A Seamless Wrap
Multiple effects houses collaborate to make a satisfying and exciting
conclusion to the saga of Katniss Everdeen. By Karen Idelson.
Films like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 are known for their massive visual effects work, with entirely unreal worlds created as a backdrop for the tale of Katniss Everdeen. But visual-effects supervisor Charles Gibson will tell you he’s just as enamored with the less obvious work in the movie.
Based on the young adult sci-fi epic book series by Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay — Part 2 certainly made room for the creation of creatures that could only exist on the screen because of the imagination and skill of a team of visual-effects artists. Those artists also pushed their craft by making environments look so real that few will realize don’t actually exist.
The less-obvious work can include “natural” environments like a cityscape or even subtle bluescreen work that allows compositors to place the characters in places that seem based in reality though they’re just as unreal as the more flashy locales of the movie.
“There are a lot of obvious visual-effects sequences which stand out and are excellent, like the ones by Weta Digital with the mutts (mutations) who look like lizard people,” says Gibson. “But there’s another set by Double Negative that are digital environments that I don’t think people will realize aren’t real and those are just as impressive in their own way.”
In the last part of the movie, for example, Katniss is making her run for the Capitol Mansion and they’re in the city. Gibson revealed a large part of the city environment didn’t exist at all and was fabricated by the team at Double Negative, one of many visual-effects houses tackling the enormous load of work required to complete the film.
“It’s completely seamless and that’s as exciting to me as anything else, because it was so successful,” says Gibson. “To have those shots blend so well into the rest of the film is really satisfying.”
Relying on Previs In order to come up with shots that would pass the realism test and fall into the film with no detection, Gibson and his crew spent extensive some on previs, adjusting as they went along so that all the elements that were created by one or more visual-ef- fects houses would come together easily. He also familiarized everyone with the camera angles that would be used, carefully considered the types of lighting and worked with the grips on delicately putting together greenscreen and bluescreen shots. Then Gibson got together with the ADs in order to plan how to place the extras and crowds so they could more easily be multiplied later.
Double Negative, Weta Digital, Moving Picture Company, Lola Visual Effects, Exceptional Minds, Cantina Creative and The Embassy are among the effects houses on the movie. There was an in-house VFX department as well.
Gibson looked to engage houses depending on the types of work they were known to do well. Weta Digital, Gibson says, was known for their excellent creature work so it just made sense to send shots of the mutts to them.
“We knew we were going to be intimate with the creatures,” said Gibson. “We knew they were going to be wet and fleshy and interacting with the actors, so there are, arguably, only two or three visual-effects houses in the world who can do creature work that can stand up for a period of time on screen like that.”
When Gibson works with so many houses, it can be a challenge to keep all the different teams on the same aesthetic page, so he is careful to prep the plates in-house and tries to store all the data inhouse. This way the process can be standardized as much as possible in the event some shots have to be shared by more than one effects facility.
Even with all these steps in place, the process is never simple and there can always be complications along the way.
“The shots that linger the longest are the ones where you have a blank canvas and have to create an entire city,” says Gibson. “But in terms of logistics and planning, the lizard sequence was very challenging because the stunt performers required special costumes, there was special equipment, there was extensive previs and there was coordination between all of those different areas.”
Going the Extra Mile Once everything for the lizard sequence was put together, Gibson not only did previs, he also did postvis before he went to Weta Digital. It was an additional step that paid off, even though it took more time. This way they were certain everything had been shot correctly and all the elements would come together as the filmmakers had planned.
“We worked on that sequence for the better part of a year and then Weta went to work on it for another six months,” said Gibson.
With so many different VFX houses on the film, Gibson also makes sure to collaborate with the director of photography and works to remain faithful to his color and lighting schemes for the film. This means taking as much lens lighting information as they can and then sharing it with all the VFX teams around the world. This way, as the shots drop in, they seem to be part of one team’s work instead of disjointed or off in any manner.
“One of the luxuries of a movie having a dedicated VFX supervisor is that you have somebody who is watching everything and making sure there’s consistency between all the different vendors,” said Gibson.
Gibson was most challenged by the kinds of sequences that “could have been very cheesy very easily if we hadn’t pulled them off the right way,” he says. Gibson also believes the credit for pulling this off should not be given to one person in particular.
“The toxic oil sequence and the sequence with the meat grinder coming up after them while there are death rays shooting at them are things straight out of a video game but the director chose to shoot them in a very naturalistic kind of way so they became believable,” said Gibson. [
It’s been a little bit of a wait for the next iteration of the popular, near-indispensable fluid-simulation engine known as FumeFX. But version 4.0 is now available, and is simply more of a good thing.
The principal update lies under the hood with a new solver with new maths. The original conjugate gradient solver was already pretty quick, but the Quasi-Newton Conjugate Gradient has replaced the older version to decrease sim times and increase detail, which I can attest is readily noticeable. To add to the speedup, some parameters for objects that react to the simulation have been added to reduce the amount of voxelation required to interact. Also, speed increases a bit by sharpening some channels, such as velocity and smoke, during the sim. Not only that, but it retains detail in the smoke for a longer period of time.
Speed isn’t everything, however. There has to be a balance of speed and accuracy.
On the physically accurate side of things, an oxygen component to the volume has been brought in, because as any chemistry student knows, you need both oxygen and fuel to burn. When oxygen and fuel hit a threshold in the FumeFX volume, ignition happens, and then both fuel and oxygen are consumed, making for potentially more accurate simulations. The accuracy continues into the rendering of the burn with a black-body shader using real math and driven by temperature, so the hotter you burn, the brighter the flame (more or less).
Next on the list is making sims controllable — because clients want cool, not real. FumeFX already had spacewarps that you could use to massage a simulation into a position that it wouldn’t normally want to fit. But now a spline follow force can be applied to guide the simulation along a specific path.
And lastly, in terms of compatibility and interactivity, FumeFX 4 has OpenVDB support and Field3D for moving data to programs such as Houdini, or pulling in fluid data from those programs. It also can bring in PRT caches from Krakatoa or PDC files from Maya. And it supports V-Ray’s deep data for compositing in software like Nuke, which, in my opinion, is critical for getting these kind of volumetric renders working in your comp shots.
If you haven’t used FumeFX, then give it a shot. You’ll have cool looking stuff within an hour of opening it. If you have been using it, then you already know its power, and version 4.0 isn’t going to disappoint.
Houdini 15 t looks like this is going to be the effects review issue! Side Effects gave a sneak peek of Houdini 15 at SIGGRAPH this year, and last month it finally became avail-
T... to break out new discs like and
to sit down and be quiet for an hour. By Mercedes Milligan.
he film that launched a thousand memes (and about 80 billion tie-in products and marketing stunts) comes home in time for the holidays. Directed by Illumination’s crack helmers Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, the colorful comedy explains just where these strange sentient jelly beans came from. Evolving from yel- low amoebas, the Minions make it to the 1960s still determined to find the best baddy to lead them — Scarlett Overkill.
Starring Sandra Bullock as the queen supervillain (and also featuring Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan and Jennifer Saunders, with Coffin voicing the Minions), the CG flick took in more than $1.1 billion worldwide to become the highest-grossing his father’s death and befriends a curious flying sprite. Strangely, all his schoolmates have similar “friends.” The unfolding sci-fi mystery tackles themes of loyalty and mankind’s penchant for destruction in a post-Fukushima world.
Criterion here presents a new, high-definition digital remaster of this special effects feat on DVD or Blu-ray the secret of his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a ruthless Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) — and prove himself to Pym’s sceptical daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly).
The DVD includes an alternate father-daughter scene, but the big bang comes with the Blu-ray ($32.99) and BD 3D ($39.99) sets. Making of an Ant- Sized Heist: A How-To Guide swiftly covers the film’s big job with Scott and his accomplices, the Ant- rector Khoa Le follows Walt from his childhood to the founding and financial failure of his first studio venture in Missouri, the initial success and growing drama of Disney Brothers, and ends just as Mickey makes his debut in 1928’s Plane Crazy.
Thomas Ian Nicholas stars as Walt, with Jon Heder (Roy Disney), David Henrie (Rudy Ising), Armando Gutierrez (Ub Iw-
and get the whole family
erks), Flora Bonfanti (Margaret Winkler), Taylor Gray (Friz Freleng), Hunter Gomez (Hugh Harman) and Jodie Sweetin as Walt’s supportive aunt Charlotte. Le’s low-budget adaptation had a very limited release and failed to impress reviewers, but the rarity of the story’s timeline is something.