Animation Magazine

A CG Cold War Redux


RISE recreates the not-so-distant past of a divided Germany for Guy Ritchie’s stylish

By Karen Idelson.

Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. pays homage to the classic Cold War era spy films in all the ways that delight an audience – cool characters, sexy locales, stylish fashion and dynamic car chases. These are all the ingredient­s that have made spy films of any era an exercise in combining the slickest elements of filmmaking.

Despite being enamored with this imagery, it wasn’t long before Ritchie leaned into modern tools to update all the best elements of the spy genre. After all, this film was a new take on a classic 1960s TV show, and contempora­ry moviemakin­g means the director wants more control over things like a race between two classic cars — and that he can use CG to get it just the way he wants it.

Early in the film, the three main characters — Napoleon Solo, played by Henry Cavill; Illya Kuryakin, played by Armie Hammer; and Gaby Teller, played by Alicia Vikander — find themselves locked in a desperate chase through East Berlin. Hammer, behind the wheel of a Trabant, is pacing Cavill and Vikander as they put the pedal to the metal in a Wartburg. Interestin­gly enough, these two cars are not exactly known for their speed.

“When we saw the cars – and the Trabant and the Wartburg are two of the slowest cars you can imagine – we wondered how they were going to make a chase with these two cars exciting,” says Florian Gellinger, visual-effects supervisor for the German company RISE, which worked on more than 300 visual-effects shots for U.N.C.L.E. “But Guy Ritchie had imagined it in a really interestin­g way.”

The Trabant and the Wartburg are storied cars of the Cold War era and associated with the style and deprivatio­n of the East Germany that existed then. The Trabant gained notoriety worldwide when the rock band U2 incorporat­ed it into the staging of its early 1990s Zoo TV tours.

Updating Auto Classics After shooting these chase sequences using practical methods – actual Trabants and Wartburgs specifical­ly altered and trans- formed into movie cars and cutting-edge rigs designed with camera mounts to film the cars while they were being driven at high speeds – the director decided he wanted to alter the look of what he had, and that’s where RISE came into the picture. The company had been on-set since the beginning of shooting and had scanned all the elements being shot.

As the filmmakers realized how much they wanted to add and change – things like close ups of the characters during the chase, zooming in and out of the car windows as the cars sped along – it was clear they would need to replace the real cars and the real sequences that were completed with CG cars for the final sequence. And the practical footage that had already been shot was going to be especially useful.

“Once you have all the lighting informatio­n from the real cars you can use it to make what you’re doing in CG look that much better,” says Gellinger. “You’re not just working with something that’s only been in the computer.”

That informatio­n made it possible for Gell-

When I asked the guys at Chaos, “How many new features have been implemente­d in V-Ray 3.2?” their answer was, “Hundreds.” So, I said, “For the review, let’s boil that down to something maybe … less than that.” And here’s what we came up with.

At SIGGRAPH 2015, the Big Thing was Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality and Virtual Augmented Reality. Unsurprisi­ngly, one of V- Ray’s highest profile new features is camera support for VR rendering, more specifical­ly targeted ( at the moment) to the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear. Basically, you can render stereo 360-degree views in either a cube-map or spherical format, which simply and seamlessly fit into the new technology. I remain unconvince­d that the technology will take off as a “film” experience, but I have been convinced of its importance in tons of other fields — education, medical, industrial, mechanical, real estate — and Chaos seems to have taken the hint.

More advances are filed under “RealTime”, which is rendering on the GPUs. Depending on your specific video card, your results may vary. But, using the Progressiv­e render to get quick feedback for lighting and shading, V- Ray RT was throwing its calculatio­ns to the video card rather than the CPU. Now 3.2 has added QMC Sampling ( the stuff that deals with noise), displaceme­nt, composite maps, texture baking, UDIM support, et al. I think they just plan to keep throwing stuff at the GPU to speed things up until all of our display cards explode. But, it means faster feedback, which means we go home earlier in the day — or that the director feels he can tweak things a few more times.

For me, the next big, important feature is Volume Grids — the containers that hold all the FX-y stuff like smoke and fire and explosions. In the not-too-distant past, you may have seen smoke rendered in Houdini’s Mantra, water in RenderMan, robots in Arnold and environmen­ts in V-Ray. That smoke is a nightmare if your robot, and water and buildings happen to be inside the smoke, which is very likely.

See, the smoke had to be rendered with a holdout matte of the other stuff. Depending on how the renderers deals with motion blur, antialiasi­ng, etc., those mattes would never fit properly. ( Just ask John Knoll about Pacific Rim.) But now, V-Ray’s Volume Grid can import lots of standard fluid formats — OpenVDB, Field3D and Chaos’ own PhoenixFD — so you can render your smoke, with holdouts, in V- Ray. And you benefit from all the other stuff you get from rendering objects in volume, like GI bounce, shadows, all sorts of neat bonuses.

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