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The Giver: Method Studios Interview

By Paul Hellard

Web: http://www.methodstudios.com (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 8th October 2014

The Giver is a colorful project financed by and starring Jeff Bridges. Paul Hellard brings us a detailed interview with Mark Breakspear, VFX Supervisor at Method Studios...

The Giver – Environment Breakdowns by Method Studios

Generated thoughtfully and quite delicately from the young adult book by Lois Lowry, The Giver begins with sweeping views over the fictional world set in the far future. Method Studios created the many views of grandeur on show, like futuristic Welsh villages – ‘made of ticky-tacky' and all looking 'just the same.'

This world is without the ups or downs of politics, hot or cold in weather, and indeed personal memories and emotions. In fact the first 35 minutes of the story is depicted in monochrome. Black and white, for the purpose of the story, is meant to symbolize ‘the absence of color' in this futuristic world.

The Giver's story follows Jonas, a young man moving through to adulthood in this society, dressed up with ceremonies and the allocation of employment in this utopian existence. This society knows nothing of political unrest, nothing of outside conflict or alternative views, or even culture. However, the complete acceptance of the local rules by those around Jonas, slowly begins to reveal many demonic faults in their lives. Once the viewer is used to seeing the story unfold in black and white, then the effect of the added color becomes much more powerful.

Actor Jeff Bridges owns the rights to the book. He also acted in the movie and co-produced the production. "He has been waiting to create this story for the screen for a long time,” explains Mark Breakspear, Method Studio's VFX Supervisor in Vancouver. "A huge fan base of people have grown up with the story in the US and in Canada.”

Jonas slowly begins to reveal the demonic faults in the community's lives – as the story unfolds, color is added to the film
to enhance the effect


One of the strongest themes in The Giver is that people in this community appear to have been genetically modified to not notice changes to anything, or difference. The weather itself is in a perpetual state of ‘golden-hour' – neither hot, nor cold.

After starting out in black and white, The Giver begins to build up individual colors as it progresses, allowing traces of yellow, then blue and green, to seep into the visuals, as different aspects of the story are revealed. "It's fascinating to watch, you don't realize that the black-and-white movie you started watching is slowly turning to color until suddenly, the whole world is color,” said Breakspear. "This was an important discussion between the cinematographer, Ross Emery, and the director, Philip Noyce, as well as many others during post. Watching the story in the non-color universe and deciding when to release which color, became really crucial, design-wise, and had a huge impact on how the visual effects were put together tonally.”

Method Studios Vancouver created a futuristic all-CG community designed to promote the values of sameness and conformity with lots of intended symmetry, lush gardens and designed spaces. Around the whole community is a blanket of mist that blocks the view of anything beyond.

The Odeon

The center of the world is the Odeon, a stadium-like structure for the people to gather in, and which sits at the center of the community. "There were many designs of the domed Odeon,” says Breakspear, "as we tried to find the right blend of architectural reality and science-fiction spectacular, as well as serve a story point that was critical to understanding the growing relationship between love-interest Fiona and Jonas. Production designer, Ed Verreaux, had a huge impact on the look and feel of the world, and much of our final design stemmed from his drawings and set builds for the community homes.”

The center of the world is the Odeon, a stadium-like structure for the community to gather inside

The Method crew had initially tried to design buildings based off an amazing area in Valencia, Spain, but unfortunately, someone had beaten them to it for another movie! The Mandela Stadium in Cape Town interested the Method crew as well. "We used a drone to collect 5K images and HD video from various heights around the stadium,” explains Breakspear. "Using off the shelf software designed for civic engineering, we were able to rebuild these spaces, and texture them automatically from the footage the drone supplied. It required some minor touch up and fixes, but the level of detail we were able to achieve was amazing.”

The staircase built from the side of the Odeon reaches right up to a lookout area where people can see into the mist that
surrounds the world

There is a staircase in the story, built from the side of the Odeon. This reaches right up to a lookout area where the people can see out into the mist that surrounds their world. There were many challenges to filming this sequence. In his excitement about learning about the outside world, its history and memories, Jonas invites his friend, Fiona, to slide down the side of the Odeon on a food tray as a dare. This had to be filmed in three parts. "We had to combine three different set pieces into one,” explains Breakspear. "We then repopulated the entire sequence with digital doubles that we shot on a separate mocap stage in Vancouver, so we could extend moves, or create unique ones that showed the action from a wider perspective.”

Several locations for The Giver were shot near the border of Namibia in South Africa at a place called Augrabies National Park. Augrabies' visitors describe it as a mini Grand Canyon, and it was for this reason the production felt it offered the unique look they wanted for the movie. When it rains in Augrabies, there are huge waterfalls as the water from the desert runs through the canyons. "We were there when there was very little water active in the falls, but they were still huge,” explains Breakspear. "In the last act, Jonas is dropped from a drone right above the waterfall and we follow him down into the water. We scanned the face of this canyon falls and recreated the wide expanse of the area digitally. That way, we could art-direct the water, the fall, spray, and the entire environment.”

Method's final build of the community had trillions of polygons. Maya and Houdini were just 2 of the tools used to populate the
spaces with people and life

Ian Farnsworth, the effects lead at Method Studios, built the CG waterfall that had to be real enough to match the other shots of the real location. "We built the underlying structure of the falls so that the CG water would respond the same way and match the effects of the real waterfall,” says Mark. "Ian did a great job putting this together, not just the water surface, it's also the froth, the subsurface reflection, the refraction, the spray and cascading water effects. Everything was so real, it had to be.”

Method Studios completed just over 300 shots for The Giver, with Mr. X, and Crazy Horse, taking another 250 shots between them

Mr. X and Crazy Horse also worked on the movie, completing some 200 and 50 shots respectively. Method completed just over 300 shots. Method's final build of the community had literally trillions of polys in it, detail that was needed for the huge forests and manicured gardens. But the biggest task was generating the flyovers and overviews of the city, up to 10km in each direction, keeping the appearances of the most beautiful manicured gardens, a believable place that the characters would live in. "We ended up designing the space in Adobe Illustrator, then exporting the program's layers,” says Breakspear. "We used both proprietary and off the shelf software to build the community, combining more common software such as Maya and Houdini to populate the space with people and life. It was a huge group effort to create a place that both matched the practical photography and also felt futuristic and real.”

Jeff Bridges acted in the movie and co-produced the production. "He has been waiting to create this story for the screen for a long time,” said Mark Breakspear

Related links:

Check out The Giver on IMDb
See more from Method Studios
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