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J. Edgar

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Clint Eastwood directed this film that follows J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DeCaprio) throughout his controversial 50-year career. Method Studios in Vancouver helped the production create virtual locations for some of the key events in Hoover’s life and work, such as presidential inaugurations and the Chicago race riots.


Two inaugural motorcades factor heavily into the film, the first for Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and the second for Richard Nixon in 1969. Method recreated different digital versions of Pennsylvania Avenue for each time period, adding cars, buildings and crowds and "aging" the trees along the roadway appropriately. The scenes, both from the perspective of Hoover’s office balcony, show people waving, Secret Service agents, police, military personnel and marching bands--all of which started out as digital motion-capture performances, which Method then animated and composited into the scene.

The company oversaw several motion-capture sessions in which groups of four to six actors, walked in step with one another to represent the movement of groups of participants. After capturing the first group's movements, they would play back the previous capture and the actors would repeat the behavior in sync. This allowed Method's team to subsequently create "blocks" of figures that could quickly be broken down to consist of as many or as few people as required for a particular portion of the scene. Method made extensive use of Massive software in conjunction with Houdini to build up virtual crowds that could be repositioned, relit and reanimated--in isolation or in groups--right up until the final compositing stage.

Artists also made use of Houdini for shots from vehicle interiors to replicate era-appropriate flags and decorations. Additionally, they placed detailed shadows and reflections into CG cars, windows and buildings to help sell the reality of the scene. 

Method made extensive use of current and historic photographic references of Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as LIDAR scans of the area, which they then used as the basis of 3D models.


J. Edgar is filled with historic moments, many of which play for a very short time on screen but nonetheless required a significant amount of visual effects work. One significant example is the Chicago race riots of 1968, a whole scene of social upheaval and pandemonium that essentially occurs in a single, sweeping shot.

Very early on in the preproduction phase, VFX Supervisor Geoff Hancock and his team created pre-vis elements of a craning camera moving through a street that could show the fire and destruction both at street level and from a rooftop position. This helped everyone involved get a very clear sense of what would be involved in recreating elements on a real city street or whether it made more sense to do the whole sequence virtually.

Ultimately, the Method team created a virtual matte painting of the scene based on a vast collection of historic photographs and then composited in 2D fire elements along with virtual flames. Artists added further vibrancy to the effect by simulating blackouts cascading into the distance as the effects of the riots knocked out the city's power. Finally, Method's artists added fine details of smoke and reflections and shadows to bring the shot to life.


  • Environments
  • Crowd simulation
  • Hard surface
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