\ Recreating 300's Epic Cliff Jump Shot By Fractal Visuals
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Recreating 300's Epic Cliff Jump Shot By Fractal Visuals

By John Byron Hanby, IV


Few shots were more iconic than the epic cliff jump shot in Zack Snyder's 300 when Leonidas is traveling to meet with the Ephors. The seemingly unreachable ledge that may just be within grasp, given the proper motivation, stuck with director John Byron Hanby, IV and 10 years later he was lucky enough to be able to pay homage to 300 while Fractal Visuals (www.fractalvisuals.com) was making a short film to Silversun Pickup's (www.silversunpickups.com) "Ragamuffin." 

Hanby walks us through the process of how his team at Fractal Visuals accomplished the epic jump.



Here's how they did it:

I started by breaking down the shot and figuring out how I wanted to execute each part. Separating the shot into pieces always makes things easier to tackle.
  1. Building the Cliff
  2. Super Jump (Jumping 15 feet in the air)
  3. Safety
  4. Filming / Green Screen
  5. Post Production
Here is the video


BUILDING THE CLIFF:

I knew the cliff was the most important part of the build because I needed it to be realistic and match the rest of the film. A lot of care had to be placed into matching the stone texture. While we were on location, I grabbed a small rock that I could later use as a sample to recreate the color and texture of the cliff.

The shape of the "rock" cliff was very important to me. We nicknamed it "The Wall" because of its obvious resemblance to a rock climbing wall - we tried very hard to look natural. I wanted it to be rough and aggressive but also give my actor, Brent J. Reed (who is super talented), a reason to have to make the epic jump. If it was too jagged, then it could just be climbed up like any rock climbing wall. 

Wood frame for building the wall

To create the shape of the wall I used a combination of 2x4s, 1/8th inch plywood (reinforced with cross bracing on the back) and a ton of Great Stuff (spray foam insulation in a can). 

Great Stuff is really Great Stuff

The first challenge I ran into was that the wall had to be very tall. It wouldn't make sense to have the wall end at 10 feet in height because that's easily within reach of a non-assisted jumper. For VFX purposes, the actor should not be able to outreach the top of the wall because blending would be problematic. I decided to make the wall 16 feet tall and 4 feet wide, the height of two standard sheets of plywood stacked on top of each other, which made things easy.

Building the shape of the wall

Safety is always a huge factor in every aspect of the filmmaking process. However, the primary concern while building the wall was making sure that no matter what happened on set, the wall would never break. It had to act as a safe installation for the actor to interact with. This meant ultra-reinforcing everything. The entire build used 3.5 inch torx deck screws and more cross beams than were necessary to ensure security. It's always worth it for peace of mind. We built the main frame in two sections, one for each of the two pieces of 4 ft x 8 ft plywood. After the sections of the main frame were built, we connected them and added 2 x 4's and screws on each of the joints. We made sure it was strong enough to support its own weight and moved on to the next step which was creating the rocky face with spray foam.

Spray foaming the wall

Though spray foam is incredibly light weight, in the quantities that we would have used to give volume to the entire wall, the weight would have been too much for the frame to support. It also would have been insanely expensive. We opted to use filler objects, like card board and empty water bottles, that would take up volume, give the wall a dynamic texture, and provide a base structure for the spray foam to take on. 

Covering the foam with cloth

Because Fractal Visuals cares about the environment, we traveled to our recycling bin and grabbed all the packaging foam and boxes we had and nailed them to the frame. As we approached the top of the wall, we wanted to reduce weight as much as possible to ensure the wall would not be top heavy. Once we ran out of recyclable materials, we decided to use trash bags filled with air. This was optimal because it provided a ton of volume and almost zero added weight. 

In total, we sprayed around 30 cans of Great Stuff on the wall. It took a few hours.

Hardening the wall with glue

After the foam was finished curing, the next step was to make the wall looked "rock like." The spray foam was too nodular to pass as rock so we took an old muslin white screen that had ripped and attached it to the foam using spray adhesive. This worked great in smoothing out all of the bumps. However, the cloth was flexible and not "rock like." To fix this, we diluted some Elmer's white craft glue with some water, placed it in a spray bottle with a little bit of coloring (so we could see where we sprayed), and soaked the entire thing. After a day of drying, we were left with a hard, strong, oddly colored rock.

On to painting.

