UCE Oct 2021

Digital Day 2021: Creating & Recreating Worlds

October 23, 2021 A Special Projects Committee Event

Since 2003, the DGA Special Project Committee has hosted Digital Day events dedicated to providing members with information about the creative and technical issues emerging from cutting-edge technologies designed to enhance and improve productions. On Saturday, October 23, DGA members logged on for online presentations as DGA Digital Day 2021: Creating & Recreating Worlds presented a streamlined version of previous symposia and revealed technologies that make it possible to bring to life locations from the real and imagined past, as well as capture totally fictional environments.

Following a welcome from DGA Special Projects Committee Chair Jeremy Kagan and remarks from Special Projects Digital Day Subcommittee Co-Chair Randal Kleiser, Digital Day 2021 kicked off with the first of the day’s two panel discussions.

Digital Day 2021Level Up: The Innovative VFX in Free Guy

Presented by the Western AD/UPM Council’s VFX/Digital Technology Committee, DGA members were able to enter the world of a video game and discover how the latest in visual effects brought the immersive world of Director & Producer Shawn Levy’s recent feature, Free Guy, to life. Following an introduction by Western AD/UPM Council VFX/Digital Technology Committee Chair/ Special Projects Digital Day Subcommittee Co-Chair Susan Zwerman, Levy was joined by Actor & Producer Ryan Reynolds, UPM & Executive Producer Mary McLaglen, 1st AD & Executive Producer Josh McLaglen, VFX Supervisor Swen Gillberg, VFX Producer Viet Luu and Editor Dean Zimmerman for a discussion about the making of the film moderated by UPM David Sanger.

During the conversation, the creatives discussed their approach to realizing the film and the necessity of integrating the departments of VFX, Editorial, and the Director’s team early to ensure meaningful collaboration.

“This is definitely the most visually ambitious movie I’ve made because Free Guy had different kinds of visual effects ranging from creation of worlds to integration of practical effects,” said Levy.  Reynolds admitted that he was most proud of maintaining the emotion within the film despite all the effects and said that he was blown away by the emotion in the film. Covering the topic of how VFX supported the real stunts, UPM Mary McLaglen spoke about the preference of shooting live stunts for the actors saying, “As much as we can always get in-camera, we want to go for that for Ryan’s sake and for our sake.” VFX Producer Viet Luu spoke about how “complexity meetings” allowed his department to break down and divide which shots were safe to do practically and which were better achieved using visual effects and revealed how they used the Kuka Robotic arm to capture first-person shooter-like visuals during the film. VFX Supervisor Swen Gillberg spoke about the lighting rig nicknamed “the egg,” a system that allowed the team to use facial replacement on a speaking character during the film’s climactic sequence where Ryan Reynolds fights an upgraded version of himself. 1st AD Josh McLaglen spoke in depth about the ease of the process from a scheduling standpoint, revealing, “we would just shoot. It was all baked into camera. We knew rarely we’d have to do multiple passes.” Editor Dean Zimmerman spoke about bringing his Avid to set to cut a sequence which was tweaked at the last minute. The panel also spoke about remaining open to inspiration despite the specific planning necessary to achieve the sequences.

Digital Day 2021Back in Time: How Television Revisits the Past Through Visual Effects

Introduced by Kleiser, the day’s second presentation explored how television is utilizing state-of-the-art VFX techniques to recreate the past and convincingly transport audiences to different times and places.

Back in Time: How Television Revisits the Past Through Visual Effects featured Director Silas Howard and VFX Supervisor Lotta Forssman from the Apple TV+ series Dickinson; Director Victoria Mahoney and VFX Supervisor Kevin Blank from the HBO series Lovecraft Country; and Director Barry Jenkins and VFX Supervisor Dottie Starling from the Amazon Prime limited series The Underground Railroad. In a conversation moderated by Director/Special Projects Digital Day Subcommittee Co-Chair Michael Goi, the panelists discussed using visual effects to enhance period pieces in their respective series.

Director Silas Howard spoke about what drew him to Dickinson, saying, “this fantastical world was a lot based on fact even though it went a lot into the imaginary world of Emily Dickinson and the visual effects really supported that.” VFX Supervisor Lotta Forssman added, “every department really comes together for all the prep work and all the research” to portray the backgrounds of scenes within the world.

Sharing some details about her process in directing actors during complicated visual effects shots, Lovecraft Country Director Victoria Mahoney revealed that she helps by prompting them from behind the camera to get a fresh response and that as a Director, she is very “involved with the truth of the moment.” VFX Supervisor Kevin Blank spoke about the ambition of the 360-degree shot in episode four, “A History of Violence” and mentioned the necessary steps for getting what was needed on production day for post-production.

