Yesterday, everyone knew The Beatles. Today, only Jack remembers their songs.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, from BBC’s Eastenders) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James, from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed… and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed.
Union were the sole VFX vendor chosen to help create the mysterious blackout and enable Jack to perform to huge crowds of adoring fans.
Union illustrated the world’s blackout by gradually turning the lights out across the globe. The additional context was provided by greenscreen shot sequences in Red Square and at a US baseball game.
From then on we’re in a world where only Jack remembers the Beatles and decides to start performing their music to the world.
Ed Sheeran even plays himself in Yesterday, and Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis approached him and his management team early on as their support was critical to creating believable crowds and scale for Jack’s performances.
VFX Supervisor Adam Gascoyne attended a number of Ed’s concerts with Danny Boyle, DOP Chris Ross and Production Designer Patrick Rolfe to start hatching a plan as to how to shoot the crowd scenes.
After weeks of planning and production meetings the team shot Ed’s crowd during his performances at Wembley and Cardiff over a number of nights with nine cameras at each venue (including a spider cam) giving Union a LOT of footage to play with.
After the fans left the venues, it was Himesh’s turn to get on stage and perform with passion to the vast empty stadiums.
There was a lot of pre-planning, working very closely with Ed’s lighting designer, Mark Cunniffe, and his team to select pre-programmed graphic set ups both on the notch playback system and the huge integrated lighting system to match as closely as possible to during Himesh’s performances.
For added authenticity, Union also worked with Ed’s team to create Himesh’s graphics for the notch system so that they shared the same spec and would work in context. They then built a 3D model of the stage in Maya into which they were added.
Back at Union, selecting sections of Ed’s live crowd were selected for reactions and lighting setups to best marry with Himesh’s performances. The colour palettes used in Ed’s show which bathe the crowd and the stadium in light were studied, to pair the songs Himesh would perform to them. For example Ed’s ‘I See Fire’ which uses bright orange hues was a good match for ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and likewise ‘Bloodstream’ which uses rich, flashing reds was perfect for ‘Back in the USSR’. This all helped seam the plates together really well as they were able to repeat the pre-programmed lighting on Himesh during his performance.
Most of the crowd shots were achieved by compositing Ed’s crowd into the plate, but the crowd sim software Golaem was used to enhance areas and help mesh different crowd plates together seamlessly. Some areas of the stadium were empty during Ed’s performances due to their limited view, but were in camera in the film. Union had to be a bit creative there, but had a lot of elements to choose from and combined them with CG crowd. Twinkly lights were also added using optical flares and a Nuke particles setup to create a magical effect during certain numbers.
“Ed and his team were hugely accommodating letting us join them on the UK leg of his mammoth world tour,” says VFX Supervisor Adam Gascoyne, “which is a very well-oiled machine. Adding the circus of our film production into the mix can’t have been easy but the unprecedented access to Ed’s amazing fans and team allowed us to plan effectively and end up with the best possible outcome for the crowd – a truly believable engagement with Himesh’s performances.”
Another key scene in the film is Jack’s album launch at Gorleston beach in Norfolk. This shoot attracted a record extras crowd of 6,428 encouraged by appeals from Danny on local TV and radio – the largest crowd call since Richard Attenboroughs’ 1982 epic Gandhi!
There was still a lot of work for Union to swell this crowd to around 30,000.
Union shot plates from a helicopter on the day and augmented the real crowd using Golaem and greenscreen sprite elements shot by the Union team at the location. They did several motion capture shoots in house at Union to create a library of dance moves for the crowd which is seen from various angles in the finished film. They even added a CG helicopter covering the launch from the sky.
On top of crowd work, Union did some work augmenting Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to look more like Wembley using 2.5D DMP’s and CG crowd elements.
There were even a couple of train platforms at Liverpool Lime Street station built in CG, as the ones wanted to use were undergoing construction at the time of shooting. The production managed to gain permission to hang a green screen on the scaffolding allowing Union to rebuild the station environment complete with CG train and crowd elements as a 2.5D matte painting.
Additional VFX work included augmenting the front of a shop in Penny Lane to resemble the barber’s shop described in the famous song.
Union also visited the original site of Strawberry fields children home, a favourite playing field for John Lennon when he was a kid and, since this is a world where the Beatles didn’t exist, they had to digitally remove the 1000’s of tributes left by Beatles fans visiting from all over the world.
They also subtly changed the name of John Lennon Airport for our fictional world.
Additional effects included atmospheric effects (rain, thunder and lightning), CG seagulls (including a 2D animated version in the opening titles), phone screen inserts and graphics, wire removal and driving shots.