LED-driven ‘Bullet Train’ took Lux Machina and DNEG on a wild ride

In ‘Bullet Train’, Brad Pitt’s new screen hero Ladybug is a hired assassin with a reverse midas touch. Seemingly straightforward contracts have a tendency to, ahem, hit the buffers and you don’t have to be one of his targets to get hurt during an operation.

It’s a quirky concept, and ‘Bullet Train’ makes the most of it, including some massive set pieces involving lots of wanton damage. The whole confection would have been much more costly and complicated to make before the advent of on-set virtual production and in-camera visual effects.

Virtual production was handled by Lux Machina who installed a pair of 98-foot LED walls on either side of a physical, oh dear, train set (I’ll stop in a minute). In fact, three were used in total. The structures were suspended on a track and dolly system to facilitate smooth movement along the full length of both carriage and screens.

DNEG were responsible for a large number of the film’s VFX shots, including the spectacular finale. Deciding where and when to use real-time involved lengthy testing and preparation, especially as they were shooting at high-resolution and the staging of shots required fewer parallax effects. LED screen environments were built in five to six kilometre chunks (around 25km in total) and some shots are entirely CGI.

Ian Failes’ interview with DNEG VFX Supervisor Stephen James can be found on befores & afters.