Cinesite’s Montreal studio delivered the majority of the visual effects for Paramount Pictures’ biographical drama ROCKETMAN, based on the life of iconic musician Elton John.
ROCKETMAN, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 16th May, was directed by Dexter Fletcher, with VFX supervision by Cinesite’s Holger Voss.
ROCKETMAN is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. The film follows the fantastical journey of transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John. This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. ROCKETMAN also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.
Visual effects support the colourful narrative of John’s rise to stardom and challenges along the way. Cinesite’s work ranged from creating seamless shot transitions right through to nostalgic dream sequences and stadiums with massive crowds for Elton’s performances.
While the work was completed in Montreal Fletcher was based in London, so Cinesite’s London studio hosted synced RV sessions for him to review progress throughout post production.
VFX Supervisor Holger Voss: “Dexter’s approach to the visual effects was always narrative driven; as long as the story was respected he was open to suggestions. He would describe the look or effect he wanted us to achieve and it was our job to figure out how to do it. He was very trusting of us and we had a great working relationship.”
The sequence featuring the film’s eponymous song is one of the most notable in terms of visual effects, involving multiple set ups across a variety of stages and practical sets, including a sequence that begins at the bottom of a pool featuring adult Elton and his younger and concludes with a recreation of Elton’s famous concerts at Dodgers Stadium.
Footage of Egerton in a water tank was cleaned up and composited with young Reggie, who was filmed dry for wet on a bluescreen stage. His glass space suit helmet was added, along with realistic reflections, bubbles and water particulate. For the stadium part of the shot, around 150 separate passes of audience members were combined onto cards which were layered throughout the background. Reference was taken from original concerts to add banners, beach balls bouncing over the crowd, lighters and sparklers. The rocket launch effects were created using a Houdini fluid simulation.
The Pinball Wizard sequence is another visually spectacular treat. Elton plays piano on a spinning pinball game, the camera spins with him, reflecting the delirious state of his life. Holger suggested an approach where the environment wipes from concert to concert, with the rotating piano lid marking the camera transition points. The final shot shows the whirling chaos of Elton’s life, set to his thumping classic track.
In total, Cinesite completed 233 shots for ROCKETMAN, many of which also included de-modernising and cleaning up shots which were set in the 50s, 60s and 70s.