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The invisible FX of Wall Street

By 3dtotal staff

Email: moc.latigid-mrotsniarb.www

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Date Added: 21st March 2014

Brainstorm Digital does such a good job with its VFX that no-one notices... until it's pointed out to us. The team behind The Wolf of Wall Street's hidden secrets reveal all...


The Wolf of Wall Street was a visual-effects masterpiece, heavily laden with storytelling and visual elements that were so well done that every scene looked authentic. Brainstorm Digital certainly did a great job in pulling the rug from under our feet with its recent VFX reel, highlighting the studio's work on the film.

The innovative, Brooklyn-based effects company opened in 2005 and has risen to the top of its game, creating Emmy award-winning visuals for Boardwalk Empire, as well as effects for many other movies, notably The Road, Angels & Demonse and Burn After Reading.

Headed by VFX producers Richard Friedlander and Glenn Allen, with senior VFX supervisor Eran Dinur also manning the helm, The Wolf of Wall Street proved to be their most exciting and challenging project to date. They open up about the difficulties faced working on such a large-scale project, and how more and more of the established directors like Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard are utilizing visual-effects as a storytelling tool.

3dtotal: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us today and congratulations on your work on The Wolf of Wall Street. It was only after watching your reel that we realized how much VFX work had gone into it. How was it working on this feature?

Brainstorm Digital: Basically, it was a great experience for us and we found that the particular work requested was really demanding but it enabled us to rise to the occasion and do what we think is some of our best work.

We felt it was a great collaboration; we worked very closely with Rob Legato who was the primary visual effects supervisor who always works with Martin Scorsese.

3dt: Rob Legato is a bit of a legend in the industry. It must have been great working with him?

BD: He is. We knew him all the way back when we worked with him on Apollo 13; he was at a company called Digital Domain at the time, and we struck up a relationship. We worked directly with Martin Scorsese on a pilot for Boardwalk Empire and Rob was so impressed with our work that that he brought us into the fold for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Compositing different elements to create the beach party

3dt: How involved was Scorsese in creating the VFX for The Wolf of Wall Street?

BD: Everything was reviewed by him. Of course he had input on everything, usually related through Rob Legato.

The only time we ever had direct interaction with him was on set, and it was the same on Boardwalk Empire. Usually on location scouts we'd present him with mock-ups or pre-viz, either when we were looking at locations or when he was actually filming.

"That became a very big challenge; to take apart the original shot
and remove the players"

3dt: How often do you get to go on location?

BD: We're on the shoot whenever our work will be involved with the particular scene or sequence, and then we are also involved with the shooting of many of the places that we needed after the fact, so we would go out with our own visual effects unit with Rob Legato and film the various components that we needed. Some of them were filmed without us as some of them were close to the end of the schedule.

Filming the lion on location for an everyday office scene

3dt: Do you have any favorite moments from The Wolf of Wall Street or achievement you are particularly happy about?

BD: There are quite a few shots where we basically had to replace the entire environment. I think the toughest one was – if you watch the reel – the one with the tennis players playing tennis and then it reveals it is a low-security prison. The tennis court and the players were shot in Brooklyn, and initially the idea was that we were going to extend the camera movements and create a whole prison environment, which in itself is a massive undertaking: a big 3D environment shot.

At some point very late into production Scorsese decided that he wanted the camera to go faster (the original camerawork that was shot). Now obviously you can't just speed up the whole shot because the players are going to be faster than real life. That became a very big challenge; to take apart the original shot and remove the players.

Rob Legato shot new players on green screen in LA because we couldn't use the original ones, except for Leo, and we replaced them all, redid the camera in CG to make it go faster and recreated the whole tennis court, not just the environment around it, in CG. So that became a very big challenge and not something I think we've ever had the chance to do. And it was all at the very last moment, and I think it came up really nice.

3dt: Were you pushed for time on that then?

BD: That shot kind of went on through the entire production because right at the start I think it was the first one where we started doing pre-viz and planning the camera movements. Originally it was supposed to be a much longer shot with the camera going backwards so people could see the entire prison from high above. We worked on many other shots throughout the production, with new changes coming in, and finally there was that big change of speeding up the original camera.

Bringing together all the elements for low-security prison

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