs animated puppets, with sets and characters built to 1/6th scale, and features an all-star cast of British voice talents, including Ewan McGregor, Timothy Spall, Rosamund Pike, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Merchant, Richard E Grant, and Richard Griffiths.
uFX received the script for Jackboots On Whitehall in early 2009. Initially, the directors had no intention of using facial animation on the puppets, seeking only general VFX clean-up, set-extensions, greenscreen compositing and atmospheric effects. However, early discussions with producer Karl Richards lead to uFX running a series of successful tests in R&D to further develop each character and bring added dynamism to the action.
uFX's tests included animating not only the puppets' mouths (below), which were less than a centimetre wide, but also their eyes, plus the development of unique expressions. Some were also given teeth to further enhance their on-screen personas.
During the production, which took place between June-August 2009, uFX's VFX supervisor and lead artist Jonathan Cheetham was a frequent visitor to the set, providing on-set visual effects supervision.
In post production, harnessing a nine-strong team of senior-level CG and compositing artists, uFX turned out over 75 shots per week, delivering in excess of 1,200 shots in under six months. All compositing was completed in Nuke and Fusion.
“Nearly every shot you see in the final, on-screen version has VFX – whether it's facial animation, explosions, set extensions, greenscreen compositing [below], clean-up, muzzle flashes, or smoke and debris effects," said Clare Cheetham, VFX producer at uFX. “Our greatest challenge on this project was time, but having optimized our VFX, editorial and DI workflow on many previous projects, we were able to deliver a huge number of shots on time, and on budget."
Before and after shots for uFX's blue- and greenscreen work.
Speaking about the post production on the project, Jonathan Cheetham commented, "Being able to collaborate on Jackboots On Whitehall in pre-production, and to provide on-set VFX supervision, was a significant and practical advantage during post. Aesthetically, by combining the toolsets of Nuke, Fusion and Maya, we used CG imagery purely to enhance each scene, and retain the satiric nature of the 'anim-action' captured in-camera. The last thing we wanted was for the audience to be distracted by obvious or overly-strong effects."
Jackboots On Whitehall premiered in June at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where it uniquely received a unanimous Special Mention from the jury for the prestigious Michael Powell Award. It hit cinemas around the country on October 8.