The Batman Had Way More Visual Effects In It Than You Realize

6 min read

Though most of what's in Matt Reeves' The Batman looks practical, a new VFX video pulls back the curtain on the DC movie's impressive visual effects.

The Batman's Horrifying Opening Made Nolan’s Villain Trick Even Better. The haunting opening scene to The Batman copies an element from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, giving the Riddler an ominous intro.

The dark opening scene to The Batman makes a Christopher Nolan villain trick even better. The horrifying scene follows the Riddler as he stealthily watches Mayor Don Mitchell and his family, before sneaking into his home and brutally killing him. The opening immediately sets the grim, brooding tone of The Batman, adopting and improving Nolan’s focus on the villain in two of his films’ establishing sequences.

Batman Begins, which follows an origin story structure, understandably opens with a scene from Bruce Wayne’s childhood. However, Nolan’s following two films on the Caped Crusader both open with a scene focusing on the respective primary villains. The Dark Knight starts with its lead villain, the Joker, orchestrating a bank robbery where he convinces his cooperatives to murder each other to increase each person’s share of the loot, illuminating both his sinister practicality and his chaotic personality. Likewise, in the opening sequence of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane hijacks an aircraft to abduct nuclear physicist, Dr. Pavel, explaining that being caught by the CIA was part of his plan, immediately displaying both his intelligence and his brute strength.

A new VFX video breaks down how The Batman was able to bring its gritty, atmospheric Gotham City to life thanks to the increasingly popular set known as The Volume. Upon its release earlier this year, The Batman was lauded by many critics for creating a Gotham City that was dark, modern, and visually impressive. Matt Reeves became the latest director to reboot DC's famed Batman, and with his film, he strove to create a grounded version of the character who stood separate from the DCEU. The Batman won over fans and critics alike, and a sequel is already in the works.

The Volume, which was first used to film Disney+’s The Mandalorian, is a fairly new technology that involves filming on a soundstage almost entirely enclosed by LED panel screens and a ceiling. It is used most often in place of a green screen; the main advantage of The Volume is that, because it’s digital, it can respond to the movement of the on-set camera by adjusting the lighting, perspective, or entire picture within the panels as filming is taking place. Many replicas of The Volume have already been built across the world for other film and television productions, including the recent Thor: Love and Thunder.

The Corridor Crew and Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Joe Farrell explain how The Volume was used to create some of The Batman’s most pivotal scenes. They look specifically at the emotional rooftop confrontation between Batman (Robert Pattinson) and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), explaining that the entire Gotham cityscape was created on a soundstage using The Volume. However, they also note that the ominous reflections on both characters’ suits and faces were likely created by shining real studio lights onto each actor, in addition to The Volume’s LED lights behind and above them. In order to create that [set] that’s running on the game engine that works in real time, it requires three months of a team of 20 people working on it. The problem is, when you do create it, it needs to be right for camera on the day. If you didn’t make it right for the day, you can’t change it because it’s built in. So, let’s say you realized, ‘Oh, the building changed.’ Well, you’ve burned it in, and now you need to Roto it out. You spent an enormous amount of money getting to that stage with The Volume, and now you need to redo it.

The Volume has only been used for a couple of years (and on a notably small number of productions), simply because the effect it creates, when done well, is so realistic. Criticisms of The Batman’s visual effects were scarce upon the film’s release, which makes the revelation that parts of it were shot digitally versus practically all the more impressive. Even significant portions of the chase scene between Batman and the Penguin (Colin Farrell), one of the film’s most intense and complicated moments from a technical standpoint, were completed using The Volume. When considering all that, Reeves’ possibilities for the upcoming sequel are truly endless.

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The Batman have proven that opting for digital sets does not need to come at the expense of quality. Not only that, but time and care (and, apparently, The Volume) can even have audiences totally oblivious to the fact that they're watching something almost entirely generated by a computer. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Batman filmed for over 18 months, and that’s not including the months of post-production that further turned the film into the visual spectacle it became. Though longer than expected, no one can deny it churned out impressive results. If the sequel looks anything like its predecessor, Reeves and his team can take as long as they need to complete it.

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