Tuesday, July 17, 2018
  • Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016
Striving For ZERO Trace of VFX In "The Magnificent Seven"
VFX supervisor Sean Devereaux, co-founder of ZERO VFX
Effects studio continues collaboration with director Antoine Fuqua
  • --

ZERO VFX is aptly named, reflecting a mantra which calls for effects to be “invisible,” according to visual effects supervisor Sean Devereaux who co-founded the studio with Brian Drewes nearly seven years ago. The latest prime example of this working philosophy being applied is The Magnificent Seven, director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of John Sturges’ 1960 Western, which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Fuqua’s film, a Sony Pictures’ release, features a cast which includes Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt heading a group of seven renegades (the others played by Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier) who attempt to save a terrorized town from a greedy industrialist (portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard) and against seemingly insurmountable odds. 

ZERO VFX took the lensing locales of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, associated with swamps and the like, and transformed them into arid, cinematic, distinctly mountainous landscapes akin to what’s found in Texas. ZERO’s role had to be invisible so that viewers would readily accept the venues as being real. (While principal photography was in Louisiana, The Magnificent Seven also entailed lensing in such states as New Mexico and Colorado.)

Trying to recreate a place within the confines of backdrops that were often the antithesis of what was desired posed varied challenges. “The mountains had to be picturesque and enclose the action--you could not escape the battle,” related Devereaux. “Also the mountains [in Texas] are very arid and dry. We couldn’t include the foliage that was so prominent in Baton Rouge. It took months and months of work to create the desired sense of place. There was a lot of concept work in the early stages, including pre-vis, to get the final mountain shots approved.”

Besides the breathtaking vistas, ZERO also created blood squibs, bullet hits, explosions, arrow launches, projectiles and more to result in the deaths of more than 250 characters across the Western’s intense shootouts.

“The battle scenes had to be huge and epic,” said Devereaux. “We had the benefit of having an amazing stunt team--and an incredible cast doing a lot of their own stunts. There were 150 horses, explosions kicking up dust and dirt, adding ridiculous amounts of soot into the air. We had to add smoke to define the look of the last act. Every scene was touched in some way by an effect but our job was to make sure that wasn’t apparent to the audience.”

Devereaux, who supervised effects for the entire film, said that there was a total of some 900 VFX shots, with 700 or so done by ZERO, which deployed 80 people from its offices in Venice, Calif., and Boston.

The size of the workforce deployed is quite a jump up from ZERO’s humble beginnings with three people working in Devereaux’s garage in Newton, Mass. Devereaux got his education in the VFX industry at several houses. He broke in as an intern at Digital Domain. Two weeks into his internship, he was hired and came up the ranks there during an eight-year tenure spanning features and commercials. He went on to such shops as Asylum VFX, Motion Theory and spent nearly a year at ILM working on Transformers

ZERO co-founder Drewes is CEO of the effects house. With 20-plus years experience in the VFX industry, he has produced effects for hundreds of commercials and more than 20 features. He also oversaw the development of Zync Render, which was sold to Google in 2014.

3rd Fuqua film
Since its launch in January 2010, ZERO has steadily grown over the years with a diet of commercials and a break into features, handling 13 VFX shots on the Frank Coraci-directed Zookeeper. The studio has gone on to contribute to such theatrical motion pictures as director Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry, Scott Cooper’s Black Mass and Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters. ZERO’s collaborative relationship with filmmaker Fuqua (who directs commercials via production house Wondros) has been integral to the VFX house’s growth. 

“Our first film together was The Equalizer,” recalled Devereaux. “Antoine gave a small shop in Boston a chance to work on that film. I owe a lot to him. At that point we were a 25-person shop in  Boston and getting the opportunity to work with Antoine and Denzel Washington on that film was a big deal.” Washington starred in the title role as a former commando living a quiet life in Boston when the disappearance of a prostitute acquaintance (Chloe Grace Moretz) lures him into a battle with the Russian mafia.

Next ZERO teamed with Fuqua on Southpaw, a boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a light heavyweight champ. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter wrote the script about a fighter’s fall from grace and struggle to get his daughter back.

Now The Magnificent Seven marks ZERO’s third movie for Fuqua. “Working with Antoine has been one of the highlights of my career,” affirmed Devereaux. “Collaboratively speaking he is as good a creative partner as you could hope for. If in the middle of this interview with you I got a call from Antonie to go to Alaska for a shoot, I’d start packing and be out the door to meet him. His work ethic is second to none.”