The Big Reveal 2005 - Part One

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Yesterday I had an enjoyable time down in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center, where the Visual Effects Society introduced artists who described their craft. Over the next several days, I'll go over what I saw and their descriptions and timeframe to complete their shots. What puzzles me is that in some of the categories the visual effects producers and supervisors were nominated, instead of the artists. I was hoping for more artist discussion than supervisors hamming it up for the audience and promoting themselves. They didn't really do the work. There's another award for them to strive for. It's the Oscar.

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Effects Driven Motion Picture

The nominees in this category are Spider-Man 2, The Day After Tomorrow, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Spider-Man 2
nominees: John Dykstra, Lydia Bottegoni, Anthony LaMolinara, Scott Stokdyk

The crew for this show was responsible for the CG creation of four separate characters, with their CG flesh a large obstactle to overcome. The show contains over 800 visual effects shots, comprising more than 40 minutes of the 127 minute film. The team made important advances on Spider-Man 2; over and above the work that was done on its predecessor. These breakthroughs exist to a large majority in the CG realm with the creation of realisitic digital characters and seamless virtual environments.

The CG versions of actors Alfred Molina and Tobey Maguire in particular should be noted. Full body scans of Molina and Maguire were done in order to create complete digital doubles of their Doc Ock and Spider-Man characters. This resulted in sequences where the characters fought on moving trains and vertical sides of buildings. These sequences would have been impossible to accomplish with live actors.

CG Doc Ock was based on the implementation of Light Stage 2.0 technology which artists working on the film then turned into a usable tool to create life-like characters. The system was set up to incorporate facial animation, both image-based and traditional lighting, and shadowing/integration issues with non-Light Stage elements such as hair, sunglasses and cloth.

The virtual environment was expanded to accommodate both greater areas of New York and more interaction between the actors and the buildings. It is interesting to note that not one background plate in the film exists in the real world. All of the buildings were either created or composited into the film by SPI artists.

Added to the usual hair, cloth and water issues that face most visual effects driven films was the source of Doc Ock's evil; his tentacles. Next to the creation of CG characters, the smooth integration of physical puppet tentacles and CG animated tentacles the team accomplished is probably one of the most notable visual effects in the film.

The Day After Tomorrow
nominees: Karen Goulekas, Mike Chambers, Greg Strause, Remo Balcells

This presentation was pretty much a recap of the VES festival which occurred last summer in San Rafael. I won't go into that much detail, but for those of you that missed it, I'll touch on a couple of things. The supervisors talked about the acquisition of their data, which involved a LIDAR scan of thirteen blocks of downtown New York, as well as over 50,000 photographs during post. They only used three miniatures in the movie, and none of them were of New York! Digital Domain did some excellent volumetric work for the twisters in LA, and I think some of the best work in the movie. The tsunami wave which hits New York is another amazing effect, definitely the coolest New York destruction since the big wave in Deep Impact.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
nominees: Roger Guyett, Tim Burke, Theresa Corrao, Emma Norton

The nominees for this show didn't show up, since there's an ocean and a continent between us! However there was a presenter who described many of the techniques they used in creating the wonderful effects. There were over 1000 shots in the movie, many digital doubles, and some great sets. One technique, which the presenter went into detail about, was the playback of animation of the Hippogryph. Once the animation of the creature was approved, it was fed into a live action model, upon which Harry Potter could ride. Since the model would buck and move like it's CG counterpart (which had already been approved for animation), Harry would accurately be comped over the creature, without messy fudging. Very cool.

They also described the cloth simulation used for the dementors, which involved multiple layers of cloth over one another. It had to be dynamic, but also animateable! Ah.

What was interesting to note, with all the presenters and their ten minute show reels, was that the breakdowns were fairly simple, and the composites straight-forward (definitely multiple layers). As well, all the studios rendered several similar passes; specular, diffuse, normals, and ambient occlusion (or global illumination, depending on who you ask).

Tune in later this week when I continue the Big Reveal, with Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial.

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