In 2015, a new war film from the mind of Taylor Sheridan and Denis Villeneuve came storming into theaters. The film focused on the War on Drugs, and how remarkably similar the actions taken on the border feel to Vietnam or Korea. The intensity was palpable, and the action was violent. While the movie was popular, a sequel seemed like a longshot. Yet today, a sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” open. Visual effects artist Alexandre Lafortune worked on the film, as well as the first film in the franchise. A few weeks ago, we sat down and talked about working on a film like “Sicario” and how invisible effects work to enhance the action.
AF: At what point did you begin the visual effects process on “Sicario: Day of the Soldado?”
AL: We were there quite early in the process, through the bidding and the shooting. We actually got the script and started working on getting the assets and thinking ahead about what we may need in the future for the film.
AF: Is that normal for your team to come in early into the process?
AL: Well there are different scenarios. It’s probably the best way actually, to be aware of the process and what is going on. You can look at what might be tricky, or potentially look at different ways to fulfill the needs of the client. We don’t always find ourselves in this situation, but it’s one of the best ways for us to get a full sense for the project. It gave us more awareness and time to be more creative instead of just responding. We could think about things and do our best.
AF: How do you go about that process of making an effect look good, but keeping them budget conscious?
AL: The effects on “Sicario” are more reality-based. It’s not about showing off but having more of the invisible effects that support the action. There’s no robots or big things like that. It can help create more immersion for the moviegoers and audience that way. It’s more about those kinds of effects. They should be really smooth if possible.
AF: What are some of the “invisible” effects you work on?
AL: Well there’s a lot on this movie. We did muzzle flashes and bullet impacts. We also created some military assets, like choppers, Hummers, and drones. It’s a wide variety but we fill the screen with them throughout the movie. One scene that required the most amount of work was the one at the Border. We had to create the buildings, we had to fill up space with CGI cars. Those places are busy, so we have to make it look like it. We’re following a convoy coming up from Mexico across the border, and we have to make the camera stay with them. We also added a collection of mountains in the distance, which is an example of 3D effects that most people might not be aware of.
AF: How do you begin the research process for a film like “Sicario?”
AL: Well it was mostly about the military assets and the vehicles we had to create. It was based on a lot of pictures actually. There was also a guy who was down there with us. When we shoot the movie, we sometimes have an advisor to tell us what kind of vehicle we should create or not, so we would also consult him when creating the assets and muzzle flashes. It was a similar situation with the border stuff as well. We had to create our own border between the USA and Mexico, so we had to make it as authentic as possible.
AF: Alexandre, you worked on the first “Sicario” with Denis Villeneuve. What made you interested in coming back for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado?”
AL: Well I didn’t actually work on “Sicario” for Rodeo FX. I was with another team at that time. When we got “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” it was a logical choice to put me on this one given my history and background with that movie. I think it was a no-brainer.
AF: How was working on “Day of the Soldado” different than working on the first film?
AL: There were some similarities in the effects. I kind of pushed a bit more on the military assets. It’s really fun to work on. There are some long, continuous shots that were a bit different. Still, it’s a lot of those invisible effects combined with the same type of action.
AF: When you’re creating effects for a war film, what is the most important aspect for you to keep in place for your team?
AL: We need to enhance the reality of the movie. It’s about creating effects that support the action, not oppose it. It’s based on reality as a war movie. If it’s something that’s missing during the shoot, we’ll make it more dangerous for the audience.
AF: How hands-on are you in the process of developing the visual effects?
AL: Well I have a 3D background, so it helps me to drive my artists when creating the assets. I’m not really doing that part myself. I’m also a 2D artist, so I’ll usually be more hands on in that area. I do tests and try out things. I can count some of the shots for the movie myself actually. It’s nice to be hands-on, which can give me some pressure, but for now its more about working on some of the 2D effects while driving the artists on the 3D. I can talk about the effects and shading with the artists easily.
AF: So what scene was the most difficult in the film for you to work on?
AL: Okay, well there is one scene called the Massive Mart shot. It’s a continuous shot that is more than a minute long. In this shot, some bad guys come out of a car and go into a large store. They start blowing themselves up right inside the store, and we as the audience witness everything from outside. We had to grab some light effects, some items on the shelves of the stores and have them blow up. We had to take the people in the store and add some effects there. It’s not a nice shot, and it’s a long, hard shot to work on. There was up to 350 days of manpower to work on the shot. It’s a massive shot.
AF: What scene do you think will make audiences the most excited?
AL: Well, I’m defintiely really excited to see how audiences respond to that Massive Mart scene. I’m not sure if it’s going to be positive per se, but I’m sure we’re going to hear about it.
AF: It sounds similar to the discovery of the bodies in the walls sequence in the first film.
AL: Yeah, I feel like it can relate to that. I think it adds to the tone of the film.
AF: What’s next for you and your team?
AL: Usually it’s the kind of question that we can’t really answer. It’s completely different than the work on “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” The movie I’m working on is from Eli Roth and it’s called “The House with a Clock in Its Walls.” It’s a bit creepy, but I think it’s a family movie that people will enjoy.
AF: Well it looks fun so far! Keep up the great work and thank you for your time!