A Seam­less Wrap

Animation Magazine - - Opportunities -

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.

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