While reception to the film as a whole was, shall we say, mixed, the warehouse fight towards the end of Batman v Superman has earned a fair amount of acclaim regardless of one’s opinion of the film that surrounds it. It’s a visceral, exciting sequence that gives us a fully realized look at Batman in a way we’d never seen before in live action.
I recently got to sit down with two of the people responsible for bringing this sequence to life – Second Unit Director Damon Caro and Visual Effects Supervisor Bryan Hirota – and they walked me through the process required to accomplish a sequence like this from its inception all the way through to the finished film.
This is an excerpt from a larger interview. Look for the full interview later this week.
Hirota: I’ll give you kind of a breakdown of the process. The warehouse fight, in particular, starts with Damon bouncing ideas with Zack [Snyder], right?
Caro: Correct. The first thing we actually did for the movie was the Batman/Superman fight. That was the first thing we met on but then this was the next scene we went right into. And it was actually the first thing we ended up shooting. We generally like to attack it with something big right off – take a big chunk out of it.
Hirota: So you’ll bounce ideas off of Zack and then you’ll go off and do some stuff with your guys. Damon has a process where they’ll rehearse it and work out and actually film it.
Caro: With rough effects.
Hirota: And they’ll edit that together – and we’ll show you; I brought this stuff so I go out to show it to you – and then you’ll run that by Zack and Zack will give you notes, and then studio people at some point will weigh in
Caro: Thus far they hadn’t. They left us alone for all of this which was nice great until you know we shot it.
Hirota: And then, when you and Zack are happy with it then at some point you’ll bring D.J. [John Des Jardin] in, then we’ll break down what’s stunts, what’s visual effects and you how actually does this get filmed and put into a movie.
Caro: And then depending on, say, the ending battle with Doomsday, we don’t really shoot a stunt-vis for that because there’s so much visfx work that we did, “okay we’ll do this piece and we can do this little piece in a blocking master but because this was you know real guys with the CG enhancing it these guys came in a little bit later. So i just depends on the specific scene we’re doing because sometimes we just jump in together or they take the lead if it’s more visfx heavy. But that’s the usual process and this was kind of fun because Bryan and I had just come off of [300:] Rise of an Empire before this. So we did have a lot of live action stuff shooting, but obviously we did a ton of work with the ocean and the boats and the things like that, but a lot of the actual fighting was real stunt people. Not a lot of CG character where Man of Steel was more of a hybrid. But we’re all fans of each other’s department you know, I’m a visfx fan, they love live action, so we really work together rather than how it was in the early days when visfx first became prevalent, you know, like on the first Spider-Man. These guys help in so many ways, but we use the practical cape at the very end right before we cut away. Other than that it’s literally one shot when he’s standing.
Hirota: When he’s on one knee, there’s a real cape there.
Caro: Three or four shots? Other than that it’s entirely digi-cape, because that, as D.J. said, there are a lot of movies that use a real cape, but that restricts the flow, the motion-
Hirota: I think you have a lot of issues in shooting where you’re going to have a take that you like everything about but the cape.
Not to mention continuity between shots.
Caro: We can control every motion so we don’t forget about it. There’s even moments where he’s going to throw a kick, and he’s going to grab it, and it works perfectly! It looks like his hand wipes the cape away. And it allows us to do things like covering something up before he moves to reveal it.
Hirota: And there are other things as well. Zack is a big fan of these comic book silhouettes that the cape can do, and you’re never going to get a real cape to do that.
Right, you can be much more theatrical with it.
Hirota: And across cuts, you can’t get continuity with the cape action also.
Caro: And we really started this with Man of Steel. In 300, it was all real capes, and they just used a real cape in Rogue One. They used a real cape on Vader, and a friend of mine who worked on BvS with me was trying to get them to go digi-cape.
If you had asked me to pick out which shots had the CG cape and which ones didn’t, I probably would have assumed more had the practical cape.
Hirota: Which is good, because that’s sort of the goal.
For conceptualizing this sequence, how early do you come into the process. Is there already a script at this point, or does this happen much earlier in the development spitballing ideas with Zack Snyder?
