VFX Legion created over 200 visual effects for 'Black Box,' one of the series of films in the 'Welcome to Blumhouse' anthology that tapped the company's end-to-end services. The thematically connected package of dark genre movies marks Amazon's first-ever global direct to services deal.
Director/Writer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.'s psychological thriller is the story of Noland (Mamoudou Athie), an amnesiac desperate to return to his former self. Dr. Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) convinces the protagonist that a treatment employing experimental technology that she developed will restore his memory. The device - the Black Box - immerses Nolan in virtual memories of pivotal life events. His uneasiness turns to horror when he finds himself in unfamiliar dark scenarios as the story takes a chilling twist, and the seemingly benevolent doctor's macabre plan is revealed.
'Black Box' called for both photorealistic visual effects grounded in the real world and abstract effects that created and heightened the nightmarish sequences. Computer-generated environments, intricate transitions, composites, digital removals, CG elements, and set extensions were among the various effects produced for the film.
Dylan Yastremski, Head of Production at VFX Legion's studio in British Columbia, managed all of the effects for the film. VFX Supervisor James David Hattin and Head of Production Nate Smalley oversaw the B.C. studio from Los Angeles. Hattin, Smalley, and Legion's Burbank-based management and support staff seamlessly interfaced with the director, on-set supervisor, and the pioneering remote company's work-from-home team of senior artists based throughout British Columbia and the world.
"Close creative collaboration with Emmanuel was critical to bringing his very specific vision to life," says Hattin. "Working from the director's original concepts, we delivered a large volume of high-quality effects - including some very complicated sequences - in less than four weeks."
Nolan's treatment begins with a computer-generated environment that takes shape as he looks into the Black Box. Artists defined the digital space with CG grid patterns positioned to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space. A plus sign appears at its center, moving back and forth with increasing speed as it deconstructs into lines that emanate light and exit this environment.
Artists created multiple transitional effects with distinct looks that snaps Nolan into a series of virtual memories. For one of the passages, Legion merged and distorted elements from two blue screen shots with different environments, creating a tunnel-like portal that transports the main character to a virtual wedding ceremony.
The illuminated bars change shape, outlining faintly visible objects as practical footage reveals new surroundings with photorealistic clarity. This 'safe room' materializes throughout the film, interfacing with environments where events manifested by the Black Box play out. Legion's team animated these cyberspaces into existence using elements created for the 'staging area' with 3D tools in After Effect.
While all of the memories have familiar elements, Nolan can't quite make out the people's faces. Hattin worked closely with Emmanuel to develop the murky, ill-defined look, which we achieved by rotoscoping the faces and replacing them with distorted versions. A morphing technique gradually restores their features as Nolan begins to recall his past.
Legion's On-Set VFX Supervisor Matthew Lynn worked closely with the director, and cinematographer, Hilda Mercado, ensuring that the footage captured for the VFX-driven shots flawlessly blended with CGI.
"With the help of Previz and mockups, we ironed out concepts and timings for the heavier visual effect shots," says Lynn. 'The collaboration enabled Legion to address unanticipated issues during the shoot with efficient, creative, and technically innovative solutions.
Foundry's Nuke, SynthEyes, and After Effect tools were among the mix of technology utilized by artists to create the scope and scale of computer-generated effects that the film demanded.
"I couldn't be more impressed with Legion's skills and its team's enthusiasm and commitment to the film. They went above and beyond, creating visual effects that exceeded my highest expectations," says Osei-Kuffour Jr. "Working with James was an extraordinary experience. He was always accessible on weekends and late into the night, meeting tight deadlines while never settling. Legion consistently delivered fresh, captivating effects that enhanced the film's visual story."
“We've created visual effects for several Blumhouse films and television series over the years, and it’s always a great experience,” says Hattin. “Our team enjoyed collaborating with Emmanuel and appreciated how open he was to our ideas. The director/co-writer brings a fresh perspective to the thriller/sci-fi film genre - and we’re delighted that we had the opportunity to help bring his vision to life.”
'Black Box' is currently airing on Amazon Prime Video, with new releases from the 'Welcome to Blumhouse' series slated to premiere.
Title: ‘Black Box’
Promotion Title/Package:‘Black Box’:‘Welcome to Blumhouse’
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Sci-fi /Feature Film
Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video
Black Bar Mitzvah
Directed by - Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.
Teleplay by - Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., Stephen Herman
Story by - Stephen Herman
Executive Produced by - Jason Blum, Jay Ellis, Aaron Bergman, Lisa Bruce, Jeremy Gold, Marci Wiseman, Mynette Louie William Marks
Produced by - John H. Brister
Co-Executive Produced by - Chris Dickie, Kyle Chalmers
Co-Produced by - Terra Mair Abroms, Paul B. Uddo
Director of Photography - Hilda Mercado
Edited by - Glenn Garland
Visual Effects Company - VFX Legion LA/B.C.
VFX Supervisor - James David Hattin
VFX On-Set Supervisor - Mathew T. Lynn
CG Supervisor - Rommel S. Calderon
VFX Project Manager - Dylan Yastremski
VFX Coordinator - Joe Soloway
VFX Producer - Nate Smalley
VFX Executive Producer - Reid Burns
Compositors - Nick Guth, Michael Honrada, Matthias Lowry, John R. McConnell, Lauren Morimoto, Brad Moylan, Eugen Olsen, Rafael Perez