“What we’ve added are excellent tools for planning, inspiration and communication,”
The process begins differently for each project, often with the writing itself. “Previs is great because it connects us with the creative aspect of the writing,” explained Wilisky. “We start from text and ideas, figuring out how we want to tell the story and in what order.”
The previs crew at Modus visualizes how the shots could be done, then communicates that to the production team. They suggest camera angles, as well as the distance of the camera from the actors, making it easier for the director to determine the sequence of shots and how to film them. The timing and number of shots is all worked out in previs, so the director can accurately schedule each day’s shooting.
“On films, we have preproduction meetings with the heads of all departments at the production office,” said Wilisky. “We show them the previs set-ups, which help clarify for everyone how to organize the filming. Even the actors are able to block out what they are going to need to do in each shot.”
Another innovation is that shots can be designed so that the camera is moving instead of the actors, using previs data to drive motion-control camera rigs. The process saves valuable production time because filming occurs in a studio instead of on location.
“We can have an actor sitting on a motorcycle on a static rig with a greenscreen behind him,” Wilisky explained. “The camera will move, mimicking what we set up in previs, making the motorcycle look like it’s going 100 mph. Or, for a shot of the devastating effects of an earthquake, we reversed the normal process, moving a camera around stationary actors. It meant we didn’t have to build an expensive on-set rig and shoot for days.”
On-set Concept Art Reduces Production Time
Modus is also extending and developing the role of concept art for visual effects work by bringing an illustrator on set for preproduction and production work. Working at tremendous speed, concept artist Nicolas Cloutier delivers sketches and visual ideas to help the director craft scenes, design CG and practical elements and set the ambience for different sequences. Cloutier’s images are then passed on to the VFX team for development, ensuring optimum efficiency in the realization of the director’s vision.
"At Modus we use sketching to help filmmakers clarify their ideas," explained Cloutier. "On set the VFX supervisor takes a picture and then I sketch into the image to see what we can do with the shot, for example, to rough in a set extension or to visualize CG characters."
Cloutier’s sketches provide a direct connection to postproduction, serving as a reference for the VFX team, as well as a starting point for their work. The illustrations serve other purposes as well, for example for bidding on jobs – both to present ideas to the client, and to help Modus cost out new projects.
"Nicolas is a very gifted artist, but the thing that most amazes people is how fast he can work," said Wilisky. "This is great for directors and producers because it allows us to test ideas for shots during development, while we're checking out locations and even camera positions."
Choreographing Stunts in Previs
For an upcoming Hollywood production, Modus gave the previs to the stunt coordinator so he could choreograph all the stunts accordingly, shot by shot with the stunt actors, before production even began. When they got to the set, the stunts were not only choreographed, but everyone knew what angles to use.
“Doing this stunt choreography in previs brought our work to another level,” Wilisky added. “It accelerated shooting time, helped communication between different departments, and saved the filmmakers money.”
In addition to the ability to plan the angle and timing of each shot, Modus is finding the previs process works for directors and cinematographers who prefer to shoot on the fly and capture the moment. “We’re working with some directors who are inspired by the previs, not following it shot by shot,” Wilisky said. “Rather, they use it to give them an idea of angles before shooting.”
“What I love about previs is the way it bridges the preproduction world to postproduction, allowing VFX artists to be closer to the reality of the filmmaker,” Wilisky said. “It has always been our goal at Modus to integrate everything we do with production. With these previs solutions, we just moved a whole lot closer.”
About Modus FX
Since launching in 2007, Modus FX has become an industry leader in high-end feature film visual effects, boasting an international clientele and a talented team of handpicked artists from around the globe. Led by co-founders Marc Bourbonnais and Yanick Wilisky, Modus has developed a unique approach to creating digital effects, combining a cutting-edge production pipeline with personalized ongoing project coordination. The studio collaborates with each director through the artistic process, from the editorial script and on-set supervision to final delivery. Based just outside Montreal, Modus offers a full scope of services in its modern 12,000-square-