On 6th April the 19th annual Visual Effects Society awards were announced and we are pleased to report that Cinesite’s work on The Bourne Stuntacular won the category, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project. Named nominees were visual effects supervisor Salvador Zalvidea, senior Unreal artists George Allan and Matthías Bjarnason, visual effects producer Tracey Gibbons, and technical consultant Scott Smith.

You can read the full announcement here.

Stage-based stunt show The Bourne Stuntacular, which opened at Universal Studios in 2020, leaves audiences wondering, “How on Earth did they do that?” Through a cutting-edge fusion of stagecraft and film, Jason Bourne crosses three continents as sinister characters pursue him. He dangles from a helicopter in Dubai, is chased across rooftops in Tangier and pursued on a motorcycle through the streets of Virginia.

Cinesite VFX supervisor Salvador Zalvidea oversaw the visual effects, alongside lead Unreal Artist George Allan. RVX in Iceland also offered support.

The spectacular 20-minute stunt show takes place in front of a bespoke 130 feet long LED screen. Cinesite’s team ultimately created seven very long shots; the longest was five and a half minutes’ long, and the desert environment alone covered more than 50 square kilometres. The full CG photorealistic environments, complete with FX and animations, needed to be delivered at 9k resolution, at 60 frames per second and be meticulously choreographed to match the moving set pieces on stage.

Cinesite’s team became involved after detailed previsualisation and technical visualisation between Proof and Renaissance Entertainment. Our R&D quickly established that we would need to use a real time game engine; using Unreal would mean we could adjust our camera movements, animations and layouts right up to the end of the production process, matching the reality of the moving set pieces. A traditional VFX renderer would have taken hundreds of times longer per frame, whilst Unreal Engine gave us the ability to very quickly iterate on site.

Salvador scouted locations in Turkey and Morocco, gathering thousands of photographic references, texture references, high dynamic range imagery (HDRI), panoramas and photogrammetry using both drones and DSLR cameras.

Tiled rendering was used, splitting the 9k frame into three sections and rendering each individually before stitching them back together. To check image quality we rendered the three 4k tiles and reviewed them using a 4k projector. To aid compositing, some passes needed to be rendered at 18k. Using a game engine also gave us a VR experience during development, enabling us to review the show from any seat in the virtually created venue during development, to make sure it worked from every angle.

In one key sequence, as Bourne fights off assassins on a tower in the rooftops of Tangier, the structure turns in perfect synchronisation with the environment, giving a totally immersive perspective shift.

Cinesite’s visual effects integrate exactly with the SFX, stunts and moving set pieces throughout the show’s creative staging, blurring the line between physical and digital.