Befores and Afters, May 9, 2023, Ian Failes – image by ILM
“On a larger ‘disaster’ movie or even larger Spielberg film, realizing a tornado sequence might be par for the course. But this was just a short moment in The Fabelmans, a film that also had a considerably less budget than his other blockbusters.
Furthermore, the filmmakers were not looking to travel to New Jersey to film this particular sequence, but instead remain on the west coast. The task was therefore set to visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman, from Industrial Light & Magic, for a way of bringing the tornado scene efficiently to life.
Helman began by considering the different methodologies available to actually capture the sequence. “One way was to do the journey in the car for real or film it on a ‘process car’. But of course with Steven there’s a whole lot of camera movement and dialogue and storytelling going on in there, and children who need to be in the car. So process was out of the question.”
“We could also have done it on a bluescreen. I don’t personally like bluescreen work, mainly because of the lighting. It’s very difficult to get the lighting correct and to marry whatever you’re seeing outside with whatever is happening inside the car. For me, lighting is about 80% of the images that we make. If we don’t have the lighting, we’ve got nothing. I’ve also found that you can never escape what you shoot. In other words, you can change it a little bit and you can mitigate some of the problems, but it’s very, very difficult to make it look believable.”
Enter ILM StageCraft
Shooting on one of ILM’s StageCraft volumes was Helman’s next consideration, and of course the one the filmmakers chose. ILM has for several years now been perfecting and refining their StageCraft set of virtual production tools used on such projects as The Mandalorian, and they seemed to fit Spielberg’s needs here. That was despite the fact the filmmaker had never done LED wall shooting previously.
“We really wanted an opportunity for him to take a look at it and to see how he felt,” says Helman. “Steven is a very visual guy. Obviously he takes to technology really quickly, but, you know, ILM StageCraft is a completely different way of working. You have to do production design at the front and you have to be creative about budgeting because it’s a different way of working. You have to make decisions early. However, this was a perfect project since we didn’t have to come up with CG assets, per se, because it was a journey, and we also needed to get up and running very quickly. Which we did.” Continue reading