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Fantastic visual effects in Roma and where to find them

por Silas Powlett (2019-11-19)

id="article-body" class="row" section="article-body"> Four taxidermied dog heads of different breeds stare grimly out from their wall.

They're dead pets. Lovingly preserved by a family in Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, a black-and-white foreign language film following the hardships of a young maid in early 1970s Mexico City. If you look closely, those dog heads are impeccably detailed.

That scene, little does it show, was augmented by digital visual effects.

When we think of visual effects in movies, we tend to focus on what's obvious: dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the Incredible Hulk, Dementors in Harry Potter.

We don't necessarily think of taxidermied dog heads.  

"Alfonso felt they were lacking some realism... that they didn't feel like actual dead dogs, so we replaced and augmented them with real dog elements," Aaron Weintraub, one of the VFX supervisors on the film, said via email.

That's right. Even Roma, an arthouse, period piece, is filled with VFX. That includes anything from digital set extensions and environments to human performances and, potentially, dead dogs.

Welcome to the world of "invisible effects."

Roma won three Oscars this year, including Best Director for Cuaron. That was a coup for distributor Netflix, after the streamer was banned from competing for the top prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Often Roma looks like a painting. Which makes sense: one of Cuaron's Oscars was for Best Cinematography.

A wide, moving shot of a traffic scene features an old streetcar, lamps, buildings, flashing signs, billboards and storefronts. It's one of the biggest VFX shots of the film.

Mr.X via YouTube "To us, 'invisible effects' are effects where the audience never thinks for a moment that any extra work in post production was involved to achieve the shot and that everything was built practically and photographed with the camera on a traditional set," Weintraub said.

Invisible effects may not conjure up the spectacle of alien creatures, impossible-to-stage action and environments impractical to build, but they're an indispensable tool that productions will use to solve all manner of problems.

Not so hidden any more
Behind Roma's invisible effects is award-winning Toronto-based visual effects company Mr. X. Led by Weintraub, the team worked alongside sister company MPC in London to bring Cuaron's semi-autobiographical vision to life.

Roma washed onto Netflix's shore in 2018 and saw a limited release in American and Mexican theaters. For Camisetas de Fútbol Niño a year before that, Mr. X sent material back and forth with MPC for feedback in the shots they worked on to Cuaron's exacting specifications. MPC would review the shot material with Cuaron, then relay his notes back for Mr.X's artists to fold into their work.

The content of Cuaron's film itself struck a chord with Mr. X's team, some of whom hail from Mexico. "Although generally younger than Alfonso, [they] did connect personally with some of the material and helped guide the rest of the team through some of the geography and details," Weintraub said.

This scene is filled with VFX.

Mr.X via YouTube In Roma, main protagonist Cleo goes to the cinema with her boyfriend in a scene that proves heart-wrenchingly life-changing. To build atmosphere, as well as physical elements of the cinema itself, Mr. X replaced the cinema's entire stage with a full-size screen, added CG curtains that warped the image as it projected over the characters, and illuminated the projection beam in the air so it bounced light back into the environment.

The before-and-after shots of that scene are detailed in a YouTube video from Mr. X. For an even more in-depth walkthrough of the visual effects used in Roma, see the below gallery.

ISSN: 1980-5861