Union’s subtle VFX shots for T2 Trainspotting

From hallucinations to fantasies about football, see how Union created 400 VFX shots in the Trainspotting sequel.


Adam Gascoyne from London VFX company Union teamed up with director Danny Boyle once again for work on more than 400 VFX shots in the Trainspotting sequel T2 Trainspotting.

Adam has worked with Danny on numerous films, including 127 Hours, Steve Jobs and Babylon, conjuring a collaboration history of 16 years. Similar to the original Trainspotting film, the VFX in the sequel are subtly built into real footage to depict Irvine Welsh’s written fantasy in a way that resonates with audiences whilst staying true to the book.

Adam says the VFX add "subtle accents to moments in the story", giving depth to Spud’s struggle of becoming heroin-free.

"The focus was very much on coming up with ways to visualise the fantasy, flashbacks and hallucinations that punctuate the story throughout," says Adam.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing

"We created environments that enhance the narrative, gradually decaying Spuds flat as it comes ever closer to demolition and ensured Sick Boy’s pub was in a virtually derelict setting where almost everything else had been destroyed."

In T2 Trainspotting, Sick Boy now runs his aunt’s pub in Leith, which at the time of writing the book was a rundown and abandoned area known for crime and prostitution. But now that Leith is a gentrified, vibrant part of Edinburgh the team had to shoot at a pub on the outskirts of Glasgow and work with British Pathe to uncover footage of Leigh circa 1920. The 2016 footage was then composted into the archive.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing


A love of football and idolisation of George Best by the main characters continues into the sequel, and Union created VFX for their fantasies of great football moments and their hero.

In one sequence a football pitch was placed inside a pub as Renton and Sick Boy knee slide in a rainy celebration. In another, George Best’s face was projected onto a car in a moment of recounting the 'glory days’.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing

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VFX work taking on a more serious part of the storyline includes when Renton, now 20 years free of heroin, persuades Spud to go straight off heroin and the trauma of this process. This is visually presented in several scenes of the film.

At one point Spud tips in his chair off the roof of his high rise tenement flat, falling into Renton’s arms. 

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing


Another visualisation of the withdrawal process involves a Nosferatu-esque shadow on the wall.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing


Other subtle VFX work by Union include a replay of the iconic post-shoftlifting chase down Princess Street. In T2 Trainspotting, heads have been replaced by 2D caricatures inspired by the Harvey Nichols shoplifting advertising campaign.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing

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Another involves Renton’s train wallpaper, retiring as the focal point of a shot in which is appears he’s been left dancing on a virtual train platform in his room as a train departs, creating and endless tunnel from his bedroom walls.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing


Union also worked on 3D elements to the ed credit sequence created by Tomato, which shows the demolition of Edinburgh tenement blocks.

The team at Union creates visual effects for film and television from their Soho studio. Recent work includes for Bridget Jones' Baby, Swallows and Amazons and Florence Foster Jenkins.

Image: 2017 Sony Pictures Releasing