Pas­sion Play

Animation Magazine - - Opportunities -

LLuc Bes­son’s long-term plan for en­abled top VFX artists to bring to dig­i­tal life his vi­sion of an alien-filled epic for the ages. By Tom McLean.

uc Bes­son is ready to in­tro­duce the world to a new kind of hero with the re­lease July 21 of Va­le­rian and the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets, a lush, ef­fects-packed sci-fi fea­ture adapted from the French direc­tor’s fa­vorite child­hood comic.

For Bes­son, direc­tor of such iconic fea­tures as The Pro­fes­sional, The Fifth El­e­ment and Lucy, the movie was a la­bor of love that he be­gan work­ing on in 2000, hir­ing ten artists to come up with de­signs for a movie that didn’t even have a script.

“I wanted creativ­ity, to­tally, with­out fron­tier,” says Bes­son. “I wanted them to come back with the weird­est things they can (cre­ate). And then I re­ceived more than six thou­sand draw­ings and I started my puz­zle.”

Throw­ing a wrin­kle in the process was James Cameron’s Avatar, which so im­pressed Bes­son that he threw out his nearly fin­ished script for Va­le­rian and started over.

The fi­nal ver­sion of the story is adapted from the long run­ning Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line comic book cre­ated by writer Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Méz­ières. The comic de­buted in the pages of Pilote mag­a­zine in 1967, with a to­tal of 23 al­bums pub­lished in France through its con­clu­sion in 2013.

Bes­son says his boy­hood love of Va­le­rian prompted him to hire Méz­ières as an artist on The Fifth El­e­ment, but it took un­til now for vis­ual ef­fects to make pos­si­ble the kind of adap­ta­tion the direc­tor en­vi­sioned. The fea­ture stars Dane De­Haan as Va­le­rian and Cara Delev­ingne as Lau­re­line, two gov­ern­ment agents in the 28th cen­tury tasked with stop­ping a plot against Al­pha, the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets, where the uni­verse’s best and bright­est live in peace.

Vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Scott Stokdyk says he was thrilled to col­lab­o­rate with Bes­son, years af­ter work­ing as a dig­i­tal artist on The Fifth El­e­ment. But the scope of what Bes­son wanted to cre­ate with the movie was at first over­whelm­ing. “It seemed like the scale of what VFX would have to do was go­ing to just barely be pos­si­ble if ev­ery­thing on the movie went as planned,” he says.

Mak­ing It Man­age­able Bes­son’s fore­thought and plan­ning, how­ever, al­lowed Stokdyk and vis­ual ef­fects pro­ducer So­phie Le­clerc to break down the mas­sive task into man­age­able chunks. Stokdyk says they were able to di­vide up the ef­fects among a num­ber of top-notch com­pa­nies, with Weta, ILM and Rodeo FX re­li­ably lead­ing the charge.

Le­clerc says they played to each com­pany’s strengths. For ex­am­ple, the com­pli­cated Big Mar­ket se­quence, com­prised of some 600 shots, re­quired a re­ally large as­set and alien build that was tai­lored for ILM. The Al­pha sta­tion and space bat­tles were han­dled by Rodeo FX, while Weta han­dled some 1,300 shots, in­clud­ing a large amount of mo­tion cap­ture for the Pearl world as well as very di­verse aliens and habi­tats in­side the Al­pha sta­tion. Also

FWeta Dig­i­tal con­tin­ues to push the en­ve­lope of re­al­ism by mix­ing mo-cap and an­i­ma­tion to cre­ate con­vinc­ing non­hu­man char­ac­ters for By Tom McLean.

ew sci-fi films are as iconic as the Planet of the Apes se­ries, which first ex­ploded onto screens with a thought-pro­vok­ing and thrilling story nearly 50 years ago. While the rub­ber masks and makeup used for the apes was in­no­va­tive at the time, Fox’s modern-day reimag­ined tril­ogy has pushed vis­ual ef­fects to a new level of re­al­ism that cul­mi­nates with the July 14 re­lease of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Di­rected by Matt Reeves, War be­gins with the apes try­ing to live away from hu­mans, peace­fully in the woods. But when hu­man mil- itary forces lead by The Colonel (Woody Har­rel­son) in­trude, the apes’ leader Cae­sar (Andy Serkis) suf­fers a per­sonal loss that raises the stakes to the ul­ti­mate level as the un­avoid­able con­flict flares to deadly life.

