“Upgrade” Main Titles by Scott Geersen and Substance
Director Leigh Whannell’s new sci-fi feature “Upgrade” opens with the first title sequence since François Truffaut’s “Farenheit 451” (1966) to replace all text with VO. The result is both engaging and unsettling.
Titles director Scott Geersen at Substance in Sydney, Australia: “The film was described to us by Leigh Whannell as sci-fi with elements of action and mystery. Notably it features a powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) “character” that is heard, but never seen.
“With this in mind, Leigh had the idea of creating a textless opening credit sequence.
“We were asked to come up with an approach that would support the narration of credits appropriately yet abstractly, and introduce us to a world where AI plays a significant role.”
Substance VFX/Houdini artist Matt Ebb: “We looked at the many ways sound has been visualized on screen – waveforms, oscilloscopes, EQs, echolocation, sonar, cymatics, and lidar. The best approach turned out not to be in inventing a new way to ‘see’ sound, but in taking a known convention (the oscilloscope), and adapting it.
“By spreading the waves through space we could visualize the spoken word but also show the impact and change that AI has on the world as the knowledge and power build to the point of no return.
“The only real way to tackle this technically was with Houdini. As with anything audio reactive, we needed a clear dependency between visuals and audio. However, the depth of the 3D topography came with various challenges.
“On one hand, this involved timing each waveform to work sympathetically to the reveal of landscape formations, during spoken credits that were all different lengths and constantly revising (with word changes, timing changes, even complete credits swapping out!).
“On the other hand, the point in time of each credit heavily determined the overall camera motion and layout as we managed the transitions between each narrative beat.
“Finally, as a 900-frame single take, the procedural setup had to be tightly optimized to generate the whole piece in context, and for quick iteration.
“At render time, since we were looking back into the ‘history’ of the effect there wasn’t much scope for rendering slices or sections independently, as the waves had to travel through to past sections. In the end, it came down to lots of testing and iterations to then render the final sequence in one go.”
Client: Blumhouse Films
Film director: Leigh Whannell
Production company: Goalpost Pictures
Music: Jed Palmer
Sound design: PK Hooker, Will Files