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Last December, the producers of RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE granted FANGORIA exclusive access to the Toronto set of the fourth chapter in their action/horror franchise, derived from the best-selling Capcom video games. For 10 weeks, right up to AFTERLIFE’s September 10 release by Screen Gems, Fangoria.com will be presenting a series of one-on-one interviews with the movie’s cast and crew.
Written and directed by film series originator Paul W.S. Anderson, AFTERLIFE once again stars Milla Jovovich as mysterious heroine Alice, who teams with a small group of postapocalyptic survivors in a world overrun with zombies, monsters and agents of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. For more on the movie, start tracking back through our previous articles here.
Today we talk with Canadian visual FX supervisor Dennis Berardi, whose Mr. X company has supplied magic both violent and futuristic to such films as REPO MEN, MAX PAYNE, Fango FrightFest’s PIG HUNT, DEAD SILENCE, WRONG TURN and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, as well as previous RESIDENT EVILs APOCALYPSE and EXTINCTION. Berardi’s previous stint with FX outfit Toybox landed FIGHT CLUB, THE CELL and JASON X on his résumé.
FANGORIA: How does this fourth in the series compare to the other RESIDENT EVIL films you worked on?
DENNIS BERARDI: Well, it’s stereoscopic [3-D], which has added a level of complexity that we all underestimated. We’re also trying to elevate the franchise in terms of the action, look and visuals. It’s arguably the most challenging one. It’s also the most fun out of the three I’ve worked on. I like the script. Every film has a new set of challenges, and we’re trying to not get too comfortable with the franchise but expand and push it even more, which the fans can expect. By definition, stereoscopic will do that for us, but we’re also trying to do that in shot composition as well.
FANG: Could you elaborate on the things you didn’t anticipate?
BERARDI: In big action scenes, we’re all used to moving the camera pretty aggressively. In the world of visual effects, we’re used to being able to shoot layers and elements easily and quickly. But with a 3-D stereoscopic camera system, it’s more difficult to do that. We need time to set things up; we can’t move the camera like we normally would, and it has limited us. It has also allowed us to be creative in other ways. Our overall challenge is to make our story visual and have a continuity of appearance while still giving it a different feel. We are really pushing it on this film, and we’re basically opening by completely destroying Tokyo, which is a major challenge digitally. Main unit/principal photography isn’t doing anything for us, so I went to Tokyo to shoot some plates; Mr. X is going to be doing a complete digital photo-real version of Tokyo…and we’re going to blow it up.
FANG: With Roland Emmerich-style destruction?
BERARDI: It’s a new concept. We’re toying with the idea of what Umbrella would have as the ultimate evil corporation, some of the militaristic weaponry they would own, and what weapon of mass destruction they would use to destroy a city. And while I don’t want to give it away, it’s not an atomic bomb. It’s something a bit more organic.
FANG: Has your budget gone up with each subsequent RESIDENT EVIL, to make it bigger and better than the last one?
BERARDI: Yes. We’re trying to elevate the franchise here. This is a more expensive movie, it is 3-D, it is stereoscopic. So for my scope of work and what Mr. X is doing, our load has essentially doubled. Now, not only are we dealing with a left channel with a monoscopic image, but a right channel as well. Rotoscoping is frame-by-frame on two image streams, so it’s double the work. Shots that are all digital are actually not much more, because you have a sort of second camera, a virtual camera, already built into the software. You just render it to two cameras.
FANG: Is this your first 3-D movie?
BERARDI: We did a little preliminary work for PIRANHA 3D. We’re currently doing some stuff on TRON: LEGACY for Disney, so we’ve been researching and trying to get ready for stereoscopic for quite some time, with about a year’s worth of R&D under our belts now. Whether it’s a full CGI shot, an enhancement, background for a greenscreen, flying, etc. For Alice’s landing on the rooftop, which is a really exciting moment in the film, we’re creating a mythical LA with a barren, burned-out, postapocalyptic landscape. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. Every time you see it, it’s a digital effect. We’re really excited about it; there’s a lot of design stuff to sink our teeth into.
This is actually my fourth movie with Paul Anderson—I collaborated with him on DEATH RACE as well—and he really appreciates that I come to the table with ideas. I try to bring a design component to visual effects—and we’re not just taking a “post” mentality, but pitching and previsualizing and trying to interpret the story and bring him ideas for shots. And he loves that. I’m proud to say that we designed some key AFTERLIFE scenes in tandem with Paul, and we do have a real sense of partnership on this film. Paul’s great to work with because he encourages that.
FANG: What’s Anderson like to work with?
BERARDI: He’s great. He’s demanding, he’s collaborative, and he’s open to design ideas. That’s the attraction for me; I really enjoying trying to interpret a scripted moment into an image, pitching concepts…it’s just a big rush when your ideas actually make it into the movie and you see them on screen. That’s just the best thing.
FANG: You’re working in HD on this one. How has that affected the visual FX?
BERARDI: The Sony F35 camera is fantastic, the quality is amazing, and because it’s stereoscopic, you do get the benefit of working in a slightly lower resolution. But you have to worry about the right channel, so it’s double the images. We haven’t experienced any benefits from working in HD as opposed to 2K or 4K, because it’s stereoscopic. On the big screen, the images look fantastic, and that’s why the F35 system is great. But then again, it’s a mixed medium, because we have footage from previous movies. And having done both of the last movies as well, some of our assets have carried over. But we’ve been able to benefit from certain design components, and we’ve got a pretty cool crowd simulation going from the last movie. It’s great to have the foundations from the previous movie as a design cue and to be put into a position to design, apply and elevate it. It’s rare; normally you have to walk away from a project, but here I feel like we get our second, third or fourth chance to do a better effect. We’re really excited about Los Angeles; the look and feel is going to be great. We’re excited about the Tokyo component, the Majinis’ maws we’re doing—tentacle-type things.
FANG: How about the cloning of Alice?
BERARDI: It’s a movie about clones. We have a lot of them. We’ve been shooting motion-control photography for multiple passes on Alice. The nice thing about this film is that the franchise, by definition, builds in the ability to use big special-effects photography techniques. It’s a great hybrid of both digital and practical photography and full-on CGI. We’re doing photo doubles of Alice digitally, which will hold up in medium to wide shots. We’re doing digital photo doubles, stunt doubles for Wesker [Shawn Roberts] and Luther [Boris Kodjoe], so for this one we’re using all the tricks in order to get this look.
FANG: Have you had a hand in any of Paul Jones’ zombie design work?
BERARDI: Inasmuch as we were in on the collaboration. Paul really, really tried to push it. We had more of an urban look to the zombies in APOCALYPSE and a sort of desert/sandy look in EXTINCTION, and he wanted this one to go in a different direction, and he found it.
FANG: What do you think the appeal of RESIDENT EVIL is that has made it such an enduring series?
BERARDI: It’s just a fun, fun franchise. You have Milla, who plays Alice, on a suspenseful, mysterious journey. There’s a classic bad guy, Wesker, in the story, and a corporation. It’s an analogy to some of the wrongs in the world. The action is great, visually it’s terrific, and there’s a strong entertainment value; it doesn’t take itself too seriously as well. They’re great to look at, fun to watch. What’s wrong with that?
Stop back on Wednesday for part two of our interview with RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson. And check out FANGORIA #296 (on sale this month), featuring an all-different AFTERLIFE set-visit cover story.
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