Breaking Down The Visual Effects In The Fifth Wave

February 1, 2016

For Director J Blakeson’s dystopian film, The Fifth Wave, Shade completed 60 shots. Led by VFX Supervisor Mitch Drain, we worked closely with show supervisors from Sony Imageworks to create photoreal fire, smoke and breaking glass, as well as set extensions and other intricate and challenging effects.

In the sci-fi thriller starring Chloë Grace Moretz, the human race stands on the brink of extinction as a series of attacks decimate the planet. The film’s first wave consists of an electromagnetic pulse that plunges the world into darkness; the second wave is an catastrophic assortment of tsunamis and earthquakes; the third wave exterminates most of the survivors with a deadly virus; those immune to the virus discover that the fourth wave is humans intent on hunting down and killing those who’ve survived; and the fifth wave finds children being captured to be used as weapons.

In order to adapt Rick Yancey’s post-apocalyptic novel for the silver screen we were tasked with creating a range of effects; from tracer fire to bullet hits and breaking glass. We forged CG fire elements for a sequence involving a high, wide-angle shot of a helicopter landing in the burning city square, along with set extensions and multiple pass composite work to achieve the requisite dystopian landscape. The sequences Shade contributed highlight our expertise with fire, effects animation and creative compositing, often tackling multiple elements like CG, matte paintings and practical elements at once, blending them to master the final shot.

The Fifth Wave was Mitch Drain‘s first job as VFX Supervisor with Shade. This week, we sat down with him to discuss the collaborative process, the challenges encountered and found out which scene was the most complicated to create…

How was the collaboration with Sony Imageworks?
The team at Sony were great. Of course, we have worked together in the past and that relationship allowed us to be as creative as possible with the work. They were an extremely pleasant and professional group to work with.

What was the most complicated sequence to create and why?
All VFX have inherent challenges, however, I would say that the exploding bus shots were that most difficult. There are many subtleties that today’s savvy viewers are sensitive to. Exposure, movement and the intricacies of matching together the various bits of photography required, really pushed our compositors to use all of their talents and experience.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you overcome it?
Most of the work landed within practical imagery that the audience may have direct experience with. Fire, smoke, breaking glass and interactive effects have to be completely photoreal if audiences are expected to believe them. If any of these are not convincing, it will take the viewer out of the movie and tarnish the overall experience. To overcome this challenge, we had to rely again on the talent and experience of the team, and utilize all of the tools at our disposal.

What was one thing you took away from this experience?
This was the first job I participated in as a Shade supervisor. Getting to know the team, each persons individual strengths along with the collaboration of the Sony team, made the experience extremely satisfying and left me eager to begin the next project.


The 5th Wave is now showing. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Liev Schreiber and Maika Monroe, and directed by J Blakeson.