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Engine Room VFX Contributes Invisible Effects To The Emotional Power Of Feature Films Alpha Dog And Freedom Writers

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January ushers in the release of two critically acclaimed and highly anticipated projects for which Engine Room was the sole contributor of key visual effects – Universal’s Alpha Dog (dir. Nick Casavetes) and Paramount’s Freedom Writers (dir. Richard LaGravenese). On both Los Angeles urban tales Visual Effects Supervisor and Engine Room Founder Dan Schmit and his team collaborated with filmmakers to give them the visual look and feel sought for each project.

 

Inspired by true events, Alpha Dog follows three fateful days when the lives of a group of Southern California teens suddenly dead-ended. The film features a powerful ensemble cast including Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Christopher Marquette, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Anton Yelchin and Bruce Willis. Johnny Truelove controls the drugs on the well-manicured streets of his neighborhood. Where Johnny goes, the party, the girls and his loyal gang follow. When he’s double-crossed over missing deal money by raging hothead Jake, Johnny and his gang impulsively kidnap Jake’s little brother holding him as a marker and heading to Palm Springs. Good times turn bad and bad turns worse as Johnny finds himself out of his league and with no idea how to fix it...leading all these players toward a shocking conclusion they never saw coming.

 

“For Alpha Dog, we were originally brought in during preproduction to help solve some logistical challenges involved during filming. We did this by suggesting the incorporation a handful of green screen shots to add scope and a feeling of “magic surrealism” to the film’s climax,” says Schmit. The collaboration ultimately went far beyond the initial scope – as once principal photography ended the editorial team physically moved into the Engine Room studio.

 

“We have found that inviting filmmakers to set up shop at our place creates a wonderful collaborative atmosphere that everyone can enjoy and benefit from,” continues Schmit. “It was especially helpful with Alpha Dog to have Nick Cassavetes and Alan Heim (the film’s editor) working day and night right upstairs from the effects team. As their vision for the film expanded during post, we were right there contributing to the creative dialogue, sparking new ideas and informing them of what was possible.” In the end, Engine Room delivered at total of 290 visual effects composite shots for Alpha Dog.

 

Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank, is based on "The Freedom Writer's Diaries: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them," written by teacher Erin Gruwell and her students. Based on true events, Freedom Writers is the story of Gruwell who was a first-year high school teacher assigned to teach students considered to be at-risk or unteachable. Gruwell introduced the students to the works of Anne Frank and Zlata Filopvic to try and teach them tolerance. The students responded by keeping their own diaries about violence and other negative influences in their lives.

 

“It is interesting that both of these projects are set in LA,” comments Schmit. “One is about White kids growing up in the suburbs of the Valley and the other is about Black and Latino kids in South Central. For Freedom Writers our involvement was much more subtle, yet very powerful, with the images we created invisibly interwoven deep into the film.”

 

The main scene involving Engine Room, known to the filmmakers as the “diary sequence,” takes place when the teacher Erin Gruwell is reading the true-life writing assignments that her students have shared with her for the first time. It is the emotional launching point of the movie. “When shooting the scene, the director and DP did an excellent job of incorporating a variety of in-camera tricks and transition effects so we had a fantastic bed of material to work with,” says Schmit. “Working closely with editor David Moritz the visual effects team seamed the sequence together into one long composite, which fully succeeded in conveying the feeling and emotion that the director was looking for.”

 

While neither of these films was what would normally be considered an “effects” movie, Engine Room’s role contributed greatly to their overall power.

 

“We find that a larger and larger portion of the work we are doing is what we call “invisible effects”, that is the audience really has no way of seeing that the images they are looking at have been digitally manipulated.” Schmit adds, “As the tools we use become more and more a part of everyday modern filmmaking, we find that the work we are brought in to do are in fact as important to the overall process as anything else.”

 

People used to think the words “we’ll fix it in post” were an indication that mistakes were made on the production but Schmit finds that is no longer true. “Smart directors, editors and producers know that reliance on invisible effects is hugely liberating to the filmmaking process, allowing them the freedom they need to bring a greater and more resonating vision to the screen.”

 

 

About Engine Room:

Engine Room defines the future of filmmaking, fusing the lines between production and postproduction until they disappear. How? By integrating the entire process into one streamlined effort, resulting in a powerful environment for imagination and experimentation. Discover the incredible benefits of working with a talented specialty shooting unit and digital effects team under one roof. The hybrid studio is known for its extraordinary work for clients in the feature film, teaser/trailers, commercials and broadcast arenas. www.engineroomvfx.com.

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Engine Room VFX Contributes Invisible Effects To The Emotional Power Of Feature Films Alpha Dog And Freedom Writers

"those words are all english... but they don't mean anything together."

Edited by SermonOfMockery

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