The fourth instalment of the high-octane John Wick franchise has landed in cinemas and does not fail in its promise to fans.
"John Wick: Chapter 4 has the most action of any of the [John Wick] films, which is saying a lot" says its star, Keanu Reeves, and we certainly know what he means. NVIZ had the pleasure of coming on board to work on the film early in production. A highlight of the work was to execute production’s concept of a labyrinthine action fight sequence, which takes place in a Paris apartment.
The film is directed by Chad Stahelski, a long time collaborator with Reeves, and the director of the first John Wick movie in 2014. Our main point of contact on the project was VFX Supervisor, Jonathan Rothbart, who worked alongside our VFX Supervisor, Richard Clarke, to create a compelling and workable visualisation of this intricate, travelling action scene, through a process of Previs and Techvis.
“Jonathan was a wonderful VFX Supervisor to work with” recalls Clarke, “He was driven to utilise the Previs process to work out the many aspects and constraints of a unique sequence and he was amazingly helpful.”
In the sequence Wick must battle his way, room by room, through a large Paris apartment, encountering and killing deadly opponents, while thwarted by various obstacles. The main requirement for the Previs was to help plan the logistics of the set in a classic 90’s, 2D, ‘shooter’ game style and to assist the stunt performers in choreographing their performances. The action is designed from a top-down view that allows for a fast-paced, free flow of movement without the interruption of cuts.
As Wick navigates through the rooms he is relentlessly deterred by assailants and physical obstacles. All the while, the audience can see what is coming next before he can.
As the scene was going to be very complicated to film, the Previs stage was essential to layout the action to the best effect by helping to inform the decision-making process on requirements for the set build and the stunt performances.
The stunt team had captured an initial pass of Stuntvis which was recorded on a two level environment. Questions still remained on how to resolve some of the practical and creative issues and production turned to us to create Previs for this purpose.
Still from the Stuntvis, courtesy of Lionsgate.
Using this Stuntvis recording and Art Dept set designs, the NVIZ team created the set in Maya and blocked out the shots. This involved creating a pseudo maze with the layout out of props, such as stacks of paper, columns, door frames, bars, pianos and gaping holes in the floor for the performers to hide behind, or fall victim to.
Storyboard panel, courtesy of Lionsgate.
A collaborative effort ensued, where the stunt team reworked their stunts based on the Previs, enabling important decisions to be made, such as the call to keep the action one level, to use a spider cam, how to use the space, and very specific timings actions. The result was optimised material that could be utilised in various ways; such as one long cut or with the option to take the camera down to ground level and back up to bird’s eye view again.
To add to the mayhem, while moving through this maze, Wick is shooting with a shotgun that has a ‘dragon’s breath” cartridge (a phosphorescent cartridge), which causes everything he shoots at to ignite, including the surroundings and the assailants. Once these layers of fire and more specific interactions began to come into play it provided even more information for the stunt team to assist in the accuracy of their planning.
The work is a multi-layered and collaborative process of designing the stunts and cameras from the most basic stages to complicated finishing touches.
"Throughout, the action is gobsmacking, with inventive set-pieces including an aerial view of a brawl smashing through a succession of rooms..." - Empire
"The marquis keeps trying to assassinate Wick before the morning of the duel, and this results in several delectable fight sequences. ...one is shot thrillingly from an overhead doll’s-house view.." - Variety
"The entire film is a showcase for director Chad Stahelski as one of the best action filmmakers we have today — especially the last hour. An extended fight sequence uses a god's eye view to guide us through a Parisian apartment, providing an impeccable map of the battle playing out below us." - Mashable