When Director John Hillcoat wanted to create the post-apocalyptic world of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" which premieres nationwide November 25, 2009, he chose DIVE as lead visual effects house for the skill and authenticity required to replicate the mood of the novel.
The Road is an ethereal, dark and wrenching tale about a father and son fighting for survival while traveling through a decimated landscape. So Hillcoat wasn't looking for explosive, otherworldly effects. He needed DIVE's deft precision to immerse stars Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Charlize Theron in the stripped down, ashen and all-but dead world of "The Road."
"I very much go by the creative eye and professionalism of the key crew that I'm dealing with and in this case, Mark Forker had quite a history... but not only that, he came from photography," said Hillcoat. "And just the way he spoke about effects, I knew immediately that DIVE should be the lead VFX house." Hillcoat's team even took it a step further, having Forker actually shoot visual effects second unit material.
Hillcoat's experiences with the team at DIVE further confirmed his decision. "John and I come from the same place visually." added Forker, VFX Supervisor on the film. "We both have a respect and passion for still photography. Since the film consists of three characters: the Man, the Boy and the Landscape, John entrusted DIVE as lead VFX house to oversee an actual character and we were honored and challenged. I understood his insistence on imperceptible visual effects and was thrilled to manage that for "The Road." That's the stuff I love to work on: the creation of atmospheres and worlds that look like an actual location-one that seemingly must honestly and truly exist."
Forker explained just one scene's multiple challenges in a very complex film. "There was a location in New Orleans we very much wanted to use, but it was only about 40% 'right'. A street of new homes which, midway through construction, were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, worked well because it was as if progress had stopped on a dime and became instant ruins all at the same time."
"Our task was to try and obviously create this world that was as real as possible and not feel like visual effects," said Hillcoat. However, DIVE faced three major hurdles. First, the freeway directly across the street interrupted the neighborhood feel. Second, the location still looked too "fresh". And the third and most dismaying problem: the shoot days were clear and sunny for a film where all exterior shots needed to appear overcast and dark.
Forker shot some alternate angles on the street, replacing the freeway with an opposing side of houses and replacing fences with trees. Additional houses were created when he shot digital plates of certain details used to give the final appearance of a more intimate neighborhood. DIVE also made new light and telephone poles appear crooked and torn apart.
The team at DIVE also visually enhanced the shot with some additional set dressing not available the day of the shoot. They chose piles of skeletal remains and clothing configurations from a library previously shot on DIVE's own stage, littered the ground with a few of them, and added a flapping American flag in a window. Additional tweaks in the final composite gave the impression that more of the street was covered in ash, while the sky was replaced with dark foreboding clouds that Forker photographed on a more appropriate day during the shoot.
"The final shot is impressive and devastating, just what the director wanted," said Forker.