Making Kanye West's Fantasy a Reality
Company 3 NY's Retro VFX Work for "Runaway"
Tom McCullough: I was just one of the helping hands. Our creative director, Randy Swanberg, started the project and set most of the looks. Right after we had done the first delivery, the first round, he decided to go off and get married. [Laughs.] After he left, I took on the creative role, but Randy had actually gotten the ball rolling.
Was he involved during the shoot?
Unfortunately, none of us were involved during the shoot. Everything was handed to us. “Hey, this is what you have to work with. Make it awesome.” It was one of those gigs. When the offline was done, it was like, “Oh my god, we have five days to get [more than 100] effects shots done.”
The shots you worked on were mostly at the beginning and end of the film, right?
We did a lot of the comet and fireball effects, and then toward the end we did the phoenix flying when she takes off again into the air. She was shot over a green screen. In the middle, there was a lot of sky replacement and tons of clean up. We did a lot of invisible work, but the in-your-face effects are typically at the beginning and at the end.
How did you tackle the project, given the time restrictions?
We knew we needed to have Kanye approve these shots. Since we didn’t have a lot of time – we basically had four or five days to get the first round of shots out – we just went through and found similar shots in similar set-ups. We went ahead and full-on did one of those shots for every one of the set-ups and got those in front of him. We kept revising and revising until Kanye was happy with it, and then we’d do all of the similar shots in a similar fashion.
Were there any specific scenes or shots that were especially challenging – either technically, or in terms of getting Kanye’s look right?
We took a look at it and said, “We need to do something really photoreal.” We went in that direction. Actually, Kanye had us pull back from that. He had us degrade the FX a bit and make them a little more imperfect. Clients are asking you for perfection every single day, and then you have someone else turn around and say, “You know what? Let’s make that look crappier.” I’m not quite sure how to do that.
It’s not any less work for you, is it?
It’s actually more work. You’re so used to doing it one way and you have to change the thought process around it. Basically the idea was ‘ I was told this through Randy, the creative lead – that he wanted to go for this kind of 1970s television show/sci-fi/graphic-novel kind of feel, like the old Flash Gordon movie from 1980. Kind of campy effects, but not really trying to be campy. That was the reference. That was what we were shooting for in the look.
I think you got it. It did have that feel ‘ it was finished and good-looking, but not quite up to date in terms of how the effects look.
For us here, the biggest challenge was just the amount of work and the time we had allotted for it – and, of course, bringing Kanye’s vision to life. It was probably the first large-scale project that everybody here was involved in. It was great seeing everybody pitch in and get it done, and having everybody be happy with the end result.