In order to conjure the world of the Beat Generation and one of its defining stories, Oblique FX was selected to provide visual effects for On the Road, Walter Salles’s film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s renowned novel.
The facility delivered 110 shots in all, including matte painting and historical clean-ups to help bring 1950s America to life.
With racial segregation, the Cold War, McCarthyism and the growth of suburban culture, it was a time of powerful social constraints, crying out for change. Kerouac’s novel, published in 1957, follows a small group of mavericks on their travels across America as they search for meaning and independence in a culture of control and conformity.
“It’s a thrill for us to have worked on a filmic adaptation of this book,” said Émilie Dussault, executive producer at Oblique FX. “Many of us remember reading that novel. It’s a masterpiece of modern literature and wonderfully captures a feeling of freedom and youth.”
Making this world believable for a contemporary audience meant Oblique FX started with the director’s palette of rich earthy tones, the company said. The production was shot with hand-held cameras on 2-perf 35 mm stock, giving the picture camera jitter to add to the complexity of the clean-up and compositing work.
“We had to address distortion and destabilisation issues on many shots to match the look of the film,” said Alexandre Lafortune, VFX supervisor at Oblique FX. “To accomplish this, we analysed the colour and the grain extremely carefully so that our digital work accurately mimicked the original celluloid.”
“Our work included clean-up of shots to erase contemporary buildings and modify signs to keep the audience in that period,” continued Lafortune. “For one scene we had to transform the streets of Montreal, where part of the movie was shot, into New York. This required extensive matte painting with lots of Photoshop and rotoscoping.”
Highway centre lines were corrected to reflect the paint colour used in 1957, which was white, rather than the yellow commonly used today. “The road is a character in the film,” explained Lafortune, “constantly changing through summer and winter, seen through a windshield covered in rain and in bright sunshine.”
“Even when something looked simple to alter, the way the camera moves or the wet windshield obscuring our view made it quite challenging,” said Lafortune. “We needed time to make it seamless and you can’t cheat on details like these. We had to make the movie accurate to the time and place. That was our biggest challenge.”
In other scenes, as the protagonists drive past hayfields, modern industrial hay bales were transformed into stacks of the traditional square hay bales that were used at the time.