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

Here’s one of the best interviews I’ve heard Christopher Nolan give about his thoughts on film, digital and VFX

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I recently listened to this interview on BBC’s The Film Programme between host Francine Stock and Christopher Nolan on the director’s latest project, Dunkirk. It’s a great interview, in which Nolan discusses how he constructed the time-bending narrative in the film, how he used sound and score, and his thoughts on – and this is what interested me the most – shooting with photochemical film and the use of visual effects.

I loved Dunkirk. Everything about the way it is told and the way it was produced makes it such a fantastic cinema-going experience. I feel like I know a lot already about Nolan’s desire to keep using film, and to shoot things as practically as possible, even though of course his movies do rely on plenty of digital visual effects. But I’d never heard him talk about these desires quite like this, so I transcribed the relevant section below (apologies right now for any errors in my transcription).

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I feel like there’s a slight conflation in the interview of the idea of shooting on film and the use of ‘CGI’ in filmmaking, but I absolutely get what Nolan is saying about the ‘feeling’ from what you see on screen. And in terms of visual effects, by shooting so much practically, any visual effects artist will have a very obvious target to match in anything that needs to be generated digitally, or composited from multiple plates, or cleaned-up with digital tools. In fact, that’s why the VFX in Nolan’s films are so seamless, I think. They have to match what was shot, or what’s the point of including them?

Anyway, have a listen to the interview, or read the transcript below, and tell me what you think in the comments. Continue reading Here’s one of the best interviews I’ve heard Christopher Nolan give about his thoughts on film, digital and VFX

Quickshots: Attack of the Megaptor

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ILM and VFX partner Hybride collaborated to produce a high-energy bus chase scene in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Here, Valerian and Laureline race to board a bus that is then attacked by a menacing Megaptor creature. ILM visual effects supervisor Philippe Rebours runs down the work involved.

On-set shoot: When they’re outside the bus we shot that on the set where it was a school bus that has been set-dressed and you see them jumping into it. Then we swap to three shots where it’s fully CG where he transforms into this armour bus, and then you see them driving away. At that point, we’re inside the bus. For that, we shot it completely blue screen.

The interesting aspect is, because a school bus is pretty small, they built another bus that was slightly bigger, but using the same seats and the same stage and they recreated the front with the wheel and all this kind of stuff, except that there was a little bit more space so the mercenaries who were helping Valerian and Laureline, they could stand up and shoot.

 

So, we are on this blue screen and with this open-cut bus. The actors would shoot pretending that the creature is arriving and little by little we would remove some elements as if the creature is punching through the roof. So, we’d remove a portion of the roof that we replace with CG, and then we remove some of the seats because the creature was going to throw them away. By the end of the sequence, the full interior is CG interior.

Crafting the creature: From the artwork we saw that there was a sort of shell on it that looked very much like a crab, but he had other areas that move freely and he has these spikes as well. What we did is, for on the look itself we took photos of elements and we say, ‘Okay, the shell looks very much like crab. Use the foot of the crab as reference,’ but we had turtles for the skin in between.

 

Animating a Megaptor: We had a professor, Dr. Stuart Sumida, who is a biology professor at the California State University, who came and he gave a talk on how animals move and why, based on their skeletons. We looked at the Megaptor skeleton physiology and then the way he has to – his front legs are really strong, really heavy, and the back legs are a bit smaller, let’s say. That told us that we wanted to go towards hyena moves because they generate power from their front limbs, but the posture was very much like a bull dog, so it’s a mix of those two for the movement.

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’

Quickshots: ‘Valerian’s’ multi-world oner

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Weta Digital’s Valerian visual effects supervisor Martin Hill discusses that insane ‘oner’ of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) dashing through multiple worlds.

Martin Hill: What’s happening in that sequence is, Valerian’s trying to get from one place to another as quickly as possible – that being a straight line. He’s just travelling in a straight line as fast as he humanly can with his exoskeleton power suit, or armour.

Essentially, anything that we could get in camera we would. There was a particular sense of movement that Luc wanted through the shots where the gravity was a bit different, he had his power suit on and so he wanted a particular gait we knew we couldn’t really get.

We did shoot Dane bounding against a blue screen for that shot. We shot him running towards the wall, and then we decided, on the day, at what point we would take over and go digital for performance reasons only. Then, halfway through the sequence, there’s a big orbit around his head where it’s back on Dane and then we’re just filling in the rest of the uniform and his body.

One of the big challenges was, we needed to create all these different worlds and they all needed to be distinct and they all needed to be their own things. What was very important was making sure that they all looked like they were still part of the same cinematic universe. That really boiled down to working with the art department, working with the set designers, costume designers and Luc and making sure that we didn’t have the same themes running through all the environments. The same is true for the characters. A lot of it comes down to colour pallet and composition.

Designing Baby Groot

Marvel has released a short featurette from its Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 Blu-ray/DVD focusing on designing Baby Groot, and it includes comments from overall vfx supe Christopher Townsend and the concept art and practical build required for on-set shooting. Check it out below.