Films based on videogames have a bad reputation. It's not all that surprising given the number that have turned out to be howlers over the years, but thankfully some, at least, have turned out to be hugely entertaining.
Take the live-action Resident Evil films starring Milla Jovovich, for example; they may have taken liberties with regards to certain aspects of the videogame's world, but in their own right they're solid action movies featuring the monsters, characters and locations that we've come to know and love. Commercially they've been a huge hit too, grossing over a billion pounds combined.
The latest Resident Evil film, sub-titled The Final Chapter, was released on Blu-ray and DVD on 12th June, and if you've not seen it yet, trust me, visually it's an absolute treat. Credit for the film's eye-catching splendour in part goes to Dennis Berardi, the VFX Supervisor on five of the six films whose job it is to parse the script and director Paul W S Anderson's vision to create the images that fans are going to love.
Dennis told me that the scene in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter he's most proud of is one in which Milla Jovovich's character, Alice, zip-lines down into a 10,000 strong horde of zombies, the building they're pouring into then being engulfed in flames.
"It's quite an achievement for us on the digital side," he says, "because we had to create our own fire - a directable kind of fire simulation system in the computer that Paul needed to be able to direct as if he was directing on set."
The way the monsters of Resident Evil are implemented into the films is also a high point, and one that requires a great deal of skill on behalf of the actors, directors and VFX team.
In one particularly notable encounter, Alice comes face to face with a Bloodshot, a grotesque enemy from Resident Evil 6 (the game). With the creature completely digitally animated, extra care is understandably required when choreographing the scene to make sure the action appears visceral and authentic.
"We had a mo-cap stunt man on set, with a motion capture suit... it gave Mila a physical being to react to," says Dennis, whose main agenda was "to guide the process and remind people that the Bloodshot would be this high, eyeline should be here, and the action should be this way."
But what about the instances in which a stand-in for a monster can't be used, I ask. "In those cases we focus on Milla's action; we focus on eyelines and action choreography as if the creature was there. At this point, Milla is so good at this stuff she just imagines it and can act as if it's there, which is great”
Back to The Hive
Alice, Jovovich’s character, has one goal in The Final Chapter. She wants to return to The Hive, the place in Racoon City where her story first started. For those who have seen the original film, one scene in particular is iconic - the laser hallway - and brilliantly it makes an exhilarating return here.
"We covered it with soot, and Edward Thomas, the production designer did a beautiful job in telling the story that this was the same laser hallway in the underground facility," Dennis enthuses.
I have to admit, having seen all the movies, the moment Alice entered that familiar hallway filled me with joy. It did the production team too:
"Paul's mantra for that whole sequence is 'nobody's going to get out of this fight unscathed'. You know, limbs, body parts; he wanted real jeopardy and real action, and so we choreographed probably the strongest fight sequence of the franchise in that laser hallway."
So revisiting such an iconic location clearly paid off. But this doesn’t mean filming was easy.
"On the day we filmed that - we filmed it over a week, actually - we'd say, okay where would the lasers be now? And we'd show where they would be, and they'd do their stunt, and they'd pretend to move out of the laser just in time. It's a very abstract thing for an actor to move out of the way of something that's not there."
Return of the Red Queen
The hallway isn’t the only element of the first film that is returning. The Red Queen also puts in an appearance in The Final Chapter, and perhaps best illustrates how visual effects have improved since the first film in 2002. And this time around, she was played by Paul and Milla's daughter, Ever.
"She was a trooper," says Dennis. "We took all those takes and put her in various environments throughout the movie - and added the hologram effect. So Ever's performance is real, however we filmed her on a green screen then integrated her into various scenes and added a dimensional projection holographic effect, so that was a really nice hybrid of all departments there."
As the film reaches its action packed climax, we get to witness an older, aged Alice. And it shows that there’s still a place in a CGI-packed blockbuster for more practical effects.
"That was in-camera, with wonderful make-up work." Dennis tells me. "Milla had a lot to do with that, and great cinematography. We did a little enhancement here and there to help it, but for the most part, the older Alice was in camera."
Wrapping things up, I asked Dennis just what kind of planning goes into making a visual-effects laden film like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. As you might imagine, it’s hard work.
"A lot of it is very technical...we need to be able to scan the actors, scan the environments, and recreate the set digitally and photographically so we're not breaking the illusion for the audience. Everything - all the action sequences were storyboarded and pre-visualised, and re-edited to just to get a sense." Dennis explained. Working with Anderson and Jovovich though, made it easier.
"Because we were all so familiar, we could block shoot, you know? Block shooting isn't recommended because it can be very confusing. You have to jump around temporally in a sequence to shoot all the angles, but with Paul and Milla in this experienced team, and [because] we had the baseline of the pre-visualised sequence, we were able to say, okay, in a workman's way, check off the shots. 'We got this, we got that, we got the backflip, she jumps off the transporter and lands here...'. It becomes a very mechanical process of execution."
Creating a film that looks as good as Resident Evil is no walk in the park then, but with a solid team and effective collaboration, great results can be achieved. Here’s hoping that it isn’t really The Final Chapter.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD.