Bridge Be­tween worlds

We hear from Ter­ri­tory about their work on Steven Spiel­berg’s sci-fi block­buster Ready Player One

3D World - - CONTENTS -

If there was ever any doubt that Steven Spiel­berg could still de­liver fam­ily entertainment at an epic scale, it was put to rest this year with the re­lease of Ready Player One. Achiev­ing both crit­i­cal ac­claim and com­mer­cial suc­cess, the sci-fi block­buster based on Ernest Cline’s novel de­picts a fu­ture in which peo­ple spend most of their days in­side a VR game called OA­SIS, as an es­cape from the bleak­ness of real life.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for 3D was di­vided neatly be­tween two main ven­dors: Dig­i­tal Do­main dealt with the ‘real world’ and ILM with the VR world of the OA­SIS.

Some el­e­ments, how­ever, needed to ex­ist in both, in­clud­ing vir­tual re­al­ity HUDS, user in­ter­faces and holo­graphic el­e­ments. So as the sole post graph­ics ven­dor, Ter­ri­tory found it­self having to bridge the gap be­tween th­ese two worlds. “Es­sen­tially, we were the jam in the sand­wich be­tween the real world and the OA­SIS,” ex­plains cre­ative direc­tor Andrew Pop­ple­stone. “For in­stance, we needed to en­sure con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the graph­ics in the vi­sors when we im­me­di­ately cut to the same graph­ics in the HUDS. We also fleshed out the en­vi­ron­ments, cre­at­ing user in­ter­faces for wall screens, tablets and ta­ble dis­plays in the real world, and HUDS, dis­plays, sig­nage and spe­cific graphic de­vices that tied into com­plex story beats in the OA­SIS.”

Retro look

Ter­ri­tory’s role on the film be­gan when it was ap­proached by pro­duc­tion de­signer Adam Stock­hausen, and item one on the agenda was nail­ing the over­all look.

“Adam ex­plained that al­though the story is set in the fu­ture, it ref­er­ences all this Eight­ies stuff, so it would be re­ally cool to have this light, sub­tle nod to the retro gaming world,” re­calls Pop­ple­stone. “But it needed to be su­per so­phis­ti­cated and su­per fu­tur­is­tic too, so that was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing balance to strike.

“Some of our early con­cepts ex­plored that su­per-eight­ies look – very 8-bit, ar­cade game-based aes­thetic – but we knew it had to look like tech­nol­ogy from the fu­ture. So while it was okay to nod to the Eight­ies in terms of colour pal­ettes and ty­pog­ra­phy, if it started to look too retro, or too ba­sic and un­so­phis­ti­cated, we knew that we had to pull it back.”

col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment

After pre­sent­ing con­cep­tual de­signs to Stock­hausen, the team went on to work di­rectly with VFX su­per­vi­sor Matthew But­ler of Dig­i­tal Do­main for the tra­di­tional 2D and 3D ‘real world’ graph­ics, and with VFX su­per­vi­sor Roger guyett and grady Cofer at ILM for the in­ter­ac­tive vol­u­met­ric graph­ics for the full Cg world of the OA­SIS.

Ter­ri­tory also worked closely with the film’s pro­duc­tion team work­ing out of Am­blin in Los Angeles; namely, co­pro­ducer/vfx pro­ducer Jen­nifer Meis­lohn and pro­duc­tion su­per­vi­sors Viet Luu, Jakris Smit­tant, Clint Spillers and greg Weiler.

“It was very col­lab­o­ra­tive,” ex­plains Pop­ple­stone. “Oc­ca­sion­ally Adam would come back in the fray a lit­tle bit, and some­times the writer would jump on the phone as well, and we’d all have th­ese big calls dis­cussing the work.”

While Ter­ri­tory has been grow­ing in scale and rep­u­ta­tion in re­cent years, with cred­its on films like Blade Run­ner 2049 and

Ghost in the Shell, this was set to be their big­gest project to date… not to mention the most com­plex.

“It was almost like work­ing two shows con­cur­rently,” says Sam Mun­nings, se­nior mo­tion de­signer. “One with Dig­i­tal Do­main, which was a cer­tain kind of work and a cer­tain ex­e­cu­tion and de­liv­ery sys­tem. And the other, with ILM, was a dif­fer­ent kind of work and dif­fer­ent way of work­ing. So it was ex­tremely com­pli­cated lo­gis­ti­cally, not to mention cre­atively. At our big­gest point we were some­where be­tween 15 and 20 artists.”


Set­ting up two dis­tinct pipe­lines to de­liver to Dig­i­tal Do­main and ILM’S re­quire­ments, Ter­ri­tory were tasked with con­cept­ing the cre­ative lan­guage of the film. They had to solve the chal­lenges of how to best marry the phys­i­cal and vir­tual props like screens,

vi­sors, HUDS, 3D and holo­graphic de­vices with Cg content that tied into the story, as well as de­sign­ing graph­ics on a per-shot ba­sis. They then had to lay ev­ery­thing out in a 3D en­vi­ron­ment, pro­jec­tion mapping onto plates for the real world, an­i­mat­ing and light­ing full Cg graph­ics in the OA­SIS. Slap comps on plates were sub­mit­ted for direc­tor re­view and ap­proval be­fore be­ing shipped to Dig­i­tal Do­main and ILM for fi­nal comp.

