MPC Film and Mr X spearhead VFX of depths of the unknown in Ad Astra

Member News  |  10 October 2019

The paranoid space thriller follows Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) on a mission across the solar system to uncover the truth of his father’s disappearance, with visual effects from MPC film and Mr X.

Ad Astra. Image credit: MPC Film

In the vision of director James Gray, MPC’s VFX Supervisors Guillaume Rocheron, Chris Downs and Simon Jones created a visual style leaning towards realism over fantasy.

MPC Film was the lead studio on Ad Astra, delivering 198 shots with MPC Vancouver, London and Bangalore working on the project.

The visual effects work focused on scientific accuracy. The brightness and exposure levels between stars and surrounding assets, the defining look of materials and even how the assets were built, were all considered when following Gray’s overall vision for the look and feel of the film. A lot of attention was put into the small details including light exposure, the exposure of the image depended on the distance from the Sun over the length of Roy’s journey throughout space.

When working on the environments of Ad Astra, which included the launch base on Earth, the city on the Moon, Mars and the rings of Neptune, MPC gathered as much reference material as possible. The North Pole was used as a reference for the creation of the Moon because of the recent findings of water on its surface. By gathering all of the height field data available and rebuilding the environment from there, real world light direction was also studied. The development of the Moon base was particularly complicated. It went through several concept designs before falling in line with Gray’s vision of having a clean and streamlined base, but large and grand in nature.

MPC used Terragen to recreate the planets and broke down these shots into more complex data sets for greater control of the intricate details. The team also built a realistic star field pulling in data from NASA with world accurate star brightness values rendered out as an HDRI for per-shot projection. MPC worked with Technicolor VFX studio Mr X to tackle the scale and to define the look of Neptune and its rings.

One of the biggest assets MPC created was Cepheus, the main ship Roy uses to travel across the solar system. Similar to the moon base, the concept art for Cepheus was highly developed, down to its ISS style sections and smaller outer detail. Particular care and attention were put towards creating realistic smoke plumes for the take-off of the ship.

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