DEFINITION - April 2020 - Web


D irector of Guns Akimbo , Jason Lei Howden, started his creative life as a VFX artist working on some major CG movies like War for the Planet of the Apes and Avengers Assemble . But he was bound for higher things, and in 2015 he wrote and directed Deathgasm , a zombie flick with plenty of cool VFX in between the death metal-driven teen-killing plot. It’s a similar career to another VFX artist turned writer/director, Neill Blomkamp, who, after a lower-profile VFX career to Lei Howden’s, wrote and directed movies like 2009’s District 9 and 2015’s Chappie . He’s now making digital movies using the Unity game engine and generally pushing the digital filmmaking envelope. Lei Howden has now made Guns Akimbo , a high-intensity independent movie with plenty of SFX and VFX, starring Daniel Radcliffe. The premise of the movie involves a psychotic gang, Skizm, which uses members of the public for a Hunger Games -type fight to the death. Think Mad Max meets Hunted meets 6 Underground . DOP and architect of the ensuing mayhem of Guns Akimbo is Stefan Ciupek; a creative artist and technologist who has been at the forefront of digital cinematography since operating on Alexander Sokurov’s epic one-shot opus Russian Ark back in the early 2000s. He was also one of the camera operators for Slumdog Millionaire , and

was vitally important in making all the smaller cameras work in 127 Hours . His fruitful relationship with Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle started with Dear Wendy in 2005 up to Dredd in 2012. Ciupek now earns his living as a cinematographer, recently shooting the luscious period drama The Spanish Princess and sci-fi thriller, Synapse . CULTURAL REFERENCES Ciupek remembers reading the script for Guns Akimbo for a number of reasons. “It was the most insane script I’d ever read – and I’ve read many scripts,” he says. “It’s a rollercoaster ride without stopping with one action scene after another; it could easily have the budget of a Mission Impossible or a Bond movie. I’d always wanted to do an action movie; my usual film is more of a straight drama or contemporary piece. This was more of a graphic-novel movie like Sin City , for example, and I thought our film was going to be like that.” He continues: “Jason saw the movie as a possible new version of 1987’s The Running Man and with inspiration from the Terminator movies. But on his mood board

there were lots of stills from Dredd – the 3D film I did with Anthony. That became an interesting starting point for me to get the job. But how do you reference all those eighties movies and still be modern? I felt like this movie had to be groundbreakingly new. Luckily, Jason was very open to other references as well – I saw the look was more graphic novel.” PREVIS POLARISATION The world of previs is stretching itself out and polarising. At the highest end, there are complex game engine animations with real physics behind them to ground you in reality. At the bottom end, you have storyboards and references. Lei Howden had his renders for Guns Akimbo, which was the way he worked when he was in VFX for movies like The Hobbit films. Ciupek explains how both the systems evolved for the movie. “Jason already had animatics of scenes instead of storyboards – they were pre-rendered scenes so he had very good idea of what he wanted. For me, it was a bit too pre-formulated; he’d pretty much shot-listed the whole scene as an animatic. You could see it on playback, and I just thought there could be more to it.

The best way to proceed is to have a plan, but to leave yourself some room to see new angles

APR I L 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 19

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