Jeremy Ball debuts Frost at TIFF

The B.C. filmmaker (pictured) tells Playback how an Arctic snowscape was created on a soundstage with green screen techniques and visual effects.

Jeremy Ball’s 11-minute short film Frost portrays a young hunter’s search for food in an Arctic snow-blown setting and a frozen convenience store.

The rub is the first Canadian Film Centre short to be shot in the HD format was done entirely on a studio soundstage with a green screen and snow blankets for all snowscapes, and used around 80 visual effects completed by five different companies.

“It would have been great to have some real snow this winter. That never happened,” Ball told Playback ahead of Frost having its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11.

The challenge for Ball was, even before he started to pen the Frost script, was being able to capture a realistic Arctic setting on the soundstage – one with invisible environments and imagined antagonists around Naya, the young hunter played by Emily Piggford – for effective green screen composting of the visual effects.

The answer was much forethought.

For starters, Ball did a 90-second teaser film as part of the CFC’s directing lab to get his green screen techniques down.

“I had a very good sense of what I was going for, and I was able to show it to director of photography (Guy Godfree), who came on board and everyone was on the same page of what we were going for,” Ball recalled.

Godfree’s duties on Frost were not straightforward.

The job of a cinematographer is in large part about lighting, and taking cues from available sunlight.

On a soundstage, Ball had to be clear about the look he wanted with Frost, otherwise Godfree might have created his own sunlight and visual world in a way that diverged from what the director intended.

Next came the question of visual effects.

That’s an area Ball knows well, having worked in Vancouver in production and visual effects on Zhang Yimou’s The Flowers of War and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

So he story-boarded and shot-planned the short film from beginning to end to get the most of his available budget and time on set.

“I kind of had a sense very early on of the kinds of things that were possible, and what was not, given the time allowed and the resources we had,” Ball insisted.

That called for compromises, including a CG-created caretaker being a floating head character, which was easier to execute that having a CG character with its feet on the floor and bumping into props after compositing.

After all, Ball and Frost producer Lauren Grant had to convince the CFC mentors that they could effectively replace the green screen with visual effect images during editing.

“There’s a lot of green screen and you have an actress who’s reacting to something that’s not there. It can be tricky as you tell people, don’t worry about that, it will all work in the long run,” Ball recalled of revealing the work in progress at varied stages.

The director took over 1500 photographs of Toronto to give visual effects artists a feel for the look aimed at for Frost, and even used Google Earth to walk them through streets of Toronto that Naya would go down.

Now, after all the preparation, production and now with the finished short film, Ball is looking forward to his world premiere in Toronto with confidence.

Ball has already seen Frost on the big screen at a CFC industry screening.

“That was the first time and I enjoyed that experience,” he said.

Photos: Jeremy Ball on set / by David Lee; Frost set / by Heather K. Dahlstrom

All photos from Frost