(May 31, 2015) The creation of Kung Fury – one renegade cop’s righteous quest to uphold law and order
What do you get if you combine kung fu, Hitler, time travel, vikings gods, anthropomorphic arcade cabinets – a tiny dash of David Hasselhoff – and then cover it in lashings of retro neon? Well there’s only one thing you can get, really – Kung Fury.
Inspired by the glorious action movies of the VHS heydey, but with the zaniness and visual flair cranked up to 11 (and then some), the film stars the titular Kung Fury: a renegade Miami cop, part Jean Claude Van Damme and part Dolph Lundgren, with a penchant for Lightning Kicks and a rampant dislike of crime. Now he’s got to take down the “worst criminal of all time” – Adolf Hitler – in a time-travelling flurry of fists.
The near 10,000,000 YouTube views prove that Kung Fury has captured the imagination of viewers across the globe. And then there’s the Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $630,000 to turn the original trailer into a 30-minute film. It was that funding that allowed Kung Fury director David Sandberg and his company Laser Unicorns to enlist the talents of Fido, a well-known Swedish VFX and animation studio with 15 years of experience.
Fido’s remit was far-ranging indeed, involving the creation of the aforementioned vikings, dinosaurs and arcade cabinets – stopping just short of a CG Hasselhoff himself.
Fido was brought on to the Kung Fury project shortly after the crowdfunding effort concluded in early 2014. Sandberg’s plan was specific indeed, and expertly crafted VFX was the only way to bring the appropriate amount of radness to his vision. The film is loaded with hundreds of 80s-tinged VFX shots, comprising everything from green screen compositing to characters riding atop a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then, of course, there were the explosions. Lots of explosions.
Sandberg, a veteran music video and commercial director, had shot the scenes for the initial trailer and executed the effects himself. The look for the film – sending up yesteryear’s technology, fashion and filmmaking techniques – was exactly what drew backers to the project, meaning that it was crucial for Fido to recreate the psychedelic neo-noir style with absolute faithfulness.
“For the trailer, Sandberg had done more or less all of the VFX by himself,” says Nils Lagergren, executive producer at Fido. “Those scenes were included in the film, but most of the new VFX shots were produced by Fido. In all, Fido produced about 90% of all VFX in the film – that was in over 400 effects shots, which included the eight shots created for the David Hasselhoff ‘True Survivor’ accompanying music video.”
A total of 46 people worked on Kung Fury during the seven-month production process, which concluded in April 2015. The final result is an over-the-top “30-minute roller-coaster filled with action, humour and VFX” – a blend of VHS visuals and pounding Eighties synths.
“It was great to do this project with David – especially given that VFX plays such a crucial part throughout,” says Lagergren. “David is the kind of director who has a very strong creative vision, but also a deep understanding of the work process. This meant we could discuss the VFX shots from both a creative and technical angle with him. We spoke the same language, so to say."
During post-production, Sandberg and his team moved into the studio to help guide the project to its final mind-blowing state. "This arrangement helped us to work very closely with David, for example when finding the proper 'VHS-style color aberration kind of look' he envisioned for the film," says Lagergren. "Having him 'in-house' also made sure that no time was wasted on waiting for feedback, which helped the production to keep its forward momentum.”
Keeping Fury on ftrack
Having Sandberg so intimately involved in the project – both physically and emotionally, not to mention still tweaking his vision well into production – meant that Fido needed to roll with the kung fu punches.
"In any project of this scale, it's always extremely important to keep track of the different versions. But Kung Fury demanded even more from us," remembers Lagergren. "Much in the same spirit as when doing the trailer, the production of the film had a very organic and flexible nature, with edits, shots and effects changed and reimagined throughout."
This morphing approach meant that Fido needed a tool that could keep the team adaptable in the face of ever-changing production demands – unfortunately, they couldn’t just hack time.
Thankfully, Fido have ftrack on their side, and they know the software very well indeed – potentially better than anyone in the world. That’s because ftrack started out its life at the studio in 2008 as an internal production tool. It incubated and grew at Fido, eventually evolving into a fully fledged commercial product available to other studios.
"Thanks to ftrack, we can handle projects of all sizes using the same production management and workflow structure, regardless of whether it's just one shot in a commercial or a 400-shot project like Kung Fury," says Lagergren. "This solid structure also helps us to allow a certain degree of inspired improvisation – that was an absolute necessity in the Kung Fury project."
In addition to scaling between creations large and small, ftrack also lets you see individual projects from macro and micro levels alike. On Kung Fury, which features effects ranging from gargantuan Thor-like giants to the accentuated muzzle flash blasting from a Uzi MP-2 submachine gun, these features came in particularly useful indeed.
"ftrack is great because it helps us to see a project on any desired level. In a way, it's a bit like being an eagle: you can fly high above the project and keep track of the general progress of it," says Lagergren, noting the benefit of the Status and Time Reports features. "Then, whenever you need to, you can dive down into the smallest details of the project to look at it up-close on a shot or task level, and find any answer you're looking for – in Notes, for example."
Indeed, Lagergren identifies Notes as Fido's favourite ftrack feature, as it allows the studio to use multiple artists without wasting large amounts of time. "It's an extremely practical way to keep everyone updated on feedback and instructions for each task and shot," he explains. "Thanks to Notes, we could juggle artists between shots without losing time on getting them up to speed on each new assignment, since they could find all info they needed themselves, stored in Notes."
"Sometimes we had over 100 submits in our dailies sessions," he adds. "Notes was obviously a very fast and practical way to distribute feedback and instructions."
Fido also put some custom tweaks into ftrack to make it even more compatible with their particular needs. One was to add custom Shot Category tags for characters in the film, so that they could be easily sorted and artists could specifically hone in on specific characters, such as Kung Führer, for instance, in their work.
Another tweak to build upon ftrack's out-of-the-box integrations for apps like NUKE and Maya to bring in additional features. Fido also has its own custom launcher and various other tools that personalise the ftrack experience, making the Kung Fury project as lighting fast as one of its protagonist’s roundhouse kicks.
"In short: this production would never have been possible without ftrack," enthuses Lagergren.
If the buzz around the film is any indication, Kung Fury is certain to be a great showcase for Fido, sitting alongside other hyperkinetic releases such as Attack the Block and Kick-Ass. It’s a full-force Eighties action generator operating at max capacity, with a narrative as fast, ever-changing and surprising as the production itself. But thanks to ftrack, Fido was able to retain the upper hand and bring Kung Fury to completion without any problems.
Now the team is working on numerous projects for clients in countries including Germany, Russia, Sweden and the UK, and it’s long-standing relationship is set to continue. Lagergren's praise for its role in the company's success could be applied to any studio seeking powerful, easy-to-use management software for projects of any size.
"We have lived with ftrack from the very beginning," he says. "We are proud to be true ftrack veterans, and it's no secret that using the software has helped us to become what we are today: a reliable and flexible studio with a great reputation and a solid track record."