‘Predator’: VFX supe Joel Hynek recalls the days of optical compositing, thermal cameras and *that* red suit

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

John McTiernan’s Predator is perhaps most fondly remembered for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line, ‘Get to the chopper!’ But it also featured some incredibly memorable optical effects, crafted by R/Greenberg Associates and overseen by visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek.

These included a distinctive camouflage effect wielded by the alien Predator creature (appearing also in a monster suit designed and built by Stan Winston Studio), a heat vision-inspired Predator POV look, and several other optical effects.

Despite the challenging nature of the shots, and the challenging jungle shoot, the work culminated in an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects (the nominees were Joel Hynek, Robert M. Greenberg, Richard Greenberg and Stan Winston).

In this interview, Hynek details the optical compositing tests that led to the eventual camouflage effect, the ill-fated red-suit-in-the-jungle approach to obtaining plates, and the almost ill-fated attempt at using a thermal camera for the Predator POV shots.

Continue reading ‘Predator’: VFX supe Joel Hynek recalls the days of optical compositing, thermal cameras and *that* red suit

Before you see Tom Cruise’s ‘The Mummy’, re-visit the digital make-up, mocap and other VFX innovations from the 1999 film

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

You’ve got a character that needs to be desiccated and completely non-human in its position but has to be believably human in the way that it moves. Well, that’s motion capture in a nutshell.John Berton Jr., ILM visual effects supervisor, The Mummy

In 1999, director Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy burst onto cinema screens with visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic. The film’s fun-natured approach to what had previously been a horror genre of ‘mummy’ films was welcomed generously by audiences. As were ILM’s VFX, which took advantage of new approaches to motion capture, particle sims and CG.

The visual effects supervisor was John Berton Jr., who would go on to supervise the film’s sequel, The Mummy Returns, and Men in Black II at ILM, before becoming a freelance supe on films including Charlotte’s Web and Bedtime Stories. He is now a visual effects supervisor at Lytro, exploring the world of light fields.

With a new Mummy film about to hit, vfxblog went back in time with Berton to see how ILM conquered then-new challenges and how visual effects were very much part of the storytelling process in Sommers’ adventure. And in a special bonus addition to this interview, ILM’s visual effects art director on The Mummy, Alex Laurant (now principal art director, Microsoft / Windows Experiences), has generously provided a wealth of concept art, storyboards and other imagery from his work on the show.

Continue reading Before you see Tom Cruise’s ‘The Mummy’, re-visit the digital make-up, mocap and other VFX innovations from the 1999 film

‘The Lost World’ turns 20: Animation director Randal M. Dutra reflects on those early days of the digital age

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

How Steven Spielberg came to adopt CGI dinosaurs for 1993’s Jurassic Park is an often-told story, including in several interviews I’ve done recently. Ultimately, the move from stop-motion to digital dinos paved the way for an explosion in CG characters in blockbuster movies.

That included Jurassic Park’s sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released 20 years ago this week, in which the director and visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic returned with even more photorealistic digital dinos.

One artist who was there on both films, straddling the stop-motion and CG worlds, was Randal M. Dutra. He was at Tippett Studio for Jurassic Park and heavily involved in early movement tests and the use of the innovative Digital Input Device (DID). Then Dutra moved to ILM to work as Animation Director for The Lost World. On the film’s 20th anniversary, vfxblog finds out more from Dutra about his dinosaur experiences.

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Dutra animating the T-Rex attacking the Ford Explorer for the “T-Rex Main Road” Animatic. July/August, 1992.

Continue reading ‘The Lost World’ turns 20: Animation director Randal M. Dutra reflects on those early days of the digital age

Multi pass and motion control: re-visiting the VFX of ‘The Fifth Element’

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

‘You know, Mark, I don’t want to do these ‘fancy panning around and seeing the whole world shots’. I’d much rather set a camera looking down a street, having a cab rush towards me, and cut as it passes by, and then cut to a reverse of it passing by, and construct my film that way.’ – The Fifth Element visual effects supervisor Mark Stetson relates what director Luc Besson said to him about staging the film’s New York City shots.

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is now 20 years old, a fitting anniversary on the eve of the release of the director’s much-anticipated Valerian. Of course, Besson’s new movie is being made possible with major advancements in digital effects and animation. Back in 1997, the visual effects for The Fifth Element were realized with a masterful combination of motion control miniatures, CG, digital compositing and effects simulations by Digital Domain.

Perhaps most memorable are views of a future New York, complete with flying cars and a mass of new and old skyscrapers. The film was one of Digital Domain’s huge miniature shows released that year – the others being Dante’s Peak and Titanic – while also heralding the fast-moving world of CGI in the movies. vfxblog re-visits the work, both miniature and digital, with The Fifth Element’s visual effects supervisor Mark Stetson. Continue reading Multi pass and motion control: re-visiting the VFX of ‘The Fifth Element’

Full liquid metal, now in 3D: re-visiting the freakin’ T-1000 walking out of the fiery truck crash

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

If you’ve never seen James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day – either on the big or small screen – now’s the time to embrace this wonder of filmmaking and effects. The movie has been digitally re-mastered and received the ‘full liquid metal 3D’ stereo conversion treatment by Stereo D. The new release just premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and will have public release dates around the world in August.

Twenty-six years ago, T2 helped usher in a new wave of digital visual effects artistry thanks to the pioneering computer graphics work by ILM, capitalising on their work for The Abyss, and then which the studio took even further on Jurassic Park.

