Shooting The Dustwalker’s alien dust storm in outback WA

Cinema Australia Original Content:

The Dustwalker.

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by Sandra Sciberras (Director, The Dustwalker)

The Dustwalker is my second film working with visual effects in a way that I hadn’t before and in ways that I would do again, and again if I have the opportunity. There is something about working with green screen and CGI that makes directing drama more exciting. It pushes everyone’s imagination from reading the script, to being on set, to waiting impatiently for post-production to be completed. 

One of my favourite scenes from The Dustwalker is the dust storm. Directing Cassandra Magrath in a make-shift green screen shed (and I mean shed) in the middle of Cue, Western Australia because we ran out of interior scenes we could shoot when it rained was one of my highlights. It was not something planned or expected but when gaffer Mathew Smith disappeared from set and quickly set up the last bits of greenscreen he brought in the back of the truck from Melbourne and lit it just as quickly while director of photography Dave Le May and I were shooting hard and fast just outside, I suddenly found myself shooting a fairly elaborate scene completely not how I had imagined. Second unit had already done some shooting with Cassandra in a car driving in the desert, so I knew we had to use those shots to intercut with what we were about to do in greenscreen and then make sure we had enough (correct) shots to intercut with what would eventually be the dust storm surrounding the car. 

It wasn’t easy that’s for sure but considering we had a monster alien that was going to be one hundred percent CGI still to be shot, I knew this scene was all about camera angles, lighting and great acting. Those three elements are the key to all good greenscreen scenes. Shooting extra shots from all angles to cover different approaches to the scene in the editing room is great, but I knew we would be smarter to just be more specific. Making sure Cassandra looked in the right direction as she looked out the windscreen or to the side windows were going to dictate how much dust storm I would have to create later, so at times we really had to remember to frame out the windows and just have her in the frame to avoid more cost!

Behind the scenes of The Dustwalker.

Human CGI and creating an Infected in a Virus Film.

Bringing visual effects and animator John Francis into the team to create some of our biggest visual effect sequences impacted the realisation of the Infected in some very cool ways. The poor souls who run around with this virus aren’t zombies, they’re in and out of being human, but when they ‘turn’, they attack what, where and who they know first, like turning up at school because they would normally be picking up their kid, or standing outside your house waiting, and waiting because you know you’re supposed to be home. The Infected had to have a story that showed the internal struggle of the real human inside an infected mind. Some are physically stronger than they were, some are more distant, but all are eventually aggressive, dangerous and un-saveable. So how on earth do you show that on a budget like ours? I asked John Francis, creator of the visual effects for the Infected for his thoughts and process.

One of the Infected in The Dustwalker.

Infected VFX – Digital makeup in motion

The visual effects approach for the infections was to go beyond what could be achieved with makeup and prosthetics. The intent was to show the infected condition as a progressing and living organism. In most shots, the infections were either spreading or pulsing in some form, always moving rather than static. Most shots of the actors that required VFX infection enhancements had no marker guides from the principle shoot, and therefore, the actual facial features were used.

The various types of infections were at first digitally designed and created into a variety of stages. These infections were then animated to grow from an embryo stage to full grown. The variations included veins growing and pulsing and flesh wounds festering in a similar fashion to viewing mutating bacteria under a microscope. Eventually, a library of infections and their stages of development were set up and used accordingly based on story requirements.

Once the actor’s faces were tracked, the animated infections were composited and blended into the skin tone of the actor. Matching displacement maps of the infections were also generated to create the illusion that the veins were raised and bulging on the skin rather than a flat tattoo-like appearance. John Francis

You can catch The Dustwalker at the select cinemas below.

Star Court Theatre
December 14th, 7:00PM

Cineplex Redbank Plaza
December 16th, 2:00PM
New Farm Cinemas
December 16th, 7:00PM
December 23rd, 7:00PM
Tickets available at Eventbrite
LIDO (vic)
December 22nd, 7:00PM
Mitcham Cinemas
December 17th, 7:00 PM
GU Film House Glenelg
December 20th 2:00PM…/the-dustwalker-tickets

Wallis Cinemas Mt. Barker South Australia
December 23rd 7:00PM

LIDO Cinemas Victoria
December 22nd 7:00PM

Star Court Theatre Lismore NSW
January 5th, 7:00PM

One thought on “Shooting The Dustwalker’s alien dust storm in outback WA

  1. Pingback: Weekend Viewing: 4 Australian films new to VOD | Cinema Australia

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