The Underground Railroad Director Barry Jenkins spoke about being inspired by Colson Whitehead’s book and having conversations with VFX Supervisor Dottie Starling about creating a “very grounded magical realism” and tapping into his childhood impression of what the underground railroad was. Starling added, “my job is to figure out the Director’s world and how it works” and divulged that she prefers to not use green and blue screen in order to allow the production to work freely without having to frequently move big screens.

See video from this event in the gallery below.

About the Panelists:

Level Up: The Innovative VFX in Free Guy 
Shawn LevyDirector & Producer Shawn Levy
In addition to his work on Free Guy, Levy’s directorial credits include the feature films, This Is Where I Leave YouThe InternshipReal SteelDate NightCheaper by the DozenBig Fat Liar and the Night at the Museum franchise; the movies for television, Family TrapLittle Brother and Joint Custody; pilots for, Imaginary MaryPepper Dennis and In a Heartbeat; and episodes of, Stranger ThingsThe Famous Jett Jackson and The Journey of Allen Strange. He was nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs for his 1998 The Secret World of Alex Mack episode “Lies and Secrets.” Levy has been a DGA member since 1996. 

Ryan ReynoldsActor & Producer Ryan Reynolds
In addition to his work on Free Guy, Reynolds’s acting credits number more than 100 and encompass dozens of feature films including, Patrick Hughes’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Tim Miller’s Deadpool, Anne Fletcher’s The Proposal, David Leitch’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Simon Curtis’s Woman in Gold, Robert Schwentke’s R.I.P.D., Greg Mottola’s Adventureland, Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces, David S. Goyer’s Blade: Trinity and Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck’s Mississippi Grind; and multiple episodes the series Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza PlaceScrubsThe Odyssey and The Outer Limits


Mary McLaglenUPM & Executive Producer Mary McLaglen
A third generation veteran of the film industry, McLaglen’s UPM credits also include multiple collaborations with Shawn Levy such as his features, Night at the Museum: Secret of the TombThis Is Where I Leave YouThe Internship and Real Steel; and other features including Anne Fletcher’s The Guilt Trip and The Proposal, Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes, Callie Khouri’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Mimi Leder’s Pay It Forward, Griffin Dunne’s Practical Magic, Forest Whitaker’s Hope Floats, Joel Schumacher’s The Client, Jon Amiel’s Sommersby and Jonathan Lynn’s My Cousin Vinny. MaryMcLaglen joined the DGA in 1987. 


Josh McLaglen1st AD & Executive Producer Josh McLaglen
In addition to his work on Free Guy, Josh McLaglen also has multiple collaborations with Shawn Levy including his features Night at the Museum: Secret of the TombNight at the Museum: Battle of the SmithsonianThe InternshipNight at the Museum and Real Steel. Other collaborations include Robert Zemeckis’s features BeowulfThe Polar Express and Cast Away; as well as Simon Kinberg’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix, James Mangold’s Logan, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, Francis Lawrence’s Constantine, Barry Levinson’s Bandits and Taylor Hackford’s Blood In, Blood Out. He also served as the 1st AD on James Cameron’s DGA Award nominated feature, Avatar and his DGA Award-winning feature, Titanic. McLaglen’s latest project, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, marks his 50th film as a 1st AD. Josh McLaglen joined the DGA in 1984. 

Swen GillbergVFX Supervisor Swen Gillberg
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for his work on Shawn Levy’s 2011 feature, Real Steel, Gillberg has been focused on the integration of live elements and CGI for more than two decades. In addition to his work on Free Guy, his resume also includes serving as a CG Supervisor on features including Stephen Sommers’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Chris Columbus’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima. His 3D integration credits include Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, Rob Cohen’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Ron Howard’s 2002 DGA Award-winning feature, A Beautiful Mind
Viet LuuVFX Producer Viet Luu
In addition to his work on Shawn Levy’s Free Guy and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Luu’s VFX credits include also include Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player OneThe BFG and Bridge of Spies; as well as Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black 3, Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern, Greg Mottola’s Paul, Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, Jon Turteltaub’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons, Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend and Ivan Reitman’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Dean ZimmermanEditor Dean Zimmerman
An Award-winning Editor with over 50 feature films and television episodes in his resume, Zimmerman’s collaboration with Shawn Levy dates back over many years and a dozen films, including Levy’s the Night at the Museum franchise, Date NightReal SteelThe Internship and This Is Where I Leave You; and he is also editing Levy’s upcoming time travel action-drama, The Adam Project. Other credits include features such as Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour 3, Doug Liman’s Jumper and Rob Letterman’s Gulliver's Travels; and the series Shadow and Bone and Stranger Things, for which he won an Emmy Award in 2014, multiple HPA Awards, and was also nominated for an American Cinema Editor’s “Eddie” Award. 
David SangerUPM David Sanger (moderator)
Sanger is a UPM and former Head of Production at New Deal Studios where he served as the in-house Visual Effects Producer for countless commercials, special projects and sequences on more than 100 different feature films including contributions to Oscar-winning VFX for Director Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Damien Chazelle’s First Man. He is currently the Supervising Producer for video content at The Gates Notes, the blog of Bill Gates. Sanger joined the DGA in 2008 and serves as a member of the Western AD/UPM Council VFX/Digital Technology Committee. 

