VFX: THE FISTS OF KUNG FURY

What do you get if you combine kung fu, Hitler, time travel, vikings gods, anthropomorphic arcade cabinets – a tiny dash of David Hasselhoff – and then cover it in lashings of retro neon? Well there’s only one thing you can get, really – Kung Fury.

Inspired by the glorious action movies of the VHS heydey, but with the visual flair cranked up to 11 (and then some), the film’s protagonist, Kung Fury, is a renegade Miami cop, part Jean Claude Van Damme and part Dolph Lundgren, with a penchant for Lightning Kicks and a rampant dislike of crime.

Now he’s got to take down the “worst criminal of all time” – Adolf Hitler – in a time-travelling flurry of fists.

The near 10-million YouTube views prove that Kung Fury has captured the imagination of viewers across the globe. And then there’s the Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $630,000 to turn the original trailer into a 30-minute film. It was that funding that allowed Kung Fury director David Sandberg and his company Laser Unicorns to enlist the talents of Fido, the Swedish VFX and animation studio.

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The VFX company was brought on to the Kung Fury project shortly after the crowdfunding effort concluded in early 2014. The herculean task involved the creation of the aforementioned vikings, dinosaurs and arcade cabinets – stopping just short of a CG Hasselhoff himself.

Sandberg’s retro-tastic plan and action packed vision meant that much of the film’s sequences required highly skilled VFX artists to create it on screen. The film is loaded with hundreds of 80s-inspired VFX shots, comprising everything from green screen compositing to characters riding on top of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Then, of course, there were the explosions. Lots of explosions.

Sandberg, a veteran music video and commercial director, had shot the scenes for the initial trailer and executed the effects himself. The look for the film – a tongue-in-cheek homage to 80s technology, fashion and filmmaking techniques – was exactly what drew backers to the project, meaning that it was crucial for Fido to recreate the psychedelic neo-noir style with absolute faithfulness.

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“For the trailer, Sandberg had done more or less all of the VFX by himself,” says Nils Lagergren, executive producer at Fido. “Those scenes were included in the film, but most of the new VFX shots were produced by Fido. In all, Fido produced about 90% of all VFX in the film – that was in over 400 effects shots, which included the eight shots created for the David Hasselhoff ‘True Survivor’ accompanying music video.”

A total of 46 people worked on Kung Fury during the seven-month production process, concluding in April 2015. The final result is an over-the-top “30-minute roller-coaster filled with action, humour and VFX” – a blend of VHS visuals and pounding Eighties synths.

“It was great to do this project with David – especially given that VFX plays such a crucial part throughout,” says Lagergren. “David is the kind of director who has a very strong creative vision, but also a deep understanding of the work process. This meant we could discuss the VFX shots from both a creative and technical angle with him. We spoke the same language, so to say.”

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During post-production, Sandberg and his team moved into the studio to help guide the project to its final mind-blowing state.

“This arrangement helped us to work very closely with David, for example when finding the proper ‘VHS-style color aberration kind of look’ he envisioned for the film,” says Lagergren. “Having him ‘in-house’ also made sure that no time was wasted on waiting for feedback, which helped the production to keep its forward momentum.”

Having Sandberg so intimately involved in the project – both physically and emotionally, not to mention still tweaking his vision well into production – meant that Fido needed to roll with the kung fu punches.

“In any project of this scale, it’s always extremely important to keep track of the different versions. But Kung Fury demanded even more from us,” remembers Lagergren. “Much in the same spirit as when doing the trailer, the production of the film had a very organic and flexible nature, with edits, shots and effects changed and reimagined throughout.”

This morphing approach meant that Fido needed a tool that could keep the team adaptable in the face of ever-changing production demands – unfortunately, they couldn’t just hack time.

The VFX house relied on ftrack to stay on top of the project’s many sequences and changes and all the in-house artists and compositors are very familiar with the software. Largely because ftrack began its life at the studio in 2008 as an internal production tool. It incubated and grew at Fido, eventually evolving into a fully fledged commercial product available to other studios.

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Ftrack has allowed the studio to handle projects of all sizes using the same production management and workflow structure.

“Whether it’s just one shot in a commercial or a 400-shot project like Kung Fury,” says Lagergren. “This solid structure also helps us to allow a certain degree of inspired improvisation – that was an absolute necessity in the Kung Fury project.”

The software allows all team members to see every aspect of the project and can be scaled for all production sizes, from individual projects to large-scale effect-laden features. On Kung Fury, which features effects ranging from gargantuan Thor-like giants to the accentuated muzzle flash blasting from a Uzi MP-2 submachine gun, these features came in particularly useful indeed.

“It helps us to see a project on any desired level. In a way, it’s a bit like being an eagle: you can fly high above the project and keep track of the general progress of it,” says Lagergren, noting the benefit of the Status and Time Reports features. “Then, whenever you need to, you can dive down into the smallest details of the project to look at it up-close on a shot or task level, and find any answer you’re looking for – in Notes, for example.”

Fido artist using ftrack for shot review.

Fido artist using ftrack for shot review.

The studio’s favourite ftrack feature is ‘Notes’, as it allows productions to use multiple artists without wasting large amounts of time. “It’s an extremely practical way to keep everyone updated on feedback and instructions for each task and shot,” he explains. “We could juggle artists between shots without losing time on getting them up to speed on each new assignment, since they could find all info they needed themselves, stored in Notes.”

“Sometimes we had over 100 submits in our dailies sessions,” he adds. “Notes was obviously a very fast and practical way to distribute feedback and instructions.”

The software integrates with other VFX apps such as Nuke and Maya, and can be customised to cater to individual projects of all sizes.

The software integrates with other VFX apps such as Nuke and Maya, and can be customised to cater for individual projects.

For example, Fido was able to tweak the software, to add specialised features like its own custom launcher and custom Shot Category tags for characters in the film, so that they could be easily sorted and artists could hone in on specific characters in their work.

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If the buzz around the film is any indication, Kung Fury looks as though it will sit well alongside Fido’s other showcase hyperkinetic releases such as Attack the Block and Kick-Ass.

It’s a full-force Eighties action generator operating at max capacity, with a narrative as fast, ever-changing and surprising as the production itself.

The studio, however doesn’t have time to sit on laurels with the VFX team already hard at work on numerous projects for clients in countries such as Germany, Russia, Sweden and the UK. It’s long-standing relationship with ftrack also looks as though it’s set to continue.

“We have lived with ftrack from the very beginning,” he says. “We are proud to be true ftrack veterans, and it’s no secret that using the software has helped us to become what we are today: a reliable and flexible studio with a great reputation and a solid track record.”

For more info about the project, check: www.kungfury.com

For more on ftrack, check: www.ftrack.com

Check out the original Kung Fury trailer below:

Fido’s showreel video:

 

Excerpts from Press Release.

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