Caro: The script was still being worked on when we came in, and that’s generally earlier than a lot of directors have us come in, but Zack likes to really let it flow from early R&D. Half the time it’s like, “try this, try that,” because there are a lot of things that i tried there that I didn’t like. But usually to start he and I sit down and half the time there will just be a slug in the script for us to do some of the action. This was originally going to be eight guys, but that wasn’t enough, so we did some basic blocking in R&D, and other than when he blasts a hole in the floor – that was a digi-Batman – other than that it was all real. So we had a lot of R&D with the wireworks, sometimes it’s a blend of both, but that was all breakaway wire work. More time to go, “hmm, I don’t buy this.” I would say, from beginning to end, there was about a three month process from us being able to R&D it, he and I batting it around, we start to choreograph it, bring some guys in, so that’s probably about a twelve week process before that’s done and delivered. There are always going to be problems. That was a set we built, but if you go to a location there are other problems you have to adapt to, but as you can see, it’s very, very similar. You also can go back, I can shoot it and go, “ehh, actually I want it to be a little tighter there,” and I can do that and not have to figure it out on the spot. And that’s the way it used to be done, but Zack and I have done this process since the first 300. Very few really beautiful, great things are done by accident. They’re by design and hard work and preparation.
Hirota: But a lot of movies get shot that way.
Caro: And you can have some interesting stuff, but the planning is how you elevate it. You know, an artist draws a comic book and they’re not like, “okay, go!” right on the spot. This is no different.
There’s so much time and planning involved to make sure that when you’re on set the day of, everything goes the way you want it to go. And obviously there’s some room for figuring stuff out and improvisation-
Caro: Yeah! Let’s try this here, let’s change this lens here. But it also allows you to do it much faster and be more efficient with it when it’s planned out that way. It’s still a ton of work, otherwise there’s ways you can just shoot wides and a couple close ups and you can get in and out of that stuff, but that’s not the way we like to see it or cover it. You want it to be this beautiful visual poetry, gorgeous shots that enhance what’s going on.
In the early stunt-vis – that’s what you called it?
Caro: Yeah, because previs is sometimes if early on you’ve got the script and storyboard artists are working on some sequence, they’re going to have to do a ton of work or even create half the shots in the scene, they’ll do a previs, which is a computer generated process of the scene. So we coined ours stunt-vis, because we’ll shoot live action stuff. And then many times, depending on the scene in the movie and the characters involved, it can be a hybrid of both, and ultimately we’ll cut them together. This one was mainly live action, so it’s pretty straight forward, but like I said, there are other things like the Batman versus Superman fight which is largely ours too, but then you go to something like the Doomsday fight, and that’s more heavily them.
So in the stunt-vis phase, what’s your working relationship like with Zack Snyder? Are you going off and filming this stunt-vis, conceptualizing it based on his notes, but with a lot of room for your own creative decisions, or is he very much involved, almost as if he were on set directing the day of.
Caro: He’s generally too busy to be there. He’d love to be, and in earlier films we used to be able to do that a little bit more, but he’s so busy with the mass of these films. What I would do on both of those is meet with him, conceptualize, we’d talk it through, I go back and choreograph it with the group of guys that I have. We either come to him and show him a live blocking of it, and then he can go, “oh, great! Let’s adjust this and that,” or “I love it, don’t change a thing,” or we’ll go back and modify it and bring it back and he say, “awesome. Go crazy.” And then we’ll shoot it, and something as elaborate as that, I don’t like to show him anything, it can be a liability if it’s not fully polished, but I may go back and say it’s 80% done, and he’ll go, “Okay, cool. You know what? It’d be really cool if you tried to do a close up right here, or what if the camera did this?” But that’s minimal because we’ve been working together for so long that it’s 90% what we shot, and he’d tweak some things. But it’s just because we have a shorthand now and he and I have very similar tastes. All of us do, so we tend to all have that shorthand.
Right, you know what he’s looking for, but he also trusts you to make the right call.
Caro: Yeah, he’s very trusting and that’s why it’s so good. Again, we have a similar eye. And then, after we shoot it, Bryan was there, and his company, Scanline did a magnificent job with it. He’s on set when we’re shooting, and I get to see the stages as it’s going through, and I always like to stick around a little bit through the process to see where he is. As awesome as it is, and even though we know what we’re getting when we’re shooting it, all the enhancements and touches just takes it to another level. That’s the beauty of everyone working together because we all have the same goal in mind. It’s as simple as, I just want to see Batman move the way I’ve always imagined him moving.