‘The Book of Boba Fett’: compositing from go to whoa

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A look behind the scenes of Hybride’s comp process on the show.

The Book of Boba Fett is a spin-off from The Mandalorian, and follows the titular bounty hunter on Tatooine. Visual effects studio Hybride crafted more than 1,000 VFX shots for the series, for a total of 67 minutes of screen time.

Here, head of 2D Olivier Beaulieu and compositing supervisor Maxime Lemieux explore the compositing challenges on the show from the earliest stages onwards, starting from the plates they received to the final tasks of integrating CG characters, robots and environments.

b&a: What were Hybride’s main tasks on The Book of Boba Fett? 

Olivier Beaulieu: What’s super cool about this project is that we worked on all of the show’s episodes. We created a lot of dunes, the Tusken camp and also worked on the location where the pit droids were with Peli Motto.

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Maxime Lemieux: We worked on creature integrations with the Massiff, a creature that sort of looks like a mix between a dog and a crocodile. We created the Banthas, the frog in the pot, robots in the kitchen, the little bunny running around, the rock worm, we did puppeteer removal and speeder bike integration and blasters. We also had the opportunity to share work on the train robbery. Then there was the sand storm where Boba Fett is introduced.

b&a: In terms of how the compositing team starts work on a project, how did this break down? 

Maxime Lemieux: The first thing we needed to do was ingest all of the plates and see what kind of work was required. Was there marker removals to do? Set extensions? Creatures? Do we need to augment any of the robots or do puppeteer removal? While we were doing this, the CG department was already working on their elements as well.  If we need to create set extensions, they’re going to start building a set or an environment. If we’re working on robots, they need to start the modeling.

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Olivier Beaulieu: We had a workload of almost 1,100 shots. What you want to do early on, is plan all of your resources based on the project’s delivery schedule and our production calendar.

In some ways, a shot is simply a bunch of variables and you don’t need to clear them all at once. A production is not a sprint, it’s more like a marathon. Our work on a project is never truly done until the very last shot is delivered, so early planning and good resource management are key.

b&a: When you’ve got something real in the plate and then Hybride has to match it with more CG or augmented CG, what are the main challenges there? 

Maxime Lemieux: The main challenge is to always match the plate, which is our best reference for everything. For example, they used a puppet of the massiff on set, but it didn’t have any legs. This meant that there wasn’t any kind of interaction with the sand so we needed to get some references from the plate, which turned out to be the actual puppeteers just walking around in the sand.

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There’s another shot I’m thinking about, as well. It’s the shot of the robot servant walking around. We had a clean plate with just the camera movement and then they shot the puppeteers behind the robot puppet as he’s walking around. We needed to replicate the robot in CG and mimic the ‘robot walk cycle’ in order to be able to erase everything that shouldn’t be in the plate.

Olivier Beaulieu: One thing that has been a lot of help over the last couple of years is the use of all the AOVs that we have from the CG department. I’ve been at Hybride for 19 years and for a long time, everything was done in lighting. Every time  there was a lighting modification, you needed  to go back and render it out again. But now, with the AOVs you can just do it in comp. If it’s just to add some spec or just reduce the bounce light, you can do it all in comp.

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b&a: The sand interaction you mentioned for the massiffs is interesting–what specifically did you have to do to aid in that particular sand interaction?

Maxime Lemieux: Our lighting and FX departments did a great job matching the plates as perfectly as possible. When we merged everything together, our main issue was the size of the grains of sand, which was too big in the sim. We lifted the offset to make sure that we got less contrast so that we didn’t see the size of the grains. We then added a lot of motion blur to make sure everything blended together seamlessly.

b&a: You have to deal with harsh sunlight in Tatooine and other environments. And I just wonder, at an overall level, what that means for making shots look real in comp? I mean, sometimes these scenes are of course shot out in the sun in LA somewhere. Sometimes there’s the Volume aspect. Sometimes it’s shot on interiors or on bluescreen. How do you deal with all this to make it look like Tatooine?

Maxime Lemieux: That was one of the hardest aspects of the shots we had to do with Boba Fett in them. The background sky really was washed out, creating a lot of specs and highlights to clean up.

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In the sequence where he’s training with the Tusken Raider, we had some shots that had been filmed at noon with the sun high in the sky while other shots were filmed at four o’clock in the afternoon. That proved to be quite a challenge because the lighting was so different.

For the lighting, we used a chrome ball from the set and tried to reproduce what had been done on set. We checked the entire sequence and figured out how we could comp this to make sure everything was seamless so we did some colour correction on the actual shots.

For the sand environment, a lot of that was shot in Abu Dhabi as HDRs. We received about 130 HDRs shots at different times of day in the desert as well as in other locations. Our job was to match all of that with sand dunes they had built on set.

Olivier Beaulieu: Really, the question is always the same: “how are we going to mix everything together?” For the sand interaction, it had to be a soft blend when mixing two elements that don’t fit perfectly together. You don’t want to replicate the whole environment because it’s going to be way too long to render, so you want to make the patch just good enough to give the compositors options to soft blend it. It’s the same thing with many of the desert backgrounds that were cyclos, where we had to mix the cyclo with the ground from the plate.

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The layout team would do a pass and we had a ground with some tracks in it and the compositing team was just soft blending everything together and back to the cyclo. Even if the lighting is not perfect, if you soft blend it enough in distance, you’re not going to notice the difference. But if you have a hard cut, then you’ll spot what’s wrong right away.

We were also in constant communication with the other supervisors. Say, with the CG supervisor where you say, ‘Alright, we need 30 feet of CG sand to blend it together on this side,’ for example. It made the process smoother. It was a really great project to work on, and also our biggest collaboration with Lucasfilm to date!

Brought to you by Hybride:
This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.

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