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Case Study

The Last Of Us: Wylie Co.’s Motion Tracking Journey with Mocha Pro

3 minute read

The lead in-house VFX vendor discusses the high-profile HBO video game adaptation and why they rely on PowerMesh inside Nuke.

The visual effects crew at Wylie Co. joined The Last of Us mission early on. 

Unlike Joel (Pedro Pascal) reluctantly agreeing to take Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across post-apocalyptic America, Wylie jumped at the chance to work on the HBO series based on the wildly popular video game of the same name. 

“We knew from the start that it was going to be great. Alex Wang (the overall VFX supervisor) called us very early on in the production,” says Jacob Maymudes, CEO and chief creative officer. “He wanted the show to stand out with exceptional visual effects. This can be quite difficult with a shot count in the thousands. Our team had to be very efficient and rock stars to hold our own on the show.” 

last-us-4_1920The Wylie Co. team

Wylie Co. served as the in-house visual effects team and worked alongside Alex Wang, the editors, and showrunner/creator Craig Maizin in the production office. VFX supervisor Joel Silva managed over 300 final effect shots created by the internal artists and tech supervisors James Jouyoung Lee and Ben Smith QC-checked each shot from every vendor — a whopping 2600 shots over nine episodes.

Artists turned to Mocha Pro together with Foundry Nuke to track roughly 140 shots to help tackle CG animals, set extensions, plate restoration, blue screen extractions, and matte paintings. 

“To be honest, we prefer to use Mocha over the planar tracker in Nuke regardless of difficulty. We find that we get a more solid track from Mocha Pro to start with,” states Maymudes. “In many cases, tracks need minimal adjustments. Any track regardless of difficulty that needs minimal adjustment is a timesaver.”

last-us-ellie-interfaceMocha Pro PowerMesh interface

The team uses Nuke’s SmartVectors to track any organic objects that require warping. However, it often introduces unwanted artifacts due to the motion blur of foreground object occlusions. The artifacts then need to be painted out, which adds an extra step to the process. 

“We ran into the same challenges on a few difficult split comps involving Kronos retiming, morphs, or both,” notes Maymudes. “Mocha Pro’s PowerMesh tracking is such a great tool on any shot involving moving people, lots of parallax, and occlusions. It’s an immense timesaver.”

Wylie’s artists had to maintain a fairly paced turnaround schedule to stay on course during the season. “It was a lot of work, and yes, a photo finish did happen. Our last shot was adding in a mountain range digital matte painting behind Ellie sitting in the back of a pickup truck,” remarks Maymudes. “This was a complicated handheld camera move, and the turnaround was so quick that we couldn't expect a 3d camera track, so we ran it through Mocha Pro, which saved the day. We were able to get the right amount of parallax to make it work.”

Like Ellie and Joel pushing forward against all odds, Maymudes offers sage advice to artists looking to get their start in visual effects. “Start with the basics, Photoshop, After Effects, or Blender, to figure out what you enjoy doing. There’s a lot of variation in VFX disciplines. Once you know where your skillset can flourish, take some classes and seek instruction,” ends Maymudes. “The more complicated software can be quite daunting but don’t give up. Grab a camera, film something, and mess with the footage.” 

Learn more about Mocha Pro and download a free trial.

Read about Wylie’s work on Dune.

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