Moody monochromes
The tonal range of the film’s look also created some technical challenges for Dive’s 3D team. With much of the film dark – verging at times on being monochromatic – it proved tricky to produce renders that matched the shot footage, but which still allowed detail within textures to shine through.

To create the final shot (top) from the clean plate (bottom), Jeremy Kernsler added a head that’s not immediately obvious. “For me that’s successful because the element has become merely an aspect of the shot and does not stand out. Because the addition of the head was an afterthought, the essence of the shot as it was filmed was retained,” he says.

They eventually achieved this using many subtle lighting and colour correction adjustments.

“Much of that was achieved in the composite,” notes Fernsler, “but there was quite a bit of back and forth to find the balance of lighting that would suit the work that needed to be done in comp.”

To achieve the results that John Hillcoat was after, Dive turned to an arsenal of creative tools, carrying out much of the compositing work in The Foundry’s Nuke, and combining this with After Effects and Shake. They then passed the results through Nuke for the final comp. For 3D modelling and animation, they used Maya, LightWave and Modo, turning to Syntheyes and Imagineer Mocha for 3D tracking. Photoshop took care of textures and matte painting, while Silhouette used alongside Nuke for rotoscoping work.

The result is a landscape that lingers in the memory long after most versions of the end of the world have faded, proving that the most powerful VFX can be those you barely see.

The Road is currently showing across the UK and Ireland.

Compositing a blasted world

Creating one sequence (above) required a mixture of compositing in 2D and 3D onto the plate (top).

“I used a 2D approach for most of the places where we needed to change the character of what was already in the plate,” says compositor Tim Bowman. “Things like pulling down the snow in the plate to look more like ash, adding the mountain, changing the colour on the sign pole, painting out the houses on the hillside and adding fog.”

The team used compositing in 3D to add new elements. First, they motion-tracked the sequence to create a 3D map of it.

“The first element I needed to add was the pile of wreckage beside the building,” says Bowman.

“I created the structure using planes in Nuke’s 3D space and UV-projected hand-painted textures onto them. I also dressed the area around the wreckage with digital stills of a porch roof and some brush and junk that Mark Forker shot when he was on location.”

He then projected the digital stills onto cards scattered around the wreckage to help integrate his addition into the plate.

“I built 3D geometry for the damaged sign we added to the building, and projected dirt and rust textures as well as more hand-painted details on top of the shaded mesh. I also used hand-painted textures to add dirt and water-streaks to the wall behind the sign.

“The corpse in the foreground started as footage of a prop skeleton from the element shoot. I painted it up a bit to make him look like he had sunk into the ash and then projected the image onto some simple 3D geometry so he would have the correct parallax to be integrated with the plate,” he says.