Terminator 2 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

It was the liquid metal T-1000 played by Robert Patrick that represented the majority of this CGI work in the film. Indeed, a hero reveal of the ‘cybernetic organism’ emerging from the flames of a burning truck wreckage became one of ILM’s signature shots for years to come.

Two of the principal artists behind that work were animation director Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams and associate visual effects supervisor Mark Dippé. In this special vfxblog interview conducted at SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Terminator 2, Williams and Dippé recount their efforts to create that memorable shot, known as CC-1.

Continue reading Full liquid metal, now in 3D: re-visiting the freakin’ T-1000 walking out of the fiery truck crash

The race to finish Dante’s Peak…20 years ago

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Today, many of the visual effects in the 1997 disaster flick Dante’s Peak would probably be done completely digitally. Pyroclastic flows, exploding buildings, bridges and cars being swept away by a torrent of ashen river – these are things that can be done with complex effects simulations, CG elements and masterful compositing.

But two decades ago, the techniques were still in their infancy, and a hybrid approach to realising such shots involving miniatures, practical effects and then augmenting with digital techniques, was just emerging.

c4cygjcvmaagyl_Dante’s Peak, directed by Roger Donaldson, took advantage of this approach by incorporating some of the most convincing miniatures ever put to screen – especially for the river and bridge scene – and using nascent digital effects tools to add even more layers of realism. The work was realised by Digital Domain as well as a host of other modelmaking studios and digital effects houses.

To celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary, vfxblog spoke to overall visual effects supervisor Patrick McClung, then at DD, about the hybrid effects in Dante’s Peak, how the decisions about miniatures were made, and how the only slightly related Volcano film heavily influenced production. Continue reading The race to finish Dante’s Peak…20 years ago

You’re a wonderful human being: re-visiting CG Jabba 20 years later

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

You might have seen former ILM visual effects and animation supervisor Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams pop up on vfxblog quite a lot recently. That’s because he was involved in a number of seminal VFX films celebrating their various anniversaries of late, including Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park.

Williams was also involved in another landmark – and somewhat notorious – moment in visual effects, when George Lucas revisited his original Star Wars trilogy for the ‘Special Edition’ releases. In particular, Williams was asked to animate a digital Jabba the Hutt for a deleted scene from A New Hope when the gangster confronts Han Solo on Mos Eisley.

The scene had been shot for the 1977 release using a stand-in actor (Declan Mulholland) for Jabba, with plans to realise the sequence with a puppet or stop-motion character. But, as Williams recounts in this chat with vfxblog, it wasn’t until the ‘Special Editions’ – released 20 years ago this week – that Lucas felt he could take advantage of advancements ILM was making in CGI to complete the scene and have Jabba moving along the ground, unlike how audiences had previously witnessed the creature in Return of the Jedi. Continue reading You’re a wonderful human being: re-visiting CG Jabba 20 years later

When miniatures and CGI met in the sky: the vfx of Turbulence

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Remember Turbulence? It was a much-hyped disaster flick set on a passenger 747 starring Lauren Holly and Ray Liotta, and released 20 years ago. The film may not by one for the history books, but its visual effects – a hybrid of miniatures and digital techniques – came right at a time where film VFX were transitioning heavily to CGI.

In honour of the film’s 20th anniversary, vfxblog spoke to visual effects supervisor Mark Vargo, who was also credited as a second unit DOP, about how he and teams from Boss Film Studios, Pacific Title Digital and other effects shops handled the work – including depicting the jetliner amidst a wild storm, having it flip over, and an exciting crash into a rooftop carpark. Included are several behind the scenes images and clips of the miniatures work. Continue reading When miniatures and CGI met in the sky: the vfx of Turbulence

Behind the ILM Mars Attacks! tests that convinced Tim Burton to go CG

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

1996 was a break-out year for digital visual effects, with advancements in front and centre CG characters (Dragonheart), heavy environments and digital compositing (Independence Day), and photoreal CG simulations (Twister).

Another film that took advantage of the the state of VFX was Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, a quirky off-shoot of the 1960s Topps trading cards. Although its martians were initially imagined by the director to be stop-motion characters, Industrial Light & Magic would ultimately produce a series of tests that convinced Burton to realise them in CG. The newly formed Warner Digital Studios also crafted other key CG shots.

On its 20th anniversary, vfxblog revisits ILM’s breakthrough animation tests for the martians with Mars Attacks!’s visual effects supervisor Jim Mitchell and animation supervisor David Andrews (who actually has a VFX supervisor credit on the film). Plus, Mike Fink, then VFX supervisor at Warner Digital, looks back at the saucer and robot effects for the cult classic. Continue reading Behind the ILM Mars Attacks! tests that convinced Tim Burton to go CG

The story behind Hook’s innovative projected matte painting – 25 years ago

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Steven Spielberg’s Hook was released 25 years ago this week (it opened on December 11th, 1991) and at the time was one of ILM’s most intensive visual effects projects. VFX supe Eric Brevig oversaw a raft of flying scenes, matte paintings, models and even Go-Motion animation for Tinkerbell’s wings.

A major innovation on the show was the use of a projected matte painting in the sequence showing Peter (Robin Williams) flying towards Neverland – the first time a dimensional matte painting like that had been seen on film.

To celebrate Hook’s 25th anniversary, vfxblog caught up briefly with Stefen Fangmeier, then an ILM computer graphics supervisor, to discuss how that dimensional matte painting was achieved on the film. Continue reading The story behind Hook’s innovative projected matte painting – 25 years ago