How MPC turned empty football grounds into packed super stadia for a high definition produced soccer film
Football, in all its many guises, is big business. And it causes equal amounts of controversy. Just ask bosses at ITV who are trying to fight off the press pack as it attacks their new Premiership highlights programme. 'It's not like the BBC,' they howl. 'There's only 27 minutes of football.' Such is the detail with which the great British public scrutinise their national sport.

Producers of the forthcoming football film Mike Bassett: England Manager, directed by Steve Barron for Hallmark Entertainment and starring Ricky Tomlinson, will probably hope that the audiences' analysis of their work is a little more accommodating. As will post facility Moving Picture Company (MPC) whose film division completed digital visual effects for the film.

The film follows the fortunes of Bassett, a manager in the First Division, who is handed the job of England manager at a crunch stage. Rather more by luck than design, England qualifies for the finals in Brazil and the film follows the ups and downs as Bassett attempts to balance his life, the team's fortunes and the hopes of a nation.

Mike Bassett: England Manager is the first full HD (high definition) produced film to receive a distribution to 200-plus cinemas. MPC completed all the grading and outputting to film, as well as more than 100 digital effects including turning empty football grounds into atmosphere-packed super stadia. Visual effects supervisor Tom Wood was involved from the outset and supervised shoots at Wembley Stadium and a ground in Brazil. As Wembley is being demolished, new turf had to be laid but, thanks to poor weather, the turf was soon damaged so grass repair, puddle removal and the creation of white lines were addressed in post.

The majority of the effects, and by far the most complex, was a sequence of shots that required crowd duplication in the stadiums, using only a very small number of extras. Usually when shots of this nature are filmed they are very static, using a locked-off camera or motion control to get a smooth result for ease of replication and tracking. But director Steve Barron wanted the film to have a proper mock documentary look so not only were the shots done with a hand-held camera but an unrestricted zoom lens was also used, adding to the distortion. As a result, MPC was unable to implement the traditional method of tracking in Shake and Cineon.

To overcome this challenge, MPC's operators adopted a new approach and used 2d3's software, boujou, for the most complex tracking shots. Flares, flags and 3D-generated streamers and confetti were also added to the replicated crowds.

Director Steve Barron acknowledges the difficulty of the job. 'Only we in the industry will know how difficult it was to fill those stadiums and make it look believable and real in a mock documentary, which is harder in a lot of ways than doing traditional effects,' he says.

Mike Bassett: England Manager is released on 28 September 2001.

Will Strauss