You may not know the name, but Fuel VFX provided some of the most striking and recognisable visual effects work on Prometheus. A few days ago we put some questions to Jason Bath, Executive Producer and Co-Founder, and here’s what he said in this exclusive interview.
Can you please provide a little background history about Fuel?
Fuel is an artist owned and driven company in its 12th year now. The five founders were already experienced supervisors and producers and the company was formed with a strong sense of what we wanted Fuel to be. That wasn’t just about delivering great work, it was also about a ‘culture’ based on trust, respect and collaboration, and creating a supportive and stimulating work environment.
We’re very fortunate to have had many talented, like-minded people join us over the years that are not only talented visual effects artists but have helped us build and grow that culture to make Fuel the great place to work that it is today.
In just a few years you’ve progressed to working on some huge movies, including Marvel’s Avengers-based films, and the latest Mission Impossible, and of course Prometheus. What skills do you think you bring to a production that can ensure you get such high-profile work?
I think it’s a combination of things. Being able to deliver technically proficient work is a pre-requisite for all vendors on such shows and we’ve got good, critical internal processes to ensure that. We also very good at doing the ‘creative’ shots – shots that need some graphic design, concept development, some extra ideas brought to them. The big films have quite a bit of this sort of work and we find the supervisor-producer who know Fuel will lean on us a bit to help solve this sort of work, and that’s something we really enjoy and appreciate.
Finally, I think it’s about how we work with our clients. We are very accessible people that care about the result and we like to collaborate with the VFX production team to solve problems, and we understand that not everything goes according to plan. I think the fact that the owners of Fuel work actively on our projects is a big part of the good relationships we are able to develop.
How and when did Fuel come to be involved with Prometheus?
We were fortunate in that we had existing relationships with Richard Stammers (VFX supervisor), Allen Maris (VFX producer) and Todd Isroelit (VP, Visual Effects, Fox). All of them have known Fuel for a number of years now through different circumstances and all were very supportive that we would be a good contributor to the film.
We came on board early in pre-production, starting with concept and look development work for the holographic Engineer characters and the holotable.
Can you describe what your work on the movie involved?
We did a lot of the work that could be called ‘design-heavy’ – the Orrery and it’s control desk energy; the holographic Engineers; the holotable on the bridge of the Prometheus; and the laser scanning ‘pups’ were all effects that we conceptualized at Fuel based on Ridley’s and Richard’s ideas and developed into final shots. It was a very rewarding experience to be given responsibility for such key looks in the film and have Ridley respond so positively to our concepts and look development, and then the final shots.
Fuel also looked after the set extensions in the pilot’s chamber, the particle-like ‘tunnel effect’ that gets activated in the catacombs, and the 3D holographic screens in Vickers’ suite.
How many people did you have working on the project?
Over the course of the production we had about 70-80 people work on the film.
Did you manage to visit the set, and if so what were your impressions of what you saw?
Fuel’s VFX Supervisor Paul Butterworth went to set for a few weeks when they were filming the ‘Engineers Running’ sequence. I know the scale of the sets blew him away but he was most amazed with how focused and calm Ridley was on set. We were creating look frames for the Orrery at the time and Ridley had the headspace and energy to work with Paul on those in between takes. That time Paul was able to spend with Ridley was invaluable for us.
Did you have any particular technical challenges that had to be overcome?
To realize the complexities of the Orrery design we needed to rebuild and extend our deep image pipeline. A wide shot of the Orrery has 80-100 million polygons and these tools gave artists the ability to reach in and manipulate millions of points in an interactive way, reducing or removing the need for expensive 3D rendering for minor changes.
Without these tools, the entire Orrery would have comprised about 200 traditional layers that would have had to be re-rendered for even the smallest change, requiring weeks to turnaround each time. That sort of lag time would not be possible on any show.
Are there any shots you worked on that you are particularly proud of, and that our readers should look out for?
The sequence where David activates the Orrery is probably my favourite out of Fuel’s work. It is a beautiful, other-worldy sequence that looks amazing in 3D.
Is there anything else you would like to mention about your work on Prometheus?
Our work on the holographic Engineer characters was really involved creatively and technically. Ridley was very particular about the look of these and it was a challenge for us to get these right. The characters are made from light yet had to be mysterious and eerie, and we also had to be able to control their appearance from moment to moment – dialing in glimpses of details at times, and devolving into more abstract noise at others. Then depending on the angle and lens of each shot, the volume of the Engineers sometimes didn’t read so well. Given it’s a stereoscopic film that really jumped out. So different parts of the Engineers were turned on or off depending on the shot to ensure their volumetric shape looked great.
Finally, can you tell us anything about what’s lined up next for Fuel?
We’re on the cusp of being confirmed on a few shows so I won’t jinx them by mentioning them! We’ve been getting some really nice early attention due to our contribution on Prometheus so are also bidding a number of exciting projects at the moment. Hopefully more doors will continue to open for Fuel as people get to see the full scope of our work on the film.
Many thanks to Jason, as well as Anna at Fuel and Samara at Fox for helping arrange this interview!
Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts. The film stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Logan Marshall-Green, Patrick Wilson and Kate Dickie, and is now on release around the world.