Framestore’s teams in Vancouver and Mumbai, led by VFX Supervisor Mat Krentz, delivered complex and explosive work for Netflix’s action thriller, Heart of Stone. Directed by Tom Harper, the film follows the journey of international intelligence agent Rachel Stone as she carries out explosive missions for a secretive organisation known as The Charter.
Blimpin’ ain’t easy
Framestore’s teams deftly executed a series of challenging action sequences, with work spanning intricate asset creation and digidoubles, to spectacularly-detailed explosions and large-scale destruction scenes.
One standout sequence saw the team take the action to the skies, with Agent Stone trying to break into the ‘Locker’ - an armoured, highly-secure dirigible in which The Charter houses their most powerful tech: ‘The Heart’. Set 30,000 feet in the air, this adrenaline-fueled sequence is jam-packed with high-altitude jumps, thrilling freefalls, intense fights, and culminates in an enormous explosion where everything is blown to smithereens.
The team started by building the Locker asset, a huge, high-tech blimp. “We built out this complex asset treating it as two separate environments, the interior and exterior,” explains VFX Supervisor, Mat Krentz. In addition to real-world references and the production team's art department references, the team gathered a myriad of references to assemble this colossal vehicle, including different types of metals and materials. “The Locker is an immense structure, brimming with moving parts, various materials, and complex mechanisms. Achieving the right aesthetic and movement for this asset was one of our main challenges,” continues Krentz. "We had to ensure that everything was logically sound from a technical perspective, so we dove deep into understanding how the Locker would fly, be propelled, and manoeuvre," Krentz adds, "We worked in tight collaboration with Production Designer Charles Wood, who played a major role in the process."
“Anytime there is a large full-CG environment like the Locker, we strive for maximum believability," explains Compositing Supervisor, Stuart Bruzek. The presence of a live-action set or character in every shot set a high bar for the Locker's looks. The sequence happens from pre-dawn to sunrise which adds some challenges for the team to create the desired aesthetic and capture the changes in lighting. “Achieving the right balance between reflections, bounces and hotspots on this highly reflective asset required careful tuning," adds CG Supervisor, Hitesh Solanki.
Having crafted the asset down to the last meticulous detail, the team then set about destroying it in the most spectacular way possible. “Setting everything we had created on fire and making it explode was quite challenging but also a lot of fun,” says Solanki. “The Locker's explosion features several hero shots from various angles, along with a significant number of shots displaying the Locker engulfed in flames and tumbling down."
Different types of explosions ensue in this detonation, with big fireballs, smoke, debris, and fire trails. “We invested substantial time in understanding how each component would fragment, and how the diverse materials that comprise the vehicle would react during the explosion. It was a complex process to ensure everything was correct - from the timing, scale, speed and appearance of debris to the trails, the fires, and massive explosions occurring simultaneously. Because it’s not just big things blowing up, it's numerous fragments. Our modelling team did meticulous work in adjustings each model's pieces to build them in specific ways so they could work with FX. This complex understanding enabled us to craft distinct explosions, reflecting the unique properties of various materials,” says Krenz.
“In addition to all the elements of the explosion itself, Gal Gadot’s character is running on top of the Locker while it exploded, so we had to make sure that none of the elements blocked her in the frame. On some occasions we had to retouch our sims to make sure it doesn't block her but at the same time maintain the look and impact that we wanted to go for.’ explains Solanki. “For this project, we really focused on integrating the Locker and the explosions with the on-set footage,” says Bruzek.“Tom Harper and Production VFX Supervisor Mark Breakspear created grand sets and executed an impressive level of pyrotechnics, so our goal was to complement their work, eliminate any ‘CG curse’, and make everything appear as if shot in-camera."
Watch Heart of Stone on Netflix now.