Much of the film is set amid woods and moun­tains, shot on lo­ca­tion in Bri­tish Columbia, with ex­treme lo­ca­tions of­fer­ing a real-world test for the mo­tion-cap­ture sys­tem Weta Dig­i­tal uses to cre­ate the dig­i­tal apes’ per­for­mances. But cap­tur­ing data of the ac­tors on set — us­ing wa­ter- and weath­er­proof hous­ings for cam­eras as well as wire­less tech­nol­ogy to re- duce the num­ber of ca­bles run­ning through the mud — was worth it, says se­nior VFX su­per­vi­sor Joe Let­teri. “It just re­ally lends a lot of va­lid­ity to the per­for­mance when ev­ery­one’s in the mo­ment and work­ing to­gether,” he says.

Among Weta’s new tools on the show is a ren­derer called Manuka, which was first used for back­ground work on the pre­vi­ous film in the se­ries, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but came to the fore­front for War, es­pe­cially in the de­tailed ren­der­ing of the apes’ faces in the movie’s many closeup shots. “By re­ally be­ing able to throw a lot of data at the face de­tail in

Sony Pic­tures Image­works as­sem­bles the cli­mac­tic bat­tle of wide range of VFX tech­niques. By Trevor Hogg.

Af­ter join­ing the Marvel Cine­matic Uni­verse in Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War, the fa­mous wall­crawler of New York City gets his own movie with Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing. Tasked with as­sem­bling the cli­matic third act was Sony Pic­tures Image­works VFX Su­per­vi­sor Theo Bialek, who looked af­ter a fight be­tween the teenage su­per­hero (Tom Hol­land) and the Vul­ture (Michael Keaton) that com­mences in­side a ware­house, shifts to the top of a trans­port plane and con­cludes at a Coney Is­land Beach crash site.

“Tom Hol­land would go into mo­tion-cap­ture ses­sions and do all of these crazy stunts that even stunt men had trou­ble do­ing,” says Bialek. “What we could gather from that were snip­pets like when he lands and loses his bal­ance, he fa­vors this kind of leg. Our an­i­ma­tors went to our lo­cal stage, acted things out and used a XBox scan­ner (which cap­tures footage in real-time). Those takes were brought into Maya so they could see a geo­met­ric ver­sion of them­selves act­ing out the mo­tion. We also found a sub­cul­ture of peo­ple who jump over mov­ing cars that are go­ing be­tween 60 to 80 miles per hour, and tried to in­cor­po­rate their pos­ture and what their legs do be­cause it’s not what you would imag­ine.

“The home­made Spi­der-Man suit is sweat­pants, sneak­ers, sweat­shirt with the sleeves cut off, a hoodie and draw­strings, and a long sleeve shirt,” says Bialek. “Then he has got gog­gles that are a low-tech ver­sion of the ones he got on the Tony Stark suit (which func­tion like a cam­era shut­ter). The more-dif­fi­cult thing was set­ting up the sim­u­la­tion so that it could be au­to­matic for us be­cause we didn’t have the time or per­son­nel to hand sim­u­late the out­fit on every shot. There were a cou­ple of com­po­nents to our shad­ing models that helped with the rim light­ing. The two big­gest con­trib­u­tors would be a bit of sheen and the ac­tual hair (fuzz) we have on the suit to sim­u­late loose threads, pilling and fibers.”

