Making Visual Effects for Birdman: Film Editing Tools

Posted on February 16, 2016

The New Yorker magazine alerts:  “Do not go to “Birdman” to relax. It stars Michael Keaton, who has always behaved onscreen as if he knew that there was a raging mosquito bite somewhere on his person but could not quite locate it.”

Birdman is a move about an old working actor, once famous for his role of superhero Birdman, but now striving to restart his professional life as dramatic actor and producer on Broadway. While the film is not built on complicated visual effects, Birdman includes various interesting visuals, including shots with the protagonist, Riggman Thomson (Michael Keaton), and his alter ego. We’re going to find out how the main visual effects shots were made in the movie.

Making Hallucinating Scenes

In the film, the viewer meets superhero Birdmanas as a hallucination of Riggan. The scene was made while Riggan was walking through the streest of New York, pursued by a bump artist wearing a Birdman costume with wings. The detailed work was made to increase the suit in the cadre and add dynamics and animation to the costume. Filmmakers carefully investigated all the elements of the suit and wings to build the complete wing assets. The team had worked a lot on secondary animation movements from the wind to make realistic scenes. In order to put Keaton’s face to Birdman’s costume, the team shot the scene with a three-camera RED array.

Filming a Superhero

One of the most circumspect elements of the film was how Riggan depicts himself as his second-self, Birdman, and flies around New York. The effect of levitation was accomplished with the help of previsualization film editing tools. It was made through the use of background plates and High Dynamic Range (HDR) shot. The shooting team embraced an on-set rig lift to make basic levitation. Michael was then pictured in front of the green screen and illuminated with the help of special LED panels. This trick had been used on Gravity — a movie by Lubezki – including HDR shots and then final shots with the heroes. Unfortunately, the filmmakers had no opportunity to use motion control passes that could significantly ease the process of shooting. So they found new ways to film flying scenes.

Mirror Shoots in Riggan’s Dressing Room

In several scenes, Riggan is observing his career and life path and talking with other characters in front of the mirror in his dressing room. When the camera was moving to shoot the reflection, it was important to remove the reflections of crew members from the mirror. This was achieved through the use of rotoscope technique when the actors were projected separately to a reflected environment.

As often as viewer sees the scenes of dressing rooms or looks in the mirror, the movie team was building special DMP environment for those places. In other words, everything that viewers see in the mirror scenes is actually built as a special painted environment.

City Attack Sequence

Now that you can imagine the world of Birdman, see how filmmakers created the scene with Riggman when he ideates the city attack with a strange creature, Bridman, missiles and helicopters. The cadre explosions of the car were made with special car manipulations with actual fire blasting through the window. There were also additional explosions of helicopters that were also developed as separate digital elements. The team wanted to create a monster with the features of an eagle and steampunk elements of style. The filmmakers created a Birdman that must have seen a lot of battles; he was really dirty. Frankly, they created a true war machine.

Other Cool Effects

The visual effects team also worked on scenes of comets flying to the Earth, moments when Riggan destroys his dressing room, and different New York environments. There were a lot of other scenes that filmmakers team had polished up.

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