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The Aeronauts: VFX Supervisor Louis Morin on Creating An Entire World in the Skies [Exclusive]

Meteorologist James Glaisher must’ve seen incredible sights in the skies back in 1862.

To recreate an entire environment, tens of thousands of feet above the planet was the visual spectacle challenge for the VFX department in The Aeronauts.

The film made significant VFX technological strides for creating different atmospheric environments that showcase the beauty of adventure and planet Earth.

Based on a real-life event, the film stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as an unconventional pairing of a meteorologist and a balloonist on a scientific mission to research the atmospheres.

Tom Harper directs the film from a screenplay by Jack Thorne.

Here’s the full synopsis:

In 1862, daredevil balloon pilot Amelia Wren teamed up with pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher to advance human knowledge of the weather and fly higher than anyone in history. While breaking records and furthering scientific discovery, their voyage to the very edge of existence helps the unlikely pair find their place in the world they have left far below them. But they face physical and emotional challenges in the thin air, as the ascent becomes a fight for survival.

LRM Online sate down exclusively with VFX supervisor Louis Morin in Beverly Hills late last month to discuss the visual effects challenges in the film.

Morin is a master of visual effects working on projects such as Arrival, Source Code, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sicario, and countless others.

The Aeronauts is out in theaters nationwide today and on Amazon Prime Video on December 20.

Read the exclusive interview below.

LRM Online: Hey, congratulations on The Aeronauts. What brought you onboard onto an ambitious project like this? I’m saying it’s ambitious.

Louis Morin: Yeah, it was. I was doing this film called Wonderstruck that was directed by [Todd] Haynes. And it was also produced by Amazon. The producers said, “Hey, I have this project. You have to read that script.” I did read the script and said to myself, “Well, that’s a challenge.” It was an exciting thriller mixed as an adventure film. I got hooked and met the director [Tom Harper] at the BAFTA for arrival. We hit it off, and that’s how it started.

LRM Online: This was a film when I was watching it–I thought it was all special effects. But it’s not. Could you talk about how much special effects are actually in this film? From my understanding, there are a lot of practical elements too.

Louis Morin: It’s a very long process. It’s more like visual effects as we call it. Special effects is another branch that we work together. We’re like all intimately involved in doing this project. We had this weekend in London, and all the key people were there to design the way we can shoot this. The director wanted to shoot it as realistic as possible. In reality, there won’t be much, not touched by visual effects. Eighty percent of the film is visual effects. The whole movie is involved with visual effects literally.

LRM Online: Let’s start with the most prominent visual effects. It would be the skies. You have clouds. You have the storm. It seems a lot for visuals. Talk about the approach for something like that.

Louis Morin: I thought it wouldn’t be that difficult to make clouds, but it turns out to be one of the most complex elements to be created. It’s very subjective. There’s a transference of light to mist, which can be infinite for the sun to go through. Fortunately, we were limited with processors to render those images. All this is a big challenge. So the idea was to try to shoot as much as possible as live material. We’ve got this camera system on the helicopter that had six 8K cameras. It was the first time it was shot in that way with 8K cameras.

We shot a bunch of environment of skies in Louisiana. With this process, we created a 360-degree environment. All these video footage was on an Apple tablet and allowed you could pick your cloud environment. We can create this as the sunset shot. Then on the blue screen, you could turn around, look up, look down, and see the whole environment. It was challenging for the DP. It was challenging for the actors. It helped if they knew what to look at and what was there.

All this had to be redone by visual effects. We even went to South Africa to shoot more material there. The whole butterfly sequence, the entire sky is a real live sky. We shot that at 25,000 feet in the air with the chopper.

LRM Online: Since you brought it up the butterfly sequence, that was mesmerizing. Could you talk about the approach for bringing that on onto the screen?

Louis Morin: It’s funny. In those meetings, they said, “We want real butterflies.” I looked at them and said, “Are you serious? Are you kidding me?” They tried it. They created a soundstage with nets. They breed a ton of butterflies, and they brought them to set. At the end of the day, how many of those butterflies are in the movie now? Zero.

Sometimes you get the happy accidents. The actor reacts in a certain way and fashion that we wouldn’t get if the butterflies weren’t there. In some shots, we had to erase the real ones and replace them digitally. It’s good to try to achieve with live shots as much as possible even though they had to be deleted.

LRM Online: And what about creating the landscape below? Was that all visual effects too?

Louis Morin: It is a period movie.

LRM Online: It seems like you’re saying everything is visual effects. [Laughs]

Louis Morin: Pretty much. As soon as you’re up in the air, that old London doesn’t exist anymore. You’re talking about 1862. Everything has to be rebuilt entirely and pretty accurate. We tried to create, as much as possible, the sensation that it’s for real, but it’s a CG environment.

LRM Online: What do you suppose is the most challenging visual effects that you had to input for a movie for The Aeronauts?

Louis Morin: My answer to that is the whole movie. If there’s one blue screenshot that doesn’t work, then you lose the audience. They had to believe that they were there and be part in that storm. They have to look down and get that vertigo. That was the challenge. By creating an environment when they come out of the storm, which is a fully digital environment, was the most challenging shot on this project. There were a lot of frameworks, R&D, and render time to achieve the level of realism.

LRM Online: Why do you love doing visual effects?

Louis Morin: It’s the department of miracles. You feel like God. We can do everything. There’s a movie that is going to recreate James Dean now. Everything’s almost possible now if you have given the time to achieve it. It never stops. It keeps on progressing. We’re on edge, the tip of the surf wave of technology. It’s a fun place to be.

LRM Online: Excellent. Hey, thank you very much.

Louis Morin: Thank you.

The Aeronauts is out in theaters nationwide today and on Amazon Prime Video on December 20.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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