On-the-Fly Changes No mo­tion-cap­ture was vi­able for the Vul­ture, who went through a ma­jor de­sign change. “Ini­tially, Vul­ture didn’t go down dur­ing the plane crash, but as it evolved, he and Spi­der-Man tum­ble through all of the de­bris, so nat­u­rally he needed to be dam­aged,” says Bialek. “That’s one of the in­stances where we went back to our Vis­ual Ef­fects Art Di­rec- tor Dan Cox. He de­signed all of these wires and pieces of dan­gling metal. We showed six or seven it­er­a­tions to the direc­tor (Jon Watts) and got him to sign off rel­a­tively quickly. That was a last-minute chal­lenge. How do we get this done? We setup a good an­i­ma­tion sys­tem where the an­i­ma­tors can do most of the sec­ondary mo­tion and, when it couldn’t, our sim­u­la­tion depart­ment would sim­u­late the wires and pieces of de­bris.”

The Vul­ture ware­house fight stayed true to the pre­viz. “The Vul­ture wings fly au­tonomously, clip­ping these con­crete pil­lars one at a time, weak­en­ing the whole struc­ture that falls on Spi­der-Man,” says Bialek. “Be­cause they had these prac­ti­cal pil­lars that were go­ing to ex­plode on-set, there needed to be ac­cu­rate plan­ning. We had a lot of plate shots but there were a cou­ple that needed to be all CG. The big­gest chal­lenge was keep­ing the an­i­ma­tion con­ser­va­tive. Spi­der-Man is jump­ing on and off of the col­umns so it was easy to have him leap off in an un­re­al­is­tic tra­jec­tory or ve­loc­ity. Out­side of the ware­house there are scenes that needed to be all CG and those were a chal­lenge to de­velop the as­sets (as it was not shot prac­ti­cally).”

Cloak­ing added an ex­tra level of com­plex­ity to the plane bat­tle. “Janek Sirrs (pro­duc­tion VFX su­per­vi­sor) gave us a good head start with a bunch of ref­er­ence ma­te­rial,” says Bialek. “We found a tech­nol­ogy used on tanks, where cam­eras shoot from all kinds of an­gles look­ing for other heat sig­na­tures, which are then pro­jected on ce­ramic tiles, which can heat and cool rapidly. If you’re look­ing through in­frared or a heat-sig­na­ture type of sys­tem, you see a car in­stead of a tank. You could use that same tech­nol­ogy on bill­boards that have elec­tronic LED pan­els. At cer­tain dis­tances, the cloak­ing is re­ally ef­fec­tive, but up close you would want to be able to see the sys­tem, so it looks like you’re crawl­ing on top of a bill­board.”

Over­lap­ping Tech­niques Prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy, green­screen stages, and full CG shots were in­ter­cut dur­ing the Coney Is­land Beach bat­tle. “The art there was to al­ways over­lap as much of the CG so that you can feather that blend,” says Bialek. “It was de­cided not to add tons of prac­ti­cal smoke, em­bers and ash as that would make the green­screen keys we would have to do dif­fi­cult. You al­ways have to make sure that you have the right amount of at­mo­spher­ics in front and be­hind the char­ac­ters so that we’ve placed them in depth. The fires that they shot on-set were use­ful. They were all flame bars, so you would typ­i­cally add ad­di­tional fire to hide the line that you would get.”

NASA footage came in handy. “We mod­eled our plane crash off of a real pas­sen­ger air­liner go­ing down into the desert, so it couldn’t have worked out bet­ter.

“We had as­sets from pre­vi­ous films of Avengers Tower from ILM and did a set extension, cityscape of Man­hat­tan and the plane be­ing loaded,” says Bialek. “It’s high up so we didn’t’ have to do any CG build­ings. It was all matte paint­ing. There were a cou­ple of wide shots of the plane where we’re do­ing dig­i­tal dou­bles of the crew, which were reused at the end of the beach bat­tle se­quence when they’re re­cov­er­ing all of the crash de­bris.”

Bialek adds: “I’m ex­cited to see the plane bat­tle re­al­ized on the big screen. Some­one could walk away and you’d say, ‘By the way, that was all CG.’ And they would say, ‘What!?’ There are over a 100 shots and a lot of close-ups of Spi­der-Man.” [

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.