Creating Movie Magic in Russia with Nick Hasipov

Creating VFX magic on set

The incredible skill of modern artists partnered with technology has delivered filmmaking to a point where anything can be manifested on camera for the eyes of an audience. While the film industries of America and China receive the lion’s share of attention, Russia has rapidly become one of the most creative and praised film industries in recent years. Films like Upon the Magic Roads and the APKIT Award-Winning Best Feature Film Silver Skates confirm this, with artists like Nick Hasipov as part of the VFX team behind these award-winning productions. Garnering international praise for the manifestation of fantasy and reality, these films and the artists creating them have increased attention on the extraordinary and unique films coming from Russia. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the VFX film community, Hasipov’s artistry propels great filmmaking to a level which can only be described as transcendent. 

A term like photogrammetry (a type of 3D scanning technology) might not be familiar to you but it’s not necessary to understand the specifics of Hasipov’s duties on a film to appreciate their effect on the story. There’s as much technical knowledge of computer graphics as there is artistic sensibility in Nick’s role. Upon The Magic Roads was filmed entirely in the largest pavilion in all of Russia. Only individual decorations and conventional (volumetric) objects of green or blue colors were built in the pavilion, a necessary approach in making it easier for actors to interact with CG. The locations and nature around the main characters were created in post-production. Nick and his team scanned extras and made 3D models of them which were then altered to change their appearance to supply the vast number of characters (extras) needed for the film. From geographic locations to story centric items like a flaming sword, this 3D scanning technology is what allowed the otherworldly visions of director Oleg Pogodin (Winner of the APKIT Award  for Krik Sovy and a Golden Eagle Award nominee for Krik Sovy and Dom) to be manifested in this film. Upon The Magic Roads features characters like a humpback horse, a Firebird, a Whale Fish, and numerous other fantasy elements. The achievement of the stunning visuals for the film came at the expense of massive workloads. For Nick and his team, this meant that the typical 600 VFX shots was expanded to more than 1,500 for Upon the Magic Roads. Though all consuming, this experience was not without levity as Hasipov recalls, “We spent four months of twelve-hour plus days in this enormous St. Petersburg pavilion. It was so large that we moved around on scooters and mono-wheels. It was quite funny to have our own version of traffic right there on set.”

Creating worlds

Sliver Skates is a major critical and commercial success. One of the top viewed Russian films on Netflix, this is the tale of two young people from very different backgrounds. 18-year-old Matvey is a delivery boy who finds himself lured towards crime when he loses his job. An encounter with Alisa, the daughter of a high-ranking official, reveals that they both feel a lack of freedom and lightness of heart. The charm and hope of the film is mirrored in its setting of 1900 St. Petersburg prior to a moment of massive change in Russia. Director Michael Lockshin asked the VFX team to turn the clock back one-hundred-twenty years on this iconic Russian city. This meant that Hasipov and his team touched every shot seen in the film. Signs, cars, modern architecture, power lines, and other aspects vanished thought CG artistry while historic buildings and the famed canals were materialized. There’s no separating the ironically warm sentiment which Russians feel toward snow. It’s a sign of the holidays and a magical time of the year. Ubiquitous throughout the film, audiences and comfortable actors can also thank Nick and his crew for the presence of snow throughout the story’s setting.

Filmmaking is exciting work, whether you’re in front of the camera or in front of a computer screen. Yes, it can be tedious but the results are breathtaking. Nick Hasipov communicates that he is thrilled to find himself currently at work as VFX coordinator/CG supervisor for the feature film Empire V. Directed by Viktor Ginzburg, this film adaptation of the novel by Viktor Pelevin promises to be an incredibly beautiful and simultaneously frightening production. It’s a prefect canvas to challenge Nick’s imagination in the coming months.

Writer: Coleman Haan

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