Back in Time: How Television Revisits the Past through Visual Effects 

Barry JenkinsDirector Barry Jenkins (The Underground Railroad)
In addition to his work on The Underground Railroad, Jenkins’s directorial credits include the feature films, If Beale Street Could Talk and Medicine for Melancholy; and episodes of Dear White PeopleThe Knick and Futurestates. In 2019, along with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, Jenkins received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning Best Picture, Moonlight, and the also garnered Jenkins a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film. Jenkins joined the DGA in 2017, and currently serves as the Guild’s Third Vice-President. 
Dottie StarlingVFX Supervisor Dottie Starling (The Underground Railroad)
In addition to her work on The Underground Railroad, Starling’s VFX supervisor credits include feature films such as Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, David Slade’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, George Tillman Jr.’s Faster, Taylor Hackford’s Love Ranch and Craig Brewer’s Footloose remake; as well as the documentary Walking with Dinosaurs 3D; and episodes of The PurgePreacherOzarkScream Queens and Black Sails

Silas HowardDirector Silas Howard (Dickinson)
In addition to his work on Dickinson, Howard’s directorial credits include the feature films, A Kid Like JakeValenciaSunset Stories and By Hook or by Crook; and episodes of PoseEverything’s Gonna Be OkayGrand ArmyTales of the CityTransparentHudson Valley Ballers and Brainstorm. Howard has been a DGA member since 2015. 


Lotta ForssmanVFX Supervisor Lotta Forssman (Dickinson)
In addition to her work on Dickinson, Forssman’s VFX supervisor credits include episodes of the series, Only Murders in the BuildingBettyOrange Is the New BlackBallersThe Good CopRiseRed OaksGypsyUnbreakable Kimmy SchmidtMaster of NoneThe Breaks and Z: The Beginning of Everything. Currently, she is working on the production side of an Apple TV + project shooting in New York. 

Victoria MahoneyDirector Victoria Mahoney (Lovecraft Country)
In addition to her work on Lovecraft Country, Mahoney’s directorial credits include the feature film, Yelling to the Sky; the movie for television, Bleach; the pilot episode of the series, The Red Line; and episodes of I Am the NightYouPowerClawsGypsyAmerican CrimeGrey’s AnatomyQueen SugarSurvivor’s RemorseThe Conversation and Exhale. Mahoney was handpicked by J.J. Abrams to direct second unit on Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, marking her as the first woman to direct on a Star Wars film in the franchise’s 40-year history. He has been a DGA member since 2016. 
Kevin BlankVFX Supervisor Kevin Blank (Lovecraft Country)
In addition to his Emmy Award-nominated work on Lovecraft Country, Blank’s VFX supervisor credits include feature films such as Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield and J.J. Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III; Nick Hurran’s mini-series, Childhood’s End; and episodes of ReprisalConstantineFringeDa Vinci’s DemonsStar Trek: Enterprise Krypton, and Alias. He's a five-time Emmy Award nominee, winning one Emmy for his work on J.J. Abrams’s pilot of Lost. He has also worked as a Second Unit Director on series including, Lovecraft Country, SnowpiercerCrossbonesFlashforward and Terra Nova. Blank has been a DGA member since 2009. 
Michael GoiDirector Michael Goi (moderator)
In addition to his service as a Co-Chair of the Special Projects Digital Day Subcommittee, Goi currently serves as a co-chair of DGA Diversity Task Force and as an alternate on the Western Directors Council and formerly as a co-chair of the Asian American Committee. Goi’s directing credits include the feature films, Megan Is Missing and Voyeur; and episodes of the television series, Sexy Urban LegendsPretty Little Liars, and American Horror Story. He is also known as an acclaimed cinematographer with over 70 narrative credits and earned Emmy nominations for his cinematography on GleeAmerican Horror Story and My Name Is Earl. Goi has been a DGA member since 2014. 

About the Special Projects Committee

Special Projects is the educational and cultural arm of the Directors Guild of America, providing its members opportunities for creative exchange to advance their craft and celebrate the achievements of directors and their teams. The Committee is chaired by Director Jeremy Kagan. The Digital Day Subcommittee members are: Co-Chairs Michael Goi, Randal Kleiser and Susan Zwerman; and members Brian Frankish, Scott Rindenow, Oz Scott, Arthur Allan Seidelman and Jay Torres.

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