Somewhere deep within the creative caverns of a studio in Baton Rouge, a team of VFX artists make sure your favorite movies and shows are bombastic, and fiery, and sometimes–like with the new Netflix movie Home Team–they need to make you feel gross.
All of these elements were pieces of digital craftsmanship required of VFX Supervisor Kolby Kember and VFX Producer Kyle Dutton of Crafty Apes for the Netflix football movie about a suspended NFL coach (Sean Payton played by Kevin James) who uses his league suspension to spend a season coaching his son’s talent-challenged football team.
The VFX artists of Crafty Apes have poured their expertise into visual effects for productions ranging from HBO’s Peacemaker to Halle Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised. Kolby and Kyle spoke with We’ll Fix It In Post about the challenges of sports-driven films, being able to make movies in your home city, and how sometimes it’s just fun to blow stuff up.
First things first…Did Crafty Apes have a role in animating the gurgling, sentient hot tub in Sean Payton’s hotel room?
KD: “Unfortunately it was practical, but with the laughs we got while watching that scene we wished we had.”
Now that we’ve gotten the most crucial question out of the way – What was it like to get to work on a film shot right in your backyard in New Orleans?
KD: “The film industry is a blessing to have here in Louisiana and the South in general. Having worked in Los Angeles and New York for the past 10 years, being able to work closer to family has been amazing.”
KK: “I always enjoy working when I get a hometown show, with hometown content shot here. Glad to see production picking back up again, especially in Louisiana.”
There’s a scene where the football team is serenading a girl’s house with flame-lit lanterns inside cotton sheets and you can see disaster coming. How’d you guys pull this off? Are the pyrotechnics entirely done in VFX or are some practical?
KK: “It was a combination of the two (practical and VFX). We did have some practical lanterns that were attached to wires and rigs by the special effects team. The one rogue lantern that sneaks off into the background to catch the tree on fire is an entirely CG lantern, which we modeled and textured and lit.
The fire was all practical. We added some CG fire to the base of the lantern. That was originally done with some LED pucks, but to make it look more realistic, we added some small fire to the base of the lantern. The burning tree was all practical.”
Do you still get excited when you get to go into a moment and figure out how to blow up a scoreboard?
KD: “Absolutely. Again there were practical elements but we had a blast enhancing them. Pun intended.”
KK: “Yes. Blowing up anything on set is always fun. One of the cool things that we got to do to enhance that was all the flickering and digital fracturing of the LED scoreboard portion of it.”
What was the most challenging sequence in the film? Did it have anything to do with making an entire football team projectile vomit in the rain?
KK: “I would say most challenging in terms of just general workload was adding all the crowds to the final championship game. Since it was COVID times, we were only able to do a limited number of extras. So that entire sequence at the end of the championship has all VFX digital crowds, which presented lots of challenges–lots of tracking, lots of added people, lots of roto (rotoscoping).
A challenge was the Mud Bowl sequence, where we had to do a lot of vomit enhancement and rain enhancement and cleanup. And it was a particularly sunny day that day when we shot. So we had to remove a lot of glints and highlights from helmets, add extra rain, smooth shadows.”
How much does the ability to enhance a crowd’s size and volume play into the success of a sports-driven film? Is that all extras and sound editing or is there some visual effects magic there?
KD: “This is one of the many capabilities Crafty Apes has to offer for productions. We typically have between 20-50 extras on set for sports-driven movies and with COVID as a factor that number has decreased. With some unique technologies we have built at Crafty we have the control to populate stadiums of all sizes.”
Are there any moments in the film that require very understated effects where the viewer might not realize there’s some magic at work?
KK: “Crowd enhancement is done a lot more than people probably realize. Post-COVID especially, we’re only able to get 25, 50 people max on a set at one time.”
KD: “When crowds have to react to a specific action moment in a film it becomes a dance of the animation for the reaction, the variations of that emotion, variations of characters, populating the stadium, and having enough computing power to bring all of that together under a deadline.”
When you begin collaborating with a film’s post-production team, how long from start to completion of the visual effects? What’s that process like?
KD: “This really depends on the production’s post schedule as well as the complexity and count of VFX involved. For Home Team we began working on the film in April of 2021.
What was the most gratifying or fulfilling sequence for each of you to provide effects for in Home Team?”
KD: “Mine was definitely the puke sequence.”
KK: I think some of my favorite shots that we did was the opening sequence where we were having to put Kevin James as Sean Payton into actual NFL Super Bowl footage from 2011. It was interesting trying to match the sort of 2011 film camera look. Typically when you’re matching, these film camera looks from the eighties or nineties–it has a very specific green pattern–it looks a certain way like VHS. But these 2011 digital cameras, they do look different from today. So, that was a lot of fun.”
Katie Pryor, Kolby Kember and Kyle Dutton talk about the movie industry hitting Baton Rouge, share their experience over the last year and the numerous projects that have been made in the city. They discuss the upcoming National Treasure series and the various challenges created due to the ongoing pandemic.