The invisible visual effects of Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado

CG isn't just for superheroes: see how cutting-edge digital trickery is used even in ultra-realistic movies.

Richard Trenholm
Benicio Del Toro
1 of 29 Richard Foreman/Sony Pictures

Benicio Del Toro

We're used to superhero blockbusters with eye-popping effects. But did you know even grounded, realistic-seeming movies like Sicario: Day of the Soldado, aka Sicario 2, are jammed with computer-generated (CG) effects you're not even meant to notice?

Effects company Rodeo FX worked on Sicario, and these before-and-after photos show how it used CG to invisibly alter locations and give the filmmakers the flexibility to tell their story.

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An empty 'plate'...

This is what's known as a "plate." It's a shot of actors or vehicles at a real location, and it serves as a clean starting point for the next stage in the filmmaking process.

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...gets piled high

And that next stage is adding the effects! In this case Rodeo turned the empty background into an army base that demonstrates American military might.

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For this shot of a military convoy crossing the US-Mexican border, the filmmakers built a portion of the border-crossing with blue screens in the background.

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To the vanishing point

The blue screens could be digitally replaced with a new background. The small section of the border-crossing that was built for real was also extended, making it look bigger. This is called digital set extension.

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Real hangar

Here's another plate filmed at a real location.

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Virtual props

And here, subtle additions let the filmmakers add vehicles and props that'd be too expensive to bring in for real.

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From airport...

CG allows filmmakers more flexibility in choosing locations.

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...to airbase

Because subtle digital effects can be used to make the locations perfect.

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The plains

Effects can also help create small but important shots that would've been expensive.

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The plane

Here, the effects studio digitally added a combat drone.

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Digital simulation of a digital view

Some shots are entirely digital, like this overhead view.

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The previous, computer-like view was built digitally from a real-world shot.

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From boulevard...

CG is used more often than you think, in movies and increasingly in TV.

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...to building

Real locations are often tweaked to make them fit the story or, for example, to add period details.

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Borderlands revisited

This plate shows another view of the small border-crossing set.

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Obviously, sets can be digitally built-out to an impressive extent.

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Old-fashioned blast

Even when action is shot for real, with real vehicles and explosions, digital effects can make things even more spectacular.

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CG missile trail

Flaming wreckage and the streak of a rocket are digitally inserted.

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Now you see it

As well as adding things, CG can be used to remove stuff you're not meant to see.

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Now you don't

Presto: Wires and camera equipment have vanished.

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CG lets filmmakers completely transform a shot, shooting something like this helicopter in an easier way.

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...for night

And then converting to the appearance of nighttime, which would've been more difficult to achieve by actually flying at night.

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Anatomy of a shot

The movie begins with a devastating shot lasting more than a minute, which proved to be FX studio Rodeo's biggest challenge. 

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Slight tweaks

Rodeo began by augmenting the real location with CG.

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Before the blast

The filmmakers couldn't blow up the actual location.

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Digital mayhem

They instead turned to software that uses algorithms to realistically simulate explosions, flying debris and smoke.

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Visual effects go through various stages, starting with rough animations to cut down on computer processing. Each shot is rendered into its final high-definition form only when everyone is happy.

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CG fallout

Even though this shot lasts for just over a minute, it took Rodeo nearly a year to complete.

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