A shot from ‘Event Horizon’ is still Sue Rowe’s toughest VFX task ever

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

“Ask any VFX artist about their worst shot and I bet they can tell you the shot name. On Event Horizon, M255 was that shot for me.” – Sue Rowe

Now a visual effects supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sue Rowe was back in 1997 a sequence supervisor at Cinesite (Europe) on Paul W.S. Anderson’s sci-fi horror space adventure, Event Horizon. Here, one of her tasks included a challenging composite for a shot – named M255 – that melded motion control plates of a miniature Lewis and Clark ship in the film with live action principal photography.

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Sue Rowe.

For the film’s 20th anniversary, Rowe dives back into that monster of a shot and how she managed to pull it off, thanks to hours of work and sleepless nights. And she recalls a few other key memories from the production, one of which involved the clever use of cornflakes.

Continue reading A shot from ‘Event Horizon’ is still Sue Rowe’s toughest VFX task ever

Head stretching and stomach holes: re-visiting the visual effects of ‘Death Becomes Her’

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

“Bob had said to Meryl Streep: ‘Whatever Ken asks you to do, no matter how silly, just go with it. You can trust him.’ Because she must have been thinking, ‘What am I? What is this stupid thing?’ – Death Becomes Her visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston.

By the early 1990s, ILM had already been innovating in digital visual effects in a major way with films such as The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Then came along Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her. It would be released in 1992 and go on to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, thanks to more innovation from ILM and practical creature effects by Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.

Death Becomes Her celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, and vfxblog goes retro on all the head twisting and stretching and stomach hole making work in the film with visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston. We discuss his long-time collaboration with Zemeckis, coming up with on-set solutions, experimenting with software and human skin texturing, and what’s changed in visual effects from then up until today. Continue reading Head stretching and stomach holes: re-visiting the visual effects of ‘Death Becomes Her’

Why ‘Air Force One’ has some of the most talked about visual effects in history

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

When Wolfgang Petersen’s Air Force One was released 20 years ago this week in 1997, it would be one of Boss Film Studios’ very last visual effects projects before founder Richard Edlund shut the effects company’s doors. The studio spectacularly delivered and destroyed a number of intricate miniature aircraft for the show. It also dived into several CG plane shots, including the scene of Air Force One crashing into the ocean, one that was perhaps not as spectacular.

That means that Air Force One is unusually remembered for both its intense and immensely watchable air-to-air sequences realised with models and live action photography, and for the final CG watery plane crash that did not meet the expectations of the filmmakers and the audience.

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Richard Edlund.

For the film’s 20th anniversary, vfxblog spoke to Edlund – the film’s overall visual effects supervisor (James E. Price was Boss Film’s VFX supe on the show) – to discuss the approach to the models and miniatures, the rise of digital compositing, the end of Boss, and that final crash shot. Plus, the interview includes a bunch of unique behind the scenes CG model frames from Boss’ digital aircraft.

Continue reading Why ‘Air Force One’ has some of the most talked about visual effects in history

Randal M. Dutra on ‘RoboCop’ and the stop-motion ED-209

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Recently on vfxblog, I was able to speak to former ILM animation supervisor Randal M. Dutra about his work on The Lost World: Jurassic Park for that’s film’s 20th anniversary. I invited Dutra back to talk about his stop-motion contributions to RoboCop, which this week celebrates 30 years since its release.

On that film, Dutra was one of the animators of ED-209 at Tippett Studio (others included Phil Tippett, Harry Walton and Tom St. Amand). The enforcement droid was realized as both a full-scale puppet used on set and an articulated stop-motion miniature animated by the Tippett Studio crew, often against a rear-projected background plate advanced one or two frames at a time. Here’s Dutra’s thoughts on helping to make the ED-209 character so memorable. Continue reading Randal M. Dutra on ‘RoboCop’ and the stop-motion ED-209

How the beach scene in ‘Contact’ went down to the wire

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Yesterday I posted an interview with Contact’s visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston about his work on the film, which is now 20 years old. This included the incredible mirror shot, and for that high speed compositing supervisor Sheena Duggal also weighed-in on how that shot was made at Imageworks.

Well, Sheena has now also provided me with a great behind the scenes run-down of the challenges Imageworks also faced for the beach encounter Jodie Foster’s character has with her father on Vega (or does she…). That scene made use of bluescreen photography and a virtual environment all pieced together from plates shot in Fiji, despite the restrictions of the vfx technology at the time.

And it also had to be done twice.  Continue reading How the beach scene in ‘Contact’ went down to the wire

The famous mirror shot in ‘Contact’ was almost something else entirely

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Visual effects artists and aficionados are often asked which movie or shot was their biggest influence, a question that regularly evokes a response about films like Star Wars, Blade Runner or Jurassic Park.

Those films, of course, are all milestones in the VFX world. But in recent years, if that kind of question has come up in conversation, I have started noticing that the mirror shot in Robert Zemeckis’ Contact was being raised more and more – the one where a young Ellie races to the medicine cabinet, with the camera in front of her as she comes upstairs, only to reveal we have been watching her reflection in the mirror. Not only is it a shot considered a milestone in invisible and seamless visual effects, it is a scene that even VFX pros regularly admit they have no idea how it was pulled off.

Contact is now 20 years old, and its visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston sat down with vfxblog to revisit its fine effects work, which was primarily done by Sony Pictures Imageworks, and ranged from the invisible to the fantastical. In the process, I learnt something about that mirror shot I’d never heard anywhere before. Continue reading The famous mirror shot in ‘Contact’ was almost something else entirely

‘Men in Black’ and its crazy collection of real and CG creatures

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

“I’ve always told people that when you have a movie that’s fairly complicated be sure to have a talking pug dog in it, because then you can fix things after with the same pose.”Eric Brevig, Men In Black visual effects supervisor

Twenty years ago, Barry Sonnenfeld delivered the quirky action sci-fier Men in Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, to adoring audiences. It is a film also adored for its combination of practical and digital effects, mixing Rick Baker’s makeup and creatures through this Cinovation Studios, with Industrial Light & Magic’s CG and miniatures handiwork. Several other studios – practical and digital – also contributed.

To celebrate the film’s two decade anniversary, vfxblog spoke to visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig about Men in Black’s aliens, humans who are actually aliens, and about the range of models and miniatures used in the show. We also dive into the major plot changes and plot fixes enabled via visual effects, plus the secrets Brevig learnt from Sonnenfeld in making comedic moments. Continue reading ‘Men in Black’ and its crazy collection of real and CG creatures