Cinesite re-teamed with director Duncan Jones and Liberty Films on the feature film Mute, released on Netflix on 23rd February 2018.  Having worked previously with Jones in 2009 on cult sci-fi classic Moon, we jumped at the opportunity to join forces again, ultimately contributing 100 shots to the 4K production.  Cinesite’s VFX Supervisor was Salvador Zalvidea.

Set in the near-future, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) is a bartender living in the pulsing city of Berlin.  Because of a childhood accident, Leo lost the ability to speak and the only good thing in his life is his beautiful girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). When she vanishes without a trace, Leo’s search for her takes him deep into the city’s seedy underbelly.  A pair of wise-cracking American surgeons (Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux) are the only recurring clue and Leo is forced to take on this teeming underworld in order to find his love.

Cinesite’s first shot in Mute shows Leo’s childhood accident.  Hit by a speedboat rotor, he floats lifelessly in the water with blood swirling around him.  Using a 3D approach, the team adjusted and distorted elements from Cinesite’s own library, combined with blood shot by the production.  The realistic motion of the blood through disturbed water was carefully re-created and the colour carefully balanced; blood filmed underwater apparently appears green!

Another key shot in the film establishes the Hackers Hall environment, a seedy indoor market with line upon line of dark market-stall type booths filled with screens, geeks and dubious technology-based activities.

The original plate had a few market stalls in the foreground shot against a large greenscreen.  Cinesite extended the indoor environment using references from the foreground to build CG stall models and creating 2.5D projections using other plates to texture them from all angles.  These CG stalls were then replicated to populate the background. Crowd and smoke elements shot by the production were also added, along with projected graphics on to the walls.

In one poignant shot, as Leo’s efforts to trace Naadirah intensify he goes to a library to look for information.  Unable to speak, he struggles with the library’s automated voice-based technology and begins an exhaustive manual search.  In a long panning shot, we see multiple Leos patiently looking through aisles and sections of reference, and the passing of several hours is indicated.

Multiple passes of Skarsgård in different positions were shot and composited together in the finished shot, along with lighting effects to show the passing of time, and lights switching off and on automatically as his search progresses through the open plan building.

Other visual effects created by Cinesite’s team include environments, CG weapons and eagle-eyed Duncan Jones aficionados might even notice a CG Gerty (robot from Moon) lurking in the background of a couple of shots!

  • Release date: 23rd February 2018
  • Studio: Netflix
  • Director: Duncan Jones