VFX Legion satisfies its urge to Purge with cineSync

We’ve been featured on the cineSync blog!

We chatted about Legion’s work on The Purge: Election Year, which hit theaters earlier this month. Read an excerpt below, and follow the link at the end of this post for the full story!


When The Purge hit theaters in 2013, its inventive premise made for a hit with more than just hardcore horror fans. In The Purge‘s grisly universe, the United States makes crime legal for one night a year, allowing citizens to act out their darkest urges with the aim of keeping them buttoned up throughout the remaining 364 days. It’s devilishly alluring stuff – as enticing as it is unsettling.

With The Purge attaining cult status a sequel was more than likely. And now, following 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, the series is back once again with The Purge: Election Year, cementing its status as a trilogy.

While the films are anything but politically correct, the third entry digs deep into the American political system: there’s a government-led Purge-night plot to kill a presidential candidate, who also happens to be an advocate for abolishing the grotesque anniversary.

As you’d expect, mayhem and murder ensue, but it was intricate VFX trickery that brought this over-the-top carnage to life.

From bullet squibs to explosions, Blumhouse Productions turned to VFX Legion to create the visceral visuals. With experience on past horror productions like Sinister 2, Insidious: Chapter 3 and Ouija, Legion is something of a staple studio in the horror wheelhouse. However, with Blumhouse’s editorial team in New York and VFX Legion’s workforce working remotely from locations scattered all across the world, a reliable communication solution was needed to ensure consistency within the chaos.

It was cineSync that brought this into focus, keeping The Purge crew on track from shot to shot – and bullet hit to bullet hit.

Bloody brilliant
The Purge has developed its own distinct look over the years, and it was important that was maintained in the series’ grisly third entry.

Legion worked closely with the editorial team to develop a visual aesthetic that rung true to The Purge’s roots. From this the team went on to deliver a variety of digital effects, including blood hits, squib effects, bullet ricochets, gruesome headshots, and, naturally, exploding people. Legion’s artists also built a fully digital helicopter asset that was shared with other studios.

This wasn’t Legion’s first shot at the franchise: the global team had delivered clean-up work on The Purge: Anarchy, including scrapping billboards and addressing clearance concerns. For the third-entry, however, Blumhouse wanted to take Legion’s talents to the next level.

“This one is a completely different beast,” says James Hattin, creative director at VFX Legion. “It’s a bigger scope, and definitely more creative. The work demanded much more – the volume was really cranked up on this one.”

Hattin’s team tackled 136 shots over the course of five months. Around 15-20 artists were working on the project at any one time, including a Houdini artist who was brought in specifically to create dynamic 3D blood spatters that matched the practical photography – the results of which are near identical to the real thing.

“We created very specific blood hits that would match the practical, on-set squibs,” explains Hattin. “We did a one-to-one comparison where we put a blood hit on the left and the real one on the right, and you couldn’t tell the difference between the two.”

Ultimately, much of VFX Legion’s work on Election Year involved making the ultra-violent shots as realistic as possible, rather than adding elaborate effects. In some cases that meant developing digital blood, in another it meant creating a fully CG van asset so believable that it even fooled the editorial team.

“There’s a lot of fun, invisible stuff that no one’s going to see; even when people get hit and blood sprays out, they’ll think it’s real,” affirms Hattin. “We got to have a lot of fun on the project, doing stuff that really pushed our gore skills into new and interesting places.”


We are all magicians

Founder’s moment, by James.

Summer time.

Warm weather here, rainy down under. Summer is the lull in the television industry that allows us to tackle preparation for the next season. We’re upgrading the render farm, adding some new gear, experimenting with a little VR and overhauling security to start taking on larger, more secure jobs. Lots to do and only a precious few weeks to try and do it all.

Three and a half years of Legion Studios has taught me a lot about this industry. It’s cutthroat, demeaning, awful and yet terribly rewarding. One of Legion’s big goals has been to make sure that we spotlight the artists who make up our team. None of this works without a passionate group who are committed to making this work. I am so impressed by the people that we have working with us.

Nick Guth, one of our episodic leads is, I think, a genius. He finds solutions to some of the hardest shots we have. He worked a crazy week to create graphics for a money counterfeiting machine in The Catch.

H Haden Hammond took on almost half the work on The Purge: Election Day. It was his eye for consistency over large sequences that was key to making the whole last half of the movie work. We couldn’t have done it without him.

The New Zealand pod of Jean-Luc, Kim, and Amber (most of whom you will find in past or upcoming artist profiles) have been super artists that come in and crush difficult work using skillsets that have been developed from working all over the world.

John McConnell, painter and creative ‘Hack of All Trades’ is tireless at giving us that competitive edge when we need something completely impossible or far fetched.

Lastly in this very abbreviated list is Christopher Klassen, who interned with us for his senior year at CSUN here in LA. He’s now with us full time as a junior compositor. Legion is based on the idea of senior artists with decades of experience getting the job done quickly and effectively. However, I’ve always had the notion that bringing up Jr. artists is the best way to shape the next generation. School doesn’t teach real world implications of the theories. Christopher, being in an office that is basically all management, is literally getting a front row seat at seeing what goes on in visual effects above and beyond making cool images all day.

I think Christopher is a rare talent with a passion to be a compositor, and I don’t shirk my duty to pass along all that I know so he can go out there and start learning from real, on-the-box artists. Yesterday I was reviewing a shot of his, and he did something that I didn’t think would work for the final shot. He put an effect in that he thought would help the shot, and in some ways it did.

I told him “Let’s take it out, and see a version, then if we think it could work, we will put it back on.” Then I unloaded a story about how I had received the same note when I was at another facility in the early 2000s. Clearly our supe, at the time, could see that I was passionate about my camera shake or lens flare, or whatever it was… so he gently let me down with the “let’s do a version without it and see what that looks like” line. I passed this story along to Christopher, because I want him to see behind the curtain. Why do notes come in like they do? What drives supervisors to say the things they do? It mostly all comes down to experience.


As we do more marketing and become a ‘brand’ for VFX, know that, as long as I run the company, there will always be a spotlight on the artists. This industry would not exist were it not for the passion, the creativity and the tenacity of the thousands of remarkable people out there in the world.

We are all magicians, cleverly fooling people day in and day out. Whether it’s giant above-the-line spaceships and alien worlds, or removing a C-stand from the set, everything we do is magic. I’m thankful for the scores of great people I’ve been able to work with, and I look forward to meeting and working with many more as the success of Legion looms large.

In the words of my 1988 high school yearbook signature, “Stay cool, have a great summer, see you in September”.