Cowboy Bebop- VFX Breakdown by Outpost VFX

Outpost VFX Supervisor, Chris Faczek, discusses the intricacies of translating Cowboy Bebop, a distinctive and revered anime series, into live-action.

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Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is a remake of Shinichirō Watanabe’s 1998 anime of the same name. The 2021 series follows intergalactic bounty hunters Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) as they traverse the galaxy trying to make ends meet.

“The clients really wanted the original to be the first touchpoint for the work we did,” continues Faczek.

“It gave us a great reference for how to approach the look and feel of some shots in the concept phase, and it was always helpful to pull up screenshots or scenes from episodes if we needed to clarify notes or hone in on a look. It was nice to have an established visual language to jump off from and look to for inspiration.”

“A good chunk of our team are fans of the original series” explains VFX Producer Danielle Malambri, “so we would often have conversations about how true to the original anime things were.”

“By far our most challenging scene was in episode 9,” explains Faczek. “This comprised of a large shoot out with a seemingly continuous shot across 2,078 frames (roughly 1 minute and 27 seconds).

“The concept was a shootout with Spike clearing out a building, but the shot is to look like a single take to the viewer as he goes from room to room fighting gang members inside. The client provided us with six takes, all with various cameras, lenses and movements that had to be stitched together seamlessly.

“True to the original anime, the show was very stylised, both in how the shots were composed and in its editing. The production team used some very interesting lens and lighting choices that all had to be matched for the final shots. Attention to detail on the defocus was particularly important to help elements feel correctly embedded and normally had to be fine-tuned for each lens in a scene.

“The camera and lens mismatch, as well as the various moves made this a pretty challenging ask. LA VFX Supervisor, Jeremy Fernsler, was able to write us a quick script that took our various camera tracks and retimes and allowed us to combine them into one single moving camera, and blend between the different lenses as needed.

“Aligning this with the LIDAR data of the set provided by the client gave use a good starting point to know where we had to place foreground objects to help blend the scenes together, but it was still a bit too imprecise to hand to the CG team to create elements to drop in.

“So while one comp artist took care of all the blood, muzzle flash, clean-up, and other 2D tasks in each of the 6 plates, I was creating a Nuke script that built and placed the geo, textures, and lighting for the foreground objects.

“I was then able to work with Vic Scalise, the show-side VFX Supervisor, to really nail down the camera movement and timing of the shot and brainstorm some solutions to a few of the tougher sections. It was a really involved shot requiring a lot of handoffs internally and great client communication; but the end result looked great on delivery.”

The show also required the finalisation and implementation of CG assets such as the Bebop and an ‘atmosphere farm’ which was used extensively in episode 3 in a scene that takes place on Mars. “This took the form of a huge wall in the distant background, as well as some supporting buildings that we see throughout the scene,” says Faczek.

Set extensions were of particular importance in episode 6, an episode loosely based on the ‘Brain Scratch’ episode of the original. “Our work in this scene made up the bulk of our work on the show,” recalls Faczek. “It involved a mix of CG building extensions and city extensions to the practical set, DMP extensions to the backgrounds which included designing a city and a dock environment, adding the CG Bebop to shots, replacing skies and adding bullet / blood hits during the shootout scenes.”

Cowboy Bebop is available on Netflix from November 19th.

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