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MPC: Always have a Plan B

Even the biggest VFX productions can go awry. MPC's Adam Davis, Head of Crowds + Mo-Cap tells of one particular occasion where flexibility was needed.
Visual effects always throws you something in that’s kind of, you know. People always talk about movie magic and the things that go– everybody has this Hollywood ideal. I mean, for me, I think the best one of my favourite stories of things not going according to plan was we had to do a big horse motion capture shoot for Exodus. And we were shooting– I think we had like six or seven horses, guys riding them. We had chariots being pulled along. The whole works going off. And they would say, don’t work with kids and animals. So obviously, we’d try and attach markers to these horses with pieces of material to help keep it nice and snug.
And of course, the horses– as horses would do– they’re not particularly impressed at wearing that for three hours at a time. So, happily tearing the material up and throwing it around so badly. The morning of the second shoot, most of the horse suits are pretty trashed. So what do you do, right? Where do you buy a horse mocap suit
from at 7:00 AM in the middle of the countryside?
So we end up jumping in the car in about 7:00 AM in the morning, driving to the nearest supermarket, where you end up buying gaffer tape, super glue, and women suspenders and underwear to try and strap stuff together. I mean, I can tell you straight, if you go to the check-out with that in your basket, four blokes,
about 8:00 o’clock, you get some pretty strange looks.

We’re now moving from luma key- that technique that is as old as cinema itself- to the present day industry. However, the story that we share here can apply to us all. There’s always an element of unpredictability in any shoot, and even giants like MPC often have to think on their feet.

There’s an assumption that the bigger the budget the more things go to plan because you can spend your way out of trouble.

However the truth is whatever your budget, things don’t always go to plan and you need to be resilient and creative when things change unexpectedly. Adam Davis, Head of Crowds and Motion Capture at MPC, has an amusing story of a challenging time when he was working on a motion-capture shoot with horses for Ridley Scott’s Exodus (2015).

If you’ve got stories of a ‘Plan B’ you’ve been involved in – where something went wrong and you needed to adapt- tell us all, especially if you think it’s a common issue that others may one day encounter. We heard how HaZ had to use a grey wall to pull a key on when his director of photography forgot the portable green screen, for instance.

For me, it’d be the time I had to roto the back of an actor from a previous days filming when the actor fell ill. Rather than postponing the shoot we were able to ‘imply’ the actors presence in shots through careful camera angles and a little roto. Phew!

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Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers

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