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Behind the CGI of the Coen Brothers' Ballad of Buster Scruggs

For a Western, Netflix's Ballad of Buster Scruggs sure has a lot of cutting-edge digital effects. Check out the pictures to see how they came to be.

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Richard Trenholm
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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs harks back to classic westerns, but directors Joel and Ethan Coen used the latest technology to realise the rootin', tootin' action. Visual effects company East Side was one of the bands of outlaws rounding up digital effects for the movie, which is divided into six short stories. Click through the pictures to see how CG effects were used to put James Franco in a noose and Tom Waits in a tree.

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2 of 26 East Side

I: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The first story sees Buster Scruggs himself ride in from the prairie. Here we see the original unaltered shot -- also known as a "plate" -- of actor Tim Blake Nelson, complete with camera tracks on the right hand side.

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3 of 26 East Side

I: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

While the movie was filmed elsewhere, the production team took shots of the iconic Monument Valley... 

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4 of 26 East Side

I: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

...and dropped the actor into the famous backdrop, painting out the camera equipment and adding digital dust at the same time.

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5 of 26 East Side

II: Near Algodones

The second story in the anthology sees a bunch of cowboys come under fire from a hail of arrows. The actor mimes being hit...

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6 of 26 East Side

II: Near Algodones

...which was digitally mapped...

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II: Near Algodones

...and the arrows were added in, or "composited".

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
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III: Meal Ticket

Liam Neeson stars in the third chapter, which presented the film's most complicated visual effects shot.

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III: Meal Ticket

Harry Melling plays a paraplegic performer in this dark tale. For shots like this, he simply stood in a hole on the stage and CG was used to paint out his arms and legs.

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10 of 26 East Side

III: Meal Ticket

But for this sequence, in which Neeson carries Melling's character on his back, that simple solution wouldn't work.

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11 of 26 East Side

III: Meal Ticket

So for the first part of the shot, Neeson carried a dummy up the stairs, and the movements were precisely tracked and mapped.

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12 of 26 East Side

III: Meal Ticket

Then, Melling was filmed separately on a moving platform known as a motion base, programmed to repeat the same movements as the dummy on the stairs.

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III: Meal Ticket

These two elements were then composited together -- and to make it even more complex, the light on Melling's face had to match the changing light on the stairs as Neeson passed each lamp.

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IV: All Gold Canyon

Tom Waits is a grizzled prospector in the next chapter.

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15 of 26 East Side

IV: All Gold Canyon

For the scene where the prospector climbs a tree, Waits was shot against a bluescreen backdrop. The bluescreen was set up outdoors rather than inside a soundstage, for more natural light.

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IV: All Gold Canyon

More clean images of the backdrop were captured...

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IV: All Gold Canyon

...and the two elements composited together.

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V: The Gal Who Got Rattled

Zoe Kazan appears in this heartwrenching segment. For once, those wagons are actually real.

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V: The Gal Who Got Rattled

In one scene, Grainger Hines defends against an attack by Native Americans.

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V: The Gal Who Got Rattled

Real horses were used to film the attack.

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V: The Gal Who Got Rattled

But the real horses were replaced by CG steeds for the moments when they fell.

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V: The Gal Who Got Rattled

These digital horses were created by the same company that created the many mounts seen in the spectacular Battle of Bastards in Game of Thrones.

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
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VI: The Mortal Remains

The final gothic segment is set in the cramped confines of a stagecoach, and was intended by the Coens to look artificial and otherworldly.

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24 of 26 East Side

VI: The Mortal Remains

Here we see the stagecoach filmed against a bluescreen, with no horses.

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VI: The Mortal Remains

The bluescreen and the towing equipment were painted out...

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VI: The Mortal Remains

And more CG horses were added to complete the atmospheric effect.

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