Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
VFX Supervisor: Ara Khanikian
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release date: 14/11/14

"It was a great honour working with such a talented and renowned Director as Alejandro González Iñárritu and Oscar-winning Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki. By collaborating with these incredibly passionate film makers, we knew that we would have the privilege of creating some exceptional images for an extraordinary movie."

− Sebastien Moreau, Rodeo FX President

Rodeo FX is proud to have created the visual effects for the eagerly awaited movie Birdman by Mexican Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Biutiful). The Montreal studio produced all of the visual FX work involved in the movie from the highly spectacular to the nearly imperceptible.
At the surface Birdman’s fluid and poetic images appear to have been created organically and free of any post-production efforts, yet a team of more than 75 visual effects artists, project managers and technicians worked for more than four months on this dark comedy that is already getting a considerable Oscar buzz.

Giant Steampunk Eagle

In one of the most memorable scenes, SWAT teams fight-off a giant steampunk eagle as the screeching bird destroys everything around him. “At our very first meeting with Alejandro he gave us the freedom to conceive and conceptualize the look and movement of this creature, a process we enjoyed so much that we even built a back-story for its armour”, says Executive Producer Jordan Soles. In this sequence, washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) -famous for portraying the iconic superhero Birdman on film- wanders aimlessly in the streets of New York with the Birdman character following closely behind and goading him into returning back to his superhero form. The streets suddenly appear to transform into a war-zone and a monstrous eagle starts firing and destroying everything around him. Rodeo FX not only conceived, designed and created this digital creature, they also generated the CG helicopters, missiles, explosions, and Birdman’s wings.

Riggan takes a leap

As Riggan emerges from this fantastical destruction sequence, he rises to a new consciousness, levitating to the top ledge of a multi-storey building, a remarkable technical accomplishment made possible through a combination of visual effects and a well planned and executed shoot by the production team and Rodeo FX. The same method was used to create the ensuing sequence in which Riggan jumps off the roof and soars like a bird through the streets of New York, landing in front of the St. James Theater. Rodeo FX was instrumental to the planning of this shoot: “We built a team to quickly generate a previsualization of the entire sequence that was used by Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his DP “Chivo” as reference when filming”, says Isabelle Langlois, Head of Production.

Strength of mind

Another memorable and striking sequence of this dark comedy is the scene in which Riggan storms into his dressing room after a fight with Edward Norton’s character. In a display of anger, he uses his telekinetic abilities to trash various objects in his dressing room including throwing his makeup box against the wall, exploding light bulbs, blasting his wooden chair, and smashing a Birdman poster against the wall. All of the props that get destroyed in this fit of rage were modeled, textured and animated by the artists at Rodeo FX, based on “on-set” photography, as well as photo-models of the actual props surveyed in their studios.

While these spectacular sequences showcase Rodeo FX’s visual effects accomplishments, this film also proves that sometimes the best visual effects are those which are imperceptible as they seamlessly integrate into the beautiful cinematography and contribute to the fluidity and precise rhythm required by Iñárritu. This was a painstaking and technical exercise, which required not only the artists’ talent and hard work, but also a selection of software and custom scripts written specifically for this project. Rodeo FX takes great pride in achieving this imperceptible work. “It is always great to create seamless visual effects that serve the story”, says VFX Supervisor Ara Khanikian. “We contribute to the magic of the movie, supporting an amazing story that will carry away the audience with its intense emotional currents”, he concludes.

For more details about our work on Birdman: FX Guide article, FX Guide podcast, Below the Line, Digital Arts Online