The VFX secrets behind Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s stomach-churning cable car scene
If there’s one scene that sums up the insane action in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it’s the cable car sequence set amongst the Italian Alps.
Here, Agents Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) get stuck in a fast-rotating ski lift. The shots required a clever combination of practical stunts – including a motion sickness-inducing spinning set – and photoreal CGI. Here’s how it was done.
Planning it out
The cable car Eggsy and Whiskey get trapped in is one that spins for scenic purposes. But it gets nefariously taken over and goes into out-of-control revolutions with them inside.
“Matthew had this idea that the bad guys have got control of the spinning and they just set it to super fast,” recounts Angus Bickerton, the film’s overall visual effects supervisor. “So now Eggsy and Whiskey are trapped inside this spinning car, which is spinning at 30 revs a minute. They’re plastered against the sides. They’ve got to get out of there, basically.”
These days, complex effects like the cable car scene are always heavily planned with concept art, storyboards and previsualisation before any filming or VFX is done. That ‘previs’ was the work of Jason McDonald at Argon Effects, who worked with Vaughn, Bickerton and editor Eddie Hamilton to hit the big beats in the sequence.
Out of the previs, first an exterior shooting location could be devised, which was Courmayeur, situated in the Aosta Valley in northern Italy. Argon even used Google Maps terrain of the area directly in its previs. Once on location, the visual effects team would shoot extensive background plates of the snow, mountains and surrounding areas.
The idea was that these photos would be stitched together and combined with CGI mountain elements to form a digital background – since close-up shots of the actors in the cable car were filmed on a set. “Mixing real mountains with CG mountains was tricky,” says Fabio Zangla, a CG supervisor at Framestore, the visual effects studio working on the scene. “The photography of the mountains was pristine, mega clear and full of detail that we had to recreate seamlessly.”
The science of spinning
The previs also informed how the shots of Eggsy and Whiskey inside the spinning cable car would be filmed. A replica cable car was built by special effects supervisor Steven Warner on a controlled set surrounded by a blue sky painted background. It was also fitted to spin and engineered to rotate up to 35 revolutions a minute.
Having the the cable car actually spin – rather than faking it with, say, a rotating camera – was all part of making the scene feel as real as possible. But at 35 RPMs, it was sometimes too real.
“Even the stunt people couldn’t take it much past about 15 RPMs,” notes Bickerton. “One big thing is, you can’t focus on something. And because you’re looking out at this void of sky blue, you got sick very, very quickly.”
As the spinning increases, the characters are slapped against the side of the cable car. For this, the stunt performers and actors were rigged up with wires and straps. Framestore also initiated CG builds of Eggsy and Whiskey.
“For some shots,” explains Framestore compositing supervisor Chris Zeh, “we used high-resolution CG digi-doubles of the characters, especially during the brief zero g moment, that we combined with the real faces of the actors. This gave us more freedom in designing the shots.”
In fact, Framestore was able to use the CG environment it had built, the digi-double characters and a CG re-creation of the cable car to enhance the action in the scene, as the studio’s visual effects supervisor Chris Lawrence details.
“In a few shots, we played the cable car action a bit more violently than we’d been able to do on set. We had a very short period of time in which to do it, and we were all worried about it, but it just worked.”
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas now.