International visual effects company Pixomondo completed over 800 shots as the primary visual effects vendor on Martin Scorsese’s 3D epic adventure, Hugo. Independently produced by GK Films and distributed in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures, the film features shots contributed by ten of Pixomondo’s eleven facilities across Germany, the US, Canada, China and the UK. Pixomondo’s 24/7 global pipeline was instrumental in completing the project on time and budget while keeping up with the highly inventive creative vision of director Martin Scorsese and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato.
Employing stereo 3D as a narrative device driving an immersive audience experience, Scorsese was intent on pushing the capabilities of 3D filmmaking to extremes. With this mandate as the driving force, Pixomondo developed custom workflows not only to handle complex challenges in VFX, but also to capture in painstaking detail all of the live action production data required to accommodate the rigorous effects and post production demands of this project. Pixomondo began working on Hugo in July of 2010 and was integrated into the production from the outset with Pixomondo VFX Supervisor Ben Grossmann and Digital Effects Supervisor Alex Henning on set in England and France working alongside Legato and Scorsese.
“Marty and I worked with Ben on Shutter Island so we already knew he was our first choice for Hugo,” said Legato. “For this film, Pixomondo’s ability to tap internal teams around the world was invaluable. It simplified everything from both a creative and logistical standpoint. This was a project with many moving parts, and Ben, Alex and the entire Pixomondo team worked tirelessly to cater to the demands of this show.”
A lushly art-directed blend of detailed sets, miniatures, matte paintings and CG VFX all aiming to evoke the look of Paris re-imagined on a 1930’s film set, Hugo is a love letter to classic cinema and cinema history. The shots are framed to draw parallels to great filmmakers like Méliès and Lumière peppered with stop-motion animation, time-lapses, morphs & stereo transitions, flipbook animation, motion-captured and hand-animated CG characters, and use of miniatures throughout.
To achieve this unique look, Pixomondo’s Grossmann oversaw contributions from Pixomondo studios around the world; parceling sequences to teams in various geographies based on the strengths of their artists and how they matched to shot demands of the film. Pixomondo’s London facility completed a heavily-CG opening fly-through sequence and shots involving the inside of the train station; Stuttgart handled most of George Melies’ apartment, graveyard sequences and Paris exteriors; Berlin managed complicated fire and debris VFX simulation scattered throughout the film along with portions of the train crash sequence; Shanghai completed shots focused around the clock tower staircase and green screen composites; Beijing worked on a magic show sequence, crowd duplication, match-moving and wire removal; Burbank created a magical animation sequence of flying papers, character animation and CG face replacement; Toronto and Frankfurt worked on train station coverage, with Frankfurt executing Hugo’s nightmare transformation into the Automaton. Pixomondo’s Los Angeles team completed specialized shots throughout the film, and Hugo’s nightmare in the train station, while also acting as the hub for all VFX work and editorial for all vendor shots.
Pixomondo’s standardized VFX workflow was ideally suited to this project as the company could address change requests quickly and efficiently. With shots that demanded quick turnaround, Grossmann could provide VFX direction from LA, handing off creation of CG elements to Shanghai to pass along to the VFX team in the UK for compositing, and have it back for review and approval in L.A. by the next morning. In addition to leveraging their global workforce, Pixomondo devised a process to embed highly-detailed metadata in every shot—everything from the stereo values, focus, convergence distance, interocular separation, time of day, source reel and conform reel, timecodes, etc, automating what typically requires at least three rounds of manual labor—and vastly extending flexibility in editorial, post production and VFX pipelines.
“Marty has encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history and working with him on a project that used the dawn of filmmaking as a foundation was incredibly inspiring. In this movie every shot was composed with stereo as a primary consideration, laying the groundwork for very demanding visual effects. I’m incredibly proud of what the Pixomondo team achieved,” said Grossmann. “This film hops through cinematic styles all portrayed through a child’s vision—it was easy to get caught up in the art and flow of that sentiment. Working with over 400 artists around the world all embracing that same sentiment has been the most rewarding experience of my career.”
Hugo opened November 23, 2011 in the US and stars Asa Butterfield in the title role as an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris. Hugo is the astonishing adventure of a wily and resourceful boy whose quest to unlock a secret left to him by his father will transform Hugo and all those around him, and reveal a safe and loving place he can call home.