But while work­ing with in­dus­try titans like ILM meant the pres­sure was on, this was a sup­port­ive two-way col­lab­o­ra­tion. In sim­ple terms, Ter­ri­tory’s graph­ics helped drive the VFX, and the VFX helped drive the graph­ics.

For ex­am­ple, ILM would change their an­i­ma­tion based on Ter­ri­tory’s an­i­ma­tion of the HUDS, while Ter­ri­tory would an­i­mate the HUDS based on the character move­ments and ges­tures of the ILM an­i­ma­tion. “There was this lovely back and forth,” says Pop­ple­stone. “We’d send over an Alem­bic of a character do­ing some­thing, but the an­i­ma­tion might be com­pletely off once we got our stuff in there. So we’d send it back and ILM would have to com­pletely re-ad­just their an­i­ma­tion to fit our stuff. And Roger was so open with that, read­ily adapt­ing to our work to im­prove the over­all se­quence. You might think it’s go­ing to be in­tim­i­dat­ing, work­ing with some­one as big as ILM – but ac­tu­ally it was lovely.”

Spiel­berg got in­volved too. “We’d get re­ceive notes from Steven about adding cer­tain story point de­tails into our graph­ics,” says Pop­ple­stone. “We were of­ten told to go big­ger, larger and more ob­vi­ous, to give the au­di­ence a chance to read the story de­tails within the graph­ics them­selves. Plus shots were length­ened so the graph­ics had more time to play.”

Th­ese were not, as Pop­ple­stone em­pha­sises, graph­ics that played in the back­ground to add some ad­di­tional de­tail – they were ac­tu­ally made to bring life to the over­all film. “An ex­am­ple might be how char­ac­ters’ vi­sors show im­pact dam­age in red dur­ing the fight se­quence, or re­flect sub­tler story points such as heart rates dur­ing the dance se­quence.”

HUD chal­lenge

Al­though Ter­ri­tory are past mas­ters at HUDS, Ready Player One pre­sented a new chal­lenge, Mun­nings notes. “HUDS by their very na­ture are tra­di­tion­ally seen from a first-per­son point of view. But in

Ready Player One, the au­di­ence would also see them from a third-per­son POV. So that was one of the big­gest chal­lenges: what the hell does that look like? An­other was that the ac­tors’ eyes al­ways needed to be vis­i­ble through vi­sors, screens, etc, so content lay­ers had to be de­signed with that in mind.”

“HUDS are tra­di­tion­ally seen from a first-per­son point of view, BUT in the film, the au­di­ence also see them from a third-per­son pov. so that was one of the Big­gest chal­lenges” Sam Mun­nings, se­nior mo­tion de­signer

boot-up se­quence

Per­haps the big­gest coup for Ter­ri­tory, though, was the boot-up se­quence where main character Wade puts on his gog­gles for the first time, and enters the OA­SIS via a colour­ful tun­nel of light.

“That was a big shot for us be­cause it es­sen­tially evolved out of noth­ing,” says Andrew Pop­ple­stone. “It was go­ing to be a much more sim­pli­fied se­quence, and it came about be­cause we had a few ideas on the Ready Player One logo it­self. We slightly cheek­ily sent them off and Steven re­ally liked them. So he asked us to de­velop that, and we came up with this runway idea, which Steven loved too. He ref­er­enced the Space 2001 slit scan style and was like: ‘More, more, more! Make it longer, make it big­ger!’ He’s just one of those peo­ple who when he likes some­thing, he wants more of it… and no one’s go­ing to ar­gue with him. And what’s great is that boot-up se­quence ended up on pretty much ev­ery trailer, so it kind of feels like it be­came sym­bolic of the film.”

Ter­ri­tory ended up de­liv­er­ing over 265 VFX shots and over 80 unique as­sets for

Ready Player One, es­sen­tially touch­ing the ma­jor­ity of se­quences in the film that fea­ture in­ter­ac­tive UI on mon­i­tors, vi­sors, HUDS and 3D en­vi­ron­men­tal sig­nage. But it wasn’t un­til they saw the movie in the cin­ema that they could fi­nally re­lax.

“The whole time we were de­sign­ing th­ese el­e­ments, we just had to imag­ine what the fi­nal shot was go­ing to look like, be­cause we weren’t see­ing any fi­nal ren­ders or comps from ILM,” ex­plains Mun­nings. “When we did see them in the fi­nal shot, we were so happy with how it all looked be­cause it just worked so well to­gether.”

Looking back, Ready Player One was the per­fect project for the studio’s dis­tinc­tive skillset, con­cludes Pop­ple­stone. “We’ve done lots of de­sign for films be­fore, and we’ve done lots of 3D and holo­graphic stuff, but this was the best ex­am­ple of com­bin­ing the two dis­ci­plines. Cre­at­ing graphic de­signs and ex­e­cut­ing them in a VFX world is a niche for us that I don’t think many other peo­ple are do­ing, and it was the per­fect fit on this show.”

Mo­tion graph­ics dis­played in the vi­sors serve to con­vey im­por­tant story points through the nar­ra­tive

Heads-up dis­plays in the vi­sors needed to be shown in both first-per­son and third-per­son view

left: spiel­berg loved the tun­nel fly­through that ter­ri­tory de­vised for the oa­sis boot-up se­quence be­low: even the tini­est tex­tual de­tails were care­fully drawn from el­e­ments of the book and rel­e­vant story de­tails Mid­dle: Dig­i­tal dis­plays add colour and in­ter­est to the oth­er­wise drab ‘real world’ of the movie

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