Buchanan's 'Illusionist'

It feels I found my voice in between the most traditional effects and the very cutting edge technology and in this new chapter of this is a great representation of working for the story rather than for the fireworks of accomplished VFX.

The story behind this project is particularly interesting because it was shot in Argentina and Las Vegas and the whole production decision making was based solely on the story creative decisions on how to leverage the audience connection with the audiences.

For this very reason we rule out a 3D elephant, it would have limited the performance of the main actor, nor a crowd that will limit the set of lenses the Director of Photography wanted to use, so we went “stealth” and worked on a myriad of things to sell the story’s scale and make it as the real thing it was.


MJZ production company which manages probably the best directors in the world handled the complex logistics and super tight shooting schedule of the shoot for Juan Cabral and the results are brilliant, we shot a geriatric building, a restaurant, an alley, the zoo elephant’s, the theatre facade and two theatres plating the crowds many times in just under two days. Exhausting but very rewarding.


The result of this effort is simple to understand, you can feel the tension and fear between the actor and the Elephant, you can sense the scale of the beautiful architecture, you can feel the lenses refocusing and the atmosphere truly there and above all you don’t disconnect from the story.

We shot the Elephant on the zoo together with the actor at night taking in account all lens positions and types from our theatre logs and comp it in the theatre shot that was locked given the cinematographic style chosen.


For this we had extreme care for the elephant’s well being and even built a wood object so we could frame the images without annoying the elephant and by doing a gentle accommodation to the new floor, the noise, lights, the people, the cameras so when the day of the shoot came the elephant’s was as little stressed as possible (less than me for sure).

For the theatre section we did plate a crowd of 100 extras with the most old school trick on the books which worked as expected producing true beautiful lighting and lens artefacts as these were old anamorphic lenses. The flares during the flash say it all.


Once back in London we received the material from the second part of the shoot that took place in Las Vegas and specially a time lapse shot depicting the passage of time which is the shot we did work a lot, from poster weathering and degradation, briks getting dirtier, buildings being built, sky lighting changing, footage cleanup and stabilisation… it took a bit of time but was our key shot because it is a shot you could not get otherwise.

During the postproduction process Ally Burnett and the 2D team worked relentlessly on finessing the footage to get the most out of it and produce a first class look which was later handled to the Colorist at Finish for finishing.

The conclusion I have got is that there is plenty to explore in this new reinvention of classical methods mixed with visual effects and I can’t wait to work with Juan again to bring his vision to the screen.


Director: Juan Cabral
Agency: Santo
Production: MJZ
Task: Creative Diretor/VFX Supervisor

Jordi Bares Written by:

Jordi Bares is a Creative Director/VFX Supervisor working for Framestore on some amazing projects.