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VFX supervisor Andrew McPhillips at SpinVFX and colourist Siggy Ferstl at Company 3 tell here how they working in DaVinci Resolve Studio to bring George Forman’s life and fights to the screen in the new film 'Big George Foreman'.

‘Big George Foreman’ follows the life and fights of Heavyweight Champion George Foreman. Visual effects studio SpinVFX in Toronto helped create the ringside effects for Foreman’s many critical boxing matches, starting in the 1960s and continuing through the 1990s when he was crowned the oldest heavyweight champion in the world.

Led by VFX Supervisor Andrew McPhillips, the SpinVFX team helped create effects and looks appropriate to the period for each of Foreman’s notable boxing matches in the film. Andrew said, “Since the film is based on a true story, we were able to reference the actual crowds and rings from each of these matches. Everything began in pre-production with Director George Tillman Jr.’s detailed colour script and ran through post using different looks and colour palettes to tell the distinct story for each of the fights.”

The SpinVFX team worked on 10 fights for the film, each requiring a distinct look inside and outside of the ring. For example, when creating cheering crowds for Foreman’s first fights in the 1960s, SpinVFX used more of a harmonious palette of browns and blues. Then, for The Rumble in the Jungle fight pitting him against Muhammad Ali in the mid 1970s, the environment turned more garish and colourful. As well as reflecting the actual crowds and fashions of the time, these looks also mirrored Foreman’s emotions and life outside the ring to aid in the film’s storytelling.

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“The costume department spent a lot of time making sure the details were historically accurate and following the colour script. We took photogrammetry scans of the crowd during production and used them as the basis for our background shots, which we then keyed and brought into DaVinci Resolve Studio for the look development phase,” said Andrew.

“DaVinci Resolve Studio really let us try out different looks and brainstorm the approach we wanted to take for each fight. Before we began designing the VFX lighting and backgrounds, we played around with different colour stories that enhanced the work already done by the costume department and set design. We used Resolve to build themes for each of the crowd scenes.”

Giving each fight its own defined look for the VFX gave us a chance to play with the nuances of colour within the historical palettes. Since the film is based on a true story, being able to look back at photos of the actual fights and build the story from there was an interesting task, whether it was emphasising bright, happy colours for the Moorer fight in the 1990s, or more of a monochrome look with occasional hits of bright yellow, blue and pastels for the gold medal Olympics fight vs. Čepulis in 1968.

Andrew noted that DaVinci Resolve Studio’s ease of use allowed them to quickly manipulate the images so they could focus on the creative and not get held back by technical aspects. “DaVinci Resolve Studio was crucial during the concept phase. We used the colour wheels to try out different palettes, which allowed us to flex our creative muscles,” he remarked. “While we wanted to have fun and test out different looks, we also needed to make sure we were laying the groundwork for the final VFX. Colour consistency was key. Resolve made that fairly simple, since we had a MacBeth chart and could quickly use the built-in colour match tool to ensure tones were correctly graded throughout.”

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SpinVFX aims to base their work on creativity, so having tools that allow them the freedom to explore different concepts without losing valuable time makes a huge difference. Andrew said, “Especially for a film like this where we wanted to have such distinct looks for each of Foreman’s boxing matches to help show the different years and phases of his life, that creative process was key. DaVinci Resolve Studio made the look development phase quite simple and, more importantly, fun.”

Siggy Ferstl at Company 3

Senior Colourist Siggy Ferstl of Company 3 was the colourist for the film and also worked in DaVinci Resolve Studio, collaborating with the Director George Tillman Jr and Cinematographer John Matysiak to develop period looks that aided in distinguishing the different decades and fights of Foreman’s life, while balancing the overall story with a distinct, harmonious look that maintained consistency throughout the film.

He said, “We used Resolve’s magic mask for object isolation and tracking, which simplified the process of selecting individual characters and separating foregrounds and backgrounds for different types of corrections in the fight scenes.

“For some fights, we brought down the crowd ‘exposure’ in the grade to add contrast and break things up a bit, creating darker and lighter areas in the frame. We also used Resolve’s Open FX tools to add in little additional touches like lens reflection, flare and glow effects in some of the boxing matches to help integrate the foreground and background.”

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Siggy was able to help the filmmakers distinguish not only the different time periods but also the different locations of Foreman’s fights. “Each fight is at a different venue, so we gave each one a distinct look,” he said. “He’s touring the world, fighting in Mexico, Zaire and Jamaica, so each boxing ring was different. We’d use what was shot and accentuate certain elements, always playing off the photography.

“For example, some rings were more of a powdery blue, while some others were a rich, deep blue and we enhanced those differences. We also adjusted the colour temperature in different fights to emphasise different locations. Sometimes we’d have the scene look more tungsten in colour, and at other times we let the space have a clean daylight look with neutral blues.”

In the fight set in Las Vegas in the 1990s, he noted, “Everything is cleaner and brighter, and we didn’t add lens flares as we had for earlier fights. Then for a flashback sequence during a pivotal fight, we see scenes from throughout his life, when we created an overall desaturated look and heavily vignetted the frame to give the flashback its own character.”

Further, Siggy used Resolve’s grain tools to add film grain on top of the digitally shot images, not so much to literally emulate film, but more as a means of subtly enhancing the imagery.

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“We came up with a nice grain pattern for the film, which we varied throughout, adjusting for the look and texture. Resolve’s film grain tool comes with a lot of controls to manipulate the grain beyond just sizing, texture and strength. I could also control how pronounced it was on different colour channels or different parts of the grayscale.

“It really came in handy and was effective when we wanted to add some texture to the image. For example, for an important scene inside a church, the actual location had very sparse walls, so by introducing a little more grain there, it just adds a very subtle amount of texture that we all liked.”