Initial base coat of paint on the wall

I went to Home Depot and bought 4 gallons worth of paint all in different shades of red, brown, and orange. Over the years, we've become good friends of the Home Depot and I asked if they could give me some of their raw paint tints in 7 other colors. These tints are what are added to the acrylic base paint to give you the color on the swatches. I did this because a rock isn't just 4 colors, and the realism comes from having a wide range of shades. After I applied a base coat in each area of the rock, I added some of the tints to a smaller batch of each color - just to give it a slightly different color - and went back over the areas with a dry brush to give it some additional contrast.

After all the painting was done, I used the remaining tints (all of which were darker colors) and  mixed up a solution of water, glue, and tint and placed it into the spray bottles. This allowed me to create a weathering effect on certain portions of the rock where peaks and valleys were formed.

Final painting detail work completed

The rock was done. It was time to install it.

Erecting the wall

We used our exterior green screen concrete wall and mounted some beams to the concrete using .22 cal concrete/stud nails. This gave a solid mounting point to attach the wall to. We then added a bunch of support beams, some sand bags, and again, used way too many ultra-strong deck screws to make sure nothing would break or move.

John Byron Hanby IV with the wall

With everything installed and secured we moved onto phase 2: the jump.


SUPER JUMP

Making someone able to jump 15 feet in the air was easier than the rest of the build. We used some elastic exercise bands, a rock climbing harness, and a few carabiners. The elastic bands were always tensioned when attached to the person so we would clip them up right before I called action and then they would jump. But before we could move forward we needed to make sure it was safe.

SAFETY:

Safety was key throughout the entire shoot and it is always very important to make sure everything the actors would touch or interact with was explained to them and tested before they did it themselves. I decided to be the guinea pig (because it looked super fun - but also because I'm also a certified stuntman and a 3rd Degree Blackbelt with close to 18 years of training in Tukong Moosul Martial Arts (tukongfederation.com)). Knowing how to mitigate dangerous situations is critical for achieving the best safety possible, and it is always beneficial (and smart) to consult someone with stunt experience when doing anything "dangerous." 

John Byron Hanby IV (Director/Stuntman) Testing The Wall

After doing a number of test jumps with the elastic bands and checking the durability of the wall and the frame it was mounted to, everything was ready to go. In addition to testing the safety, we also used this opportunity to explore different styles of jumping. We used the slow-motion feature on my iPhone to be able to closer match what we would see when shooting 100fps on our RED Dragon. Once we decided on a style of jumping, I delivered a safety brief for everyone on set to make sure they were all up to speed on how things would work.

We were ready to start filming.


FILMING / GREENSCREEN:

The wall was so big that none of our indoor green screen setups were large enough to accommodate it, so we opted to use our outdoor green screen. Lighting a green screen outside using the sun is an efficient and cost effective way of maintaining smooth even lighting throughout the screen - just make sure you choose a wall that is facing north or south to avoid shadows on the wall.

Left To Right Brent J Reed With Arthur Brown (Musician, Crazy World Of Arthur Brown)

Our actor Brent J. Reed is one of the most passionate and dedicated people that I know; his fantastic attitude and desire to perform made this difficult jump shot that much easier to accomplish.

Left To Right - Ali Brown, John Byron Hanby IV, Brent J Reed

Filming was relatively straight forward. Once our camera settings were locked in, we did a few takes where some feedback was given to Brent about his jumping style. Shortly after that we were finished! The massive amount of planning that went into getting that shot paid off with the efficiency and final product we were able to achieve.

Time for post-production.

POST PRODUCTION:

While the actual creation of the wall was incredibly rewarding, the coolest part was seeing everything come together the way I wanted it to in post. I use the Adobe pipeline for all of my editing work because of the simplicity of Dynamic Link between After Effects and Premiere Pro while working with R3D footage. 

Adobe After Effects Composition 1

After selecting the best jump and trimming it to fit, I used Adobe's Dynamic Link to replace the exact duration of the clip with an After Effects composition and began the compositing. 

The first step was keying the green screen - this was super easy because the screen was evenly lit.

Next, I cleaned up the key and removed any debris in the scene: tracking points, the ground below Brent, and the wire rig. 

With the scene cleaned, I began work on the stylistic elements: shaping the wall, adding the smoke, and extending the wall to match the perspective using 3d camera tracking. While all this work can be summed up in just a few sentences, it took almost 12 hours to finish all of those steps. The key to making it look good is taking your time, taking breaks, and coming back to the shot with a fresh eye and never settling for almost good enough.  

300 Epic Jump Comparison With Green Screen

Now take an EPIC jump and go make something amazing.

John Byron Hanby, IV is the founder of Fractal Visuals

Related Keywords:filmmaking, green screen, vfx, post production, cinematography

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