'Challengers' VFX artists show how they did that tennis ball POV scene

Who knew one of year's most interesting special effects shots would be... a tennis match?


Challengers, the tennis movie starring Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor, is not the first movie you'd think of for visual effects. But the film uses them to a surprising extent: One shot in particular, a 24-second volley between two of the protagonists from the perspective of the ball, used extensive digital and practical effects, as VFX supervisor Brian Drewes explained on X.

The live plates were shot with an Arri Alexa LF on a 30-foot technocrane during a period of five hours with stunt doubles, according to Drewes. 23 individual shots were stitched together to create the final sequence.

"Highly detailed LiDAR and photogrammetry scans of the tennis court environment were captured to help create the final models. 100+ actors and background extras were also photoscanned to populate the stands of our CG environment," according to Drewes.

After that, CG was used to smooth camera motion and correct time of day changes. The stunt doubles' faces were then replaced "with a combination of full CG heads and additional photography," Drewes added.

So why do all that? The sequence appears designed to convey the speed, chaos and passion in the sport, matching the movie's overall themes. It's also just an interesting way to show would otherwise be a routine tennis match.