Union Help Return Stan & Ollie to 1950s Britain for Their Comeback Tour
Laurel & Hardy - one of the world’s greatest comedy teams - set out on a variety hall tour of Britain in 1953. Diminished by age and with their golden era as the kings of Hollywood comedy now behind them, they face an uncertain future. As the charm and beauty of their performances shines through, they reconnect with their adoring fans.
The tour becomes a hit, but Stan & Ollie can’t quite shake the specter of Laurel and Hardy’s past; the long-buried ghosts, coupled with Oliver’s failing health, start to threaten their precious partnership. A portrait of the most tender and poignant of creative marriages, they are aware that they may be approaching their swan song, trying to rediscover just how much they mean to each other.
The team at Union were engaged to help place characters and locations in the 1930s and 1950s as well as provide an increasing swell of enthusiastic fans as the tour took off.
The film’s opening scene sees Laurel and Hardy walk from their dressing room across the lot onto the set of ‘Way out West’ at Hal Roach’s Studios in Hollywood at the height of their popularity. This complex 6,800 frame sequence featured a lot of movement in front of the camera and required Union to stitch together three very different locations to make their journey from their dressing room to the sound stage seamless.
The dressing room was shot on location at Eltham Palace in Greenwich, the Roach Studio lot was filmed at Pinewood, after a lot of wrangling by the locations department asking very kindly to remove Stormtroopers and Raptor cages from shot, and the sound stage at Twickenham Studios.
We added exterior buildings and background elements such as the water tower and hollywood hills along with CG cars and Iconic buildings modelled from photo references and then placed into the 3D scene.
There were lots of moving objects in a confined space.
We had to do lots of prep work and tracking to remove road markings etc. that were not period appropriate and then repaint shadows. We also had to accommodate changing light and a 360 degree, 5 minute steadicam move.
Much of Union’s work was returning Stan and Ollie’s British tour locations to the 1950s.
We got a clear brief and accompanying concept artwork from Production Designer John Paul Kelly and used a combination of 2.5 and 3D approaches.
We also conducted our own research amassing period photographic reference of signs etc. and built a set of assets from props used on set which we could then use to dress the exteriors.
We used Maya to model, Photoshop for matte painting and projected everything in Nuke.
Union’s central London location came in handy for the Piccadilly Circus shot which involved creating a view that doesn’t exist in real life. We were able to nip out to Trafalgar Square and take photos that we used to build assets and place into our 3D scene complete with CG people, cars etc.
As the tour progressed, the pair became hot tickets playing to sell out audiences.
To fill the theatre, we had 100 extras that we filmed in different parts of The Hackney Empire, which doubled for The Lyceum, and then tiled them in Nuke along with a few sprites that were animated in Golaem.
We also used a similar technique with 350 extras on location in Bristol Harbour to recreate the pair’s arrival at Cobh Harbour in Ireland. Maybe flesh this out a bit with set extension DMP and crowd replication.
Their journey there on a vintage ship also involved the creation of CG water in Houdini to provide wake, spray and interaction with the boat filmed in Bristol Harbour. We combined this with some live action plates filmed from a drone.
The project also involved greenscreen work; most notably recreating the duo’s iconic ‘Way out West’ dance routine. The original was filmed in front of in front of a rear projection screen and the production miraculously managed to track down the original providing two pieces of the original backdrop as reference.
VFX Supervisor Adam Gascoyne comments: “Having worked with producer Faye Ward on Suffragette and Dancing on the Edge, it was great to join the team to deliver this special film. Director Jon S. Baird and Production Designer John Kelly provided a very clear vision and we’re really proud of the results. The project has deservedly received critical acclaim and it was great to be a part of it.”