Titanic’s VFX producer on how James Cameron brought her onto the movie, and how she made it *into* the movie

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It’s now 20 years since James Cameron’s Titanic was released. Back in 1997, somehow the film made it through an incredibly challenging shoot, a tense studio environment, constant media scrutiny and a gruelling post-production schedule to become the then most successful box office hit of all time.

But Titanic was not without its challenges, especially in terms of visual effects. New ways of realising digital water, digital extras and combining these with live action and miniatures was ushered in for Titanic, principally by Digital Domain. In addition, a whole army of effects vendors also contributed to the film.

Helping to oversee that mammoth VFX effort was visual effects producer Camille Cellucci, who in this deep dive interview, shares with vfxblog how the director specifically asked her to work on the film, what VFX production meant 20 years ago, and how she managed to wrangle an appearance in Titanic itself.

Continue reading Titanic’s VFX producer on how James Cameron brought her onto the movie, and how she made it *into* the movie

The secrets behind the life (and death) of Titanic’s propeller guy

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.
A man falls from the poop deck, hitting the bronze hub of the starboard propeller with a sickening smack.

That line from James Cameron’s script for Titanic, coming deep into scenes of the chaotic sinking of the famous cruiseliner, might sound simple enough. But it would turn out to be the basis of one of the blockbuster film’s most memorable shots.

The man who strikes the starboard propeller, and then continues to spin wildly before slamming into the ocean below, forever became known in movie lexicon as ‘the propeller guy’. Bringing him to life and, sadly, death, would require a gigantuan effort from Titanic’s visual effects crew – principally Digital Domain – which combined live action, miniatures, digital doubles and digital water to realise the final ‘sickening’ moment.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Titanic, vfxblog talks to key members of the VFX crew to uncover a few remaining secrets about propeller guy, including how animator Andy Jones tackled the shot on his first ever feature film, how the elements making up the final scene were composited in an early version of NUKE, and the surprising truth behind whose face was used for the digital victim. Continue reading The secrets behind the life (and death) of Titanic’s propeller guy

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’

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