VFX supervisor Anders Langlands on how his team made a sequence shot in dry conditions look like it took place in pouring rain

Directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz and Colin Farrell, The Batman was filmed mostly in the UK and depicts an emotionally complicated version of the Batman in his early years as a crime fighter.

The team at Wētā FX led by Anders Langlands worked closely with director Matt Reeves and director of photography Greig Fraser to add complex destruction work and wet effects to the chase scene involving Batman and Penguin, delivering a total of 320 shots.

Anders explains how it all came together in the following Q&A.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures™ & © DC Comics

What can you say about the filmmaking style of the director and the DP and how that informed the VFX?

Matt tends to have quite a realistic, naturalistic style with VFX. We’ve worked closely with him and Dan Lemmon before, so we were familiar with his aesthetic going in. The DP Greig Fraser chose to shoot this film very dark, with a pretty aggressive lift in the toe applied in the DI. This meant we had to be very mindful of our blacks and contrast levels, even though you might think it would make it easier.

How was the Batmobile chase sequence created?

This sequence came to us pretty late in production. It was originally slated for another vendor but some of the work was switched around, so we had to get up to speed on the challenges pretty quickly. There were a bunch of challenges covering lots of different types of work, with each shot being its own little jigsaw puzzle.

For the shoot, production had dressed a half mile of runway at Dunsfold Aerodrome in the UK to look like a US highway. This included a fleet of 50-odd vehicles to create traffic that we’d need to extend on the other side of the road and in the background of a lot of shots.

Everything had been prevised by the filmmakers, and they set out to get a version of pretty much every shot. Even when we knew we’d be going fully digital with them later, they still shot something representative for each one. This was a huge help for animation, FX, lighting and optical reference.

We worked alongside Matt on early versions of the cut, using postvis to plan out CG elements for the sequence. A couple of storytelling beats weren’t quite working for Matt, in particular the whole sequence of cause and effect that begins with Penguin slamming on his brakes and ultimately results in this huge explosion at the climax.

Our animation team, supervised by Dennis Yoo, did many iterations in postvis to polish the story. There was a constant back and forth with editorial as we supplied updated versions and they refined the cut.

For the scene’s climax, our FX team did a lot of complex destruction work in Houdini: for example, one truck hitting the overpass, another slamming into the central partition, and of course Penguin’s Maserati going flying and rolling.

While this was the big, obvious stuff, we also augmented nearly every shot in the entire scene to add rain and other wet effects. The plates were mostly shot dry, so we added falling rain, mist, and spray from the vehicles’ wheels, as well as little splashes where the raindrops hit the ground and out-of-focus water droplets on the windshields for interior shots.

This was a key element of the scene for Matt and was the most challenging part of our work on the film. Rain is obviously present throughout the film, but it adds a whole extra level of danger to the highway chase. Creating a sense of the trucks hydroplaning was vital to setting off the rolling pile-up at the culmination of the scene, so we had to sell that they were in the pouring rain and it was dangerously wet out there, even though most of the shots were completely dry.

Our FX team simulated the falling rain in Houdini, and we used a custom-designed shader to mimic the light scattering from a falling, oscillating raindrop in order to get the distinctive, broken-up motion blur streaks of real rain.

You used techniques to recreate in-camera effects in comp, tell us about this work.

Greig Fraser used a technique onset they called “goo filters”, where they put blobs of silicone sealant on a piece of glass in front of the lens to create these crazy lens flares. We reproduced the effect in-house by shining a torch through a glass plate with blobs of sealant on it. This cave us elements we could use to build our own lens flares in comp that matched the live-action photography.

Tanya Combrinck
Author: Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 15 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq.