Is Jennifer Lawrence's 'Passengers' Caught in VFX Legal Limbo?

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Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt

Digital Domain's ongoing legal troubles are beginning to affect big studio productions already underway, including Sony Pictures' sci-fi extravaganza starring Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

Jennifer Lawrence’s latest project, the $120 million Sony Pictures film Passengers, may be affected by Digital Domain 3.0’s ongoing legal drama, a result of a lawsuit in federal court.

On June 17, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction freezing a sophisticated motion capture technology called MOVA, of which DD3 is the exclusive licensee, from being used by movie studios and by DD3 itself. U.K. firm Moving Picture Company (MPC) is providing the VFX work on Passengers, while DD3 provided motion capture work. 

As The Hollywood Reporter reported earlier this week, lawyers for Digital Domain filed an appeal to have the injunction modified, so as not to affect several of their ongoing projects. In that filing, DD3’s lawyers noted that the injunction would affect one project in particular.

“DD3/Digital Domain already has captured data of an Academy Award-winning actress for a $120 million motion picture,” Digital Domain’s lawyers wrote. “The movie release date is December 2016. Although the capture is complete, the data from this project has not been processed and must be.”

According to IMDb, Passengers, with a budget of $120 million and starring Chris Pratt and the Oscar-winning Lawrence, is a sci-fi extravaganza about “a spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people [that] has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 60 years early.”

According to an individual with knowledge of the production, Digital Domain provided two hours of high-resolution facial capture work on the film in February and then gave the data to Sony. It’s scheduled to be released in December 2016. 

"This will have no impact whatsoever on postproduction or the release of the film," said an unnamed source at the studio.

But an individual who works in the VFX space says Passengers could be among the films impacted by the ruling. "They have to reassign the work now," that individual told THR

“A lot of the studios rely on MOVA,” said that source, who declined to be identified, “The legal decision puts a lot of projects on hold. People are pretty much freaking out.” 

As part of the injunction, DD3 was required to move the MOVA assets to a location chosen by the defendant in the federal case — Rearden Inc., which was created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman — until the case goes to trial sometime later this year.

According to a legal filing on June 29, the parties to the lawsuit have agreed upon a location, and are working out the details of having the assets moved. A judge has agreed to hear motions on July 8. Until that time, neither DD3 nor Rearden will be able to use the MOVA tech.

Other Digital Domain projects, including work it does on holograms, video games and a VR project, could also be affected.

Another big project for Digital Domain is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which has also used MOVA. But much, if not all, of the facial motion capture work on that project has already been completed, clearing the way for the project to go ahead. 

Digital Domain has so far declined to respond to requests for comment.

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