The Mauritanian: VFX Breakdown by Union VFX

Based on the NY Times best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi.  Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Mauritanian is the true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years. 

Slahi, born in Mauritania in 1970, was held at Guantánamo between 2002 and 2016. While in detention, he wrote his Guantánamo Diary, describing the physical and psychological torture.

Union’s main job was turning the South African set builds into the infamous Guantánamo base.

The production built two sections of the base; one on the coast just outside of Cape Town for exterior and contextual shots and another larger one in a car park where they could control the environment more where the majority of principal photography took place.

The base needed to be seen from multiple angles, at numerous times of the day and night, so the team decided early on to do a full CG build of the base to provide as much flexibility as possible. 

The team conducted extensive online research to enable them to build the base as accurately as possible.  Drones were also used at the car park location to capture the set from multiple angles and assist with the build.  Matte paintings and digi doubles of both inmates and guards were then added to the live-action along with CG military vehicles.

The beach location was particularly windy which meant matching the movement in the live-action was sometimes tricky.  The team had to stabilise and rebuild some of the real set to remove the movement as well as animate the matte paintings of waves and flags etc. to marry up with the shot footage.

Slahi is physically tortured during his imprisonment. Union altered some of the prosthetic make up to simplify the scarring and make it more true to Slahi’s experience.  This was complex due to the shadow cast by the cell door grill.

The exterior shots of the pentagon were also shot in South Africa against bluescreen. Union used a mixture of CG and matte paintings to insert the Pentagon and extend the foreground car park complete with lighting, parked cars and dampness on the floor due to rain.  

When Slahi is finally released he is blindfolded and loaded onto a C17 jet.  The production built a ramp and platform and the Union team added in a fully CG C17 exterior with its hold exposed.  Lots of online research turned up good photographic references that helped produce a great replica that could be lit and positioned to match the live-action.  The surrounding location was also cleaned up and extended to create a very private airfield.

Other work included lots of bluescreen replacements in the base and offices as well as driving shots, wig fixes, screen inserts and clean up.

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