Neill Blomkamp‘s latest film, Demonic, uses a unique process to craft its sequences when the main character of Carly (Carly Pope) goes inside a simulation to talk to her mother. During our interview with cinematographer Byron Kopman, we discussed the multiple challenges shooting a film during the COVID-19 pandemic arose and how volume capture was used to conceive its simulation sequences. You can read the interview in its entirety below:
Maxance Vincent: The movie is very interesting because it contains many sequences that take place inside at some sort of simulation if you will. And I’m really curious to know how those sequences were shot? Could you maybe break down the process of shooting those sequences? Were they done in live-action? VR? What sort of technology was used to capture these sequences?
Byron Kopman: Yeah, so they were all shot in volume capture, which is a new style of CG, I guess. So there’s no real camera work. They’re all captured with cameras. We used 239 4K cameras. It was run by a guy named Tobias Chen of Volumetric Camera Systems. So it captures 360-degree imagery, but it also locks in your wardrobe, the makeup, and what the actor looks like. All you can change after the fact is the camera angle and the lighting. So that was the base imagery. And then we went and took with Chris Harvey, who was the VFX supervisor, photogrammetry of all the locations that we wanted to put them into. So the locations were real, and they were actually part of the sets that we actually shot up. And it’s kind of a combination of the photogrammetry and the volume capture all put together.
MV: It feels, at least for me, it kind of felt like it was shot on live-action because you’re talking about like shooting on sets. Were certain parts of these sequences shot in live-action, like for reference, and then utilizing volume capture, or was the whole thing shot on volume capture?
BK: 100% of it with volume capture in the simulations. So whenever she goes into her mom’s coma, from that moment on, it’s 100% volume capture with no real camera work.
MV: What were the most challenging aspects of doing volume capture for, I would say extensive periods of time because there are a lot of those sequences in the movie?
BK: Yeah, to be honest, I wasn’t heavily involved. All I had to do for that was do a lighting plan. On my end of things, we kept having to add light, like we started off going crazy with the amount of light. I thought it was going to be overkill. And we kept adding, and adding, and adding as the days went on. So that’s all my involvement was, sadly. Tobias and his team, along with Neill, they did it all. I wasn’t too involved, sadly.
MV: I think the movie was shot during the pandemic last year. Is that correct?
BK: That is correct, yes.
MV: So were there any particular difficulties that arose in shooting a film with many safety protocols in place that are different in shooting pre-pandemic?
BK: Yeah, the only real difficulties were shooting in one of the only deserts in Canada and we had to wear a mask and we were shooting outside. And that was really difficult but weirdly enough to get used to it. We had a smaller team and crew because we had to keep our numbers down. But in the end, it’s kind of nice as every person is involved in the end product. So the pandemic didn’t make it too hard, to be honest.
MV: Neill Blomkamp, his filmography is filled with many visually charged blockbusters that have an emphasis on a large scale, though this one is a lot more contained than his previous films. So I’m wondering what were some of the visual inspirations that helped you craft Demonic’s look and feel?
BK: So it started off being a found footage piece. That’s where the conversation started. As it evolved and it became fully scripted, he wanted to be very real. We would want it to be as real as possible. As you know, like shooting nighttime, you need some sort of light. We try and keep it as natural-looking as possible. Like, for example, we used flashlights and minimal ambient movie lights to make sure you just see a tiny bit of light. But for the most part, we kept it very, very natural and just leaned into that kind of vibe.
MV: Did you have any horror movies that you took as a visual reference for Demonic?
BK: To be honest, not really. Neill wanted a lot of the scenes to take place in the daytime. So it’s not that conventional. So yeah, not too much, to be honest, we just kind of did our own little approach.
MV: In conclusion, what was the most important element for you that you wanted to achieve visually, in order for Demonic to be a memorable cinematic experience for the viewer to say, “Wow! I really liked the cinematography and the way it looked”?
BK: What was memorable for me is how much Neill pushed me to go darker than I felt comfortable. So I think leaning on darkness and the audience’s creative minds to kind of make it scarier than it is, is one of the things that made me grew, thanks to Neill, who kept telling me that it’s too bright. Yeah, it’s funny because I normally try, and even if it is a dark scene, give it a touch more ambient, and information so that in the DI you can bring it down, you know, but he really wanted to make it dark in-camera and just trust it, you know? So, yeah, it’s a big learning experience for me, but I feel good about it in the end.
MV: All right, so thank you so much for giving me the time to talk to me about crafting the visual look and feel of Demonic!
BK: All right, cool, man, thanks.
Demonic is now playing in theatres and available to rent on video